VIRGINIA — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam issued a “stay-at-home” order Monday as cases of the new coronavirus topped 1,000.
The stay-at-home order calls for residents to stay home except to obtain food and other essential services, obtain medical care, travel to and from work, take care of other persons or care for animals, visit a relative, travel to and from an educational institution, volunteer with a group providing charitable or social services, or exercise outdoors with social distancing.
“To date, this has been a suggestion to Virginians,” Northam said. “Today it’s an order.”
The order is in effect from Monday until June 10, unless changed or rescinded by another executive order.
Northam said at a Monday news conference that most people were complying with the state’s guidance, but just last weekend officials saw packed beaches and recreational areas. Under the order, beaches in Virginia are closed to visitors except for exercise and fishing. Private campgrounds must close for short-term stays, and higher education institutions must halt in-person classes and instruction.
Northam also asked out-of-state travelers to self-quarantine for 14 days, particularly those from areas hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak.
“It is clear that more people need to hear this basic message: Stay at home,” Northam said.
Last week, Northam issued an executive order banning gatherings of more than 10 people, violation of which is a class 1 misdemeanor. The order also closed nonessential recreation and entertainment businesses, ordered restaurants to operate with takeout and delivery only, and allowed businesses considered essential to operate with regular hours. K-12 schools were ordered to close for the rest of the academic year. This order is in effect through April 23.
Northam said people can continue to visit golf courses, but clubhouses are closed. Enforcement of the governor’s executive can take place if more than 10 people congregate in one place.
As of Monday, the Virginia Department of Health reported 1,020 COVID-19 cases and 25 deaths. Of the total cases, 136 people are hospitalized. The Fairfax Health District continues to report the most cases — 224. The next largest numbers are 86 in Arlington County, 79 in Prince William County, 73 in James City County and 61 in Loudoun County. The state health department’s website does not show data on recovered patients; that data could be available depending on the capabilities of local health departments.
Northam expects the number of cases to continue increasing. Preliminary Virginia Department of Health data shows the largest number of cases appeared on dates in mid- and late March. These dates reflect the time a patient’s symptoms began or when the case report was received by the state health department. As of Monday, 99 cases appeared March 17, followed by 88 on March 18, 73 on March 23, 71 on March 24, 70 on March 19, and 67 on March 16. These numbers could change as more cases are reported.
“What we’re seeing now is the result of how people interacted two or three weeks ago,” Northam said. “What we will see a few weeks from now will be determined by how people behave today and in the following days. We need everyone to be patient with social distancing. It will take time to show results.”
Northam said following the order can help preserve hospital capacity. Virginia has approximately 18,500 hospital beds, including about 2,000 intensive care unit beds.
The state anticipates the need for more hospital beds, and some hospitals have started preparations. Mary Washington Healthcare in Fredericksburg established a field hospital, Virginia Commonwealth University is using student dorms for COVID-19 patients not needing ICU care, and Lonesome Pine Hospital in Wise County is a COVID-19 facility for acute care patients.
The state has been working with the Army Corps of Engineers to identify possible sites for emergency hospital bed capacity. A recommendation is expected in a matter of days, Northam said.
The state is not yet able to test everyone who seeks it, according to Dr. Denise Toney, director of the Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services. She cited nationwide supply chain shortages, which impact state, hospital and private laboratory testing capabilities.
On Monday, Virginia is seeking federal major disaster status, which would provide more disaster-related unemployment support, legal services, food assistance and more. Virginia’s food bank network can now provide emergency food assistance to anyone in need of food, regardless of income. More information is available at vafoodbanks.org.
The Port of Virginia in Norfolk is open and prioritizing shipments of personal protective equipment. Virginia businesses are asked to donate or sell personal protective equipment through an online form.
Northam says over 1,600 volunteers have applied to the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps since Wednesday. More volunteers are needed to apply at www.vdh.virginia.gov/mrc.
Northam’s new stay-at-home order came the same day that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan issued a similar order. Maryland’s order takes effect at 8 p.m. Monday. The order allows people to go out for essential jobs and tasks such as obtaining food and medical care, and to go out for walks.