NORFOLK, Va. — As coronavirus cases continue to surge on Virginia’s coast, the state will enact bans in the region on alcohol sales after 10 p.m. and gatherings of more than 50 people, Gov. Ralph Northam said Tuesday.
Speaking at a news conference, the Democratic governor cited a rise in infections among young people in the Hampton Roads region as well as alcohol use. Northam, who is a physician, said the virus spreads when “too many people are selfish.”
“And we all know that alcohol changes your judgment,” Northam said. “You just don’t care as much about social distancing after you’ve had a couple of drinks. That’s when the virus gets spread. And that’s why we are taking this action.”
The Hampton Roads region includes cities such as Norfolk and Virginia Beach. The order takes effect at 12 a.m. Friday. It will also shutter restaurants by midnight and restrict indoor dining to 50% of an establishment’s capacity.
The restrictions are Virginia’s latest effort to reign in a virus that has largely slowed its spread in much of the rest of the state.
Virginia has had about 87,000 confirmed cases and recorded more than 2,000 deaths. The state has been averaging about 900 and 1,000 new confirmed cases a day.
The governor also said Virginia will begin distributing nearly $645 million in federal money to local governments to help as the pandemic continues. Northam said the money from the coronavirus relief package can be used to help people with rent, food and educational tools for children.
Northam said virus cases are “largely stable” in four of the state’s five health districts. The fifth is Hampton Roads.
The new order will undoubtedly affect business in the region, which sits along the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay.
Virginia Beach hospitality firm Gold Key/PHR has already had 84 weddings canceled because of limits on gatherings. Many of those weddings were rebooked when Virginia loosened rules to allow groups of up to 250 people.
“Now they’re going to have to cancel again,” said CEO Bruce Thompson, whose company operates places such as the historic Cavalier Hotel.
“I appreciate what the governor’s trying to do and 100% agree with the idea that we need some controls,” Thompson said. “But I don’t think that this ultimately solves the issue.”
Thompson said a hotel like the Cavalier can manage a wedding and enforce social distancing guidelines and other measures. But the new restrictions could send weddings into backyards.
“I’m afraid that they’re just going to be moving the situation from one place to another where you can’t regulate it,” he said.
Dr. Demetria Lindsay, the Virginia Department of Health’s district director for Virginia Beach and Norfolk, told The Associated Press last week that those cities have seen a significant increase in virus cases among people under the age of 40. There is a pronounced spike among people between the ages of 20 to 29, she said.
Factors behind the surge include gatherings of friends and family members who are not wearing masks or keeping a safe social distance.
“Father’s Day, Memorial Day, graduations, birthdays, backyard barbecues, you name it,” Lindsay said.
“I think some of it may be comfort around people who are family and friends,” she continued. “But if they’re not a part of your household, they pose a risk. And we still have to follow those preventative measures.”
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