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Virginia to boost mask enforcement as COVID-19 cases rise, particularly in Hampton Roads

Virginia to boost mask enforcement as COVID-19 cases rise, particularly in Hampton Roads

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RICHMOND — Virginia plans to step up enforcement of its COVID-19 restrictions following a surge of new cases largely concentrated in the state’s eastern region, including Hampton Roads, a hot spot for beach tourism.

Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration said Tuesday it is directing three state agencies to step up enforcement of business guidelines and the state’s face mask order, with particular focus on the eastern region.

The administration also is ordering all alcohol sales at restaurants across the state to end at 11 p.m. each day, Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said. She added the new order is expected to go into effect in the “coming days.”

New data disseminated by the Virginia Department of Health showed about half of all new cases reported on Monday — 526 out of a total of 972 — were reported in localities in the state’s eastern region, which includes Hampton Roads. New cases in the region have been on an upward swing for the past two weeks, while the trend of new cases in the state’s other regions have remained largely stable.

The Virginia Department of Health reported Tuesday the statewide total for COVID-19 cases is 72,443 — an increase of 801 from the 71,642 reported Monday.

There are 6,817 reported hospitalizations statewide, an increase of 52 over Monday. The VDH reported 1,977 statewide deaths to date as of Tuesday, an increase of nine from Monday.

State health officials have said there’s a lag in the reporting of statewide numbers on the VDH website. Figures on the website might not include cases or deaths reported by localities or local health districts.

The 72,443 cases consist of 69,910 confirmed cases and 2,833 probable cases. The VDH defines probable COVID-19 cases as people who are symptomatic with known exposure to COVID-19 but whose cases have not been confirmed with a positive test.

The latest seven-day trend for the positivity rate of PCR tests only — excluding antibody tests — stands at 6.9%. That’s down from a peak of 20.8% on April 21 and up from 5.9% on June 24.

The administration chalked up the surge to rule violations at restaurants and other social settings — particularly among young people — citing testing data, contact tracing efforts and observations by local health directors.

For restaurants, Northam is ordering Virginia ABC and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to ramp up enforcement of a rule ordering no service at bars, and rules requiring no overcrowding and social distancing inside restaurants.

The enforcement will include surprise inspections, which eventually could lead to the loss of business licenses, Yarmosky said.

So far, the state has mostly relied on complaints and individual responsibility to enforce COVID-19 restrictions. As COVID-19 cases surge in states across the country, including those surrounding Virginia, the Northam administration has decided to change course.

As it pertains to the state’s order that requires mask wearing indoors with some exceptions, Northam is directing Virginia Health Commissioner Norman Oliver to issue a letter reminding local health departments that they have the power to enforce the mask order.

They can seek misdemeanor charges for individuals who are repeatedly out of compliance, and penalties for businesses with non-complying employees.

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Twitter: @MelLeonor_

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