- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Wednesday that coronavirus restrictions on outdoor gatherings will be eased starting Monday, a sign of improving COVID-19 trends in the commonwealth.

The emphasis of the new rules is to increase the number of people allowed at outdoor gatherings, which will coincide with the spring and summer months.

“We know that the spread of COVID occurs when people are in close proximity indoors where the ventilation is not as good,” Mr. Northam said at a press briefing. “Obviously, this past week was difficult, but with the weather starting to break, we really encourage people to get outdoors. So, in March and April much of the focus will be on outdoor venues.”

Capacity at outdoor entertainment venues will be increased to 30%, with a 1,000-person limit. Indoor events will continue to have a 250-person limit.

Private gatherings will be allowed to have a 25-person limit for outdoor events, but the limit will remain at 10 people for indoor activities.

Bars and restaurants will be able to continue serving alcohol until midnight instead of closing at 10 p.m., and the statewide midnight curfew will be lifted.

Mr. Northam said if trends decline and vaccinations increase, he hopes to have the 1,000-person cap removed by April, though the 30% capacity rule would remain in place.

Statewide restrictions were tightened in December due to a spike in COVID-19 cases, and then extended until the end of February because of the high rates.

But the state’s COVID-19 cases have fallen steadily since reaching record highs in January. As of Wednesday, Virginia had a seven-day new case average of about 1,900 cases. While still high compared to spring 2020, the new rate is about a third of January’s surge.

The positivity test rate also has fallen sharply from a seven-day average of about 17% in early January to 8% today.

These trends extend to the District and Maryland, where cases are declining.

The District reported 89 new cases, with a 102-cases-per-day seven-day average, as of Wednesday. The average rate of daily cases per 100,000 residents fell to about 14.5 % this week, for the first time since November. The city is now considered to have a moderate community spread level. Its positivity rate is at about 4.8%, falling from 7.5% in January.

Maryland reported 862 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, with a positivity test rate of 3.8%.

Despite the positive trends, officials are still urging the public to be cautious, given that a handful of new variant cases have been found in the D.C. region and are believed to be more transmissible than the original coronavirus.

“None of us want to let ourselves think we’re out of this,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Monday.

In Annapolis, six Maryland state senators missed their morning floor session as a precaution after positive rapid tests for the coronavirus. The tests came back as negative.

Maryland will open its third mass vaccination site Thursday at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. Other sites will be located in Waldorf, on the Eastern Shore and in western Maryland. A pre-registration site for mass vaccination locations is expected to launch in March.

Virginia is still working on setting up mass vaccination sites, but Mr. Northam said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has allocated $179 million to assist with that. State officials expect to have 12 locations open by mid-March.

Mr. Northam also announced that Virginia will expand the list of pharmacies the state is coordinating with to create vaccination centers, which include Walmart, Walgreens, Safeway, Food City, Giant and independent pharmacies. The governor is expecting the partnership to administer 52,000 more vaccine doses per week.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Gabriella Muñoz can be reached at gmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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