Governor orders Virginians to stay home

Published 10:13 pm Monday, March 30, 2020

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In an unprecedented measure, Gov. Ralph Northam told Virginia residents they must stay at home until at least June 10 for all but their most essential needs, issuing a sweeping order Monday to restrict people’s movements in an effort to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s clear more people need to hear this message,” Northam said. “Stay home.”

The order took effect Monday and continues to place limits on gatherings of 10 or fewer people for non-essential services while emphasizing social distancing.

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Northam said state hospitals have about 18,500 licensed beds and about 2,000 intensive care unit beds.

Dr. Laurie Forlano, Virginia Department of Health deputy commissioner of population health, said local health departments vary in their capacity to determine and report whether someone has recovered from COVID-19. She also said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have specific guidelines for someone to come out of home-based or hospital-based isolation. She said for home isolation, someone has to be asymptomatic for seven days and fever free for three days.

Health officials continue to emphasize a shortage of testing capability across the state and country. Dr. Denise Toney, director of the Department of General Services Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services, said that is due to supply chain shortages across the country. It impacts not only state laboratories, but it is also impacting hospital and private commercial laboratories.

The order by Northam, which follows his state of emergency declaration March 12, comes after similar stay-at-home orders were issued Friday by North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and on Monday by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser.

Residents will still be allowed to go to work, get groceries and food, exercise outside, seek emergency services and pick up medications.

They will also be allowed to care for family members, take their pets to the veterinarian and worship and volunteer with organizations that provide charitable and social services.

“People are still encouraged to get outside for what the governor described as fresh air and exercise,” Suffolk City Manager Patrick Roberts said on Monday. “We will continue to provide access to parks for people. We’re still operating with a full complement of public services going on to enable people to utilize the parks and streets. We’ve still got neighborhood projects under way.

“It’s just a matter of really reinforcing to people to only go out if it’s essential. And that means going to work, going out to get food or supplies for your home, going out for exercise for your health, so those are the things that we’re just continuing through our services to enable people to do.”

The city of Suffolk has closed playgrounds at city parks, but things such as skate parks, dog parks, tennis courts, kayak and boat launches, and trails will remain open.

On Friday, Northam had said that there was not much difference between insisting people stay at home, and an actual order mandating it. However, he buckled down by issuing the stay-at-home order Monday.

He said he was disturbed by the large beach gatherings in coastal Virginia localities, in particular in Hampton Roads, reported over the weekend.

“I see people congregating on the beach that are completely ignoring what we’re doing, and I will remind those folks you are being very, very selfish,” Northam said, “because you are putting all of us, especially our health care providers, at risk, and so to date, this has been a suggestion to Virginians. Today, it’s an order.”