Northam cracks down on noncompliance

Published 10:17 pm Tuesday, July 14, 2020

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Citing concerns about rising case counts and other metrics in Hampton Roads, Gov. Ralph Northam said state agencies would crack down on businesses that are willfully violating regulations.

Speaking from Richmond, Northam said the situation in the Eastern Region, particularly Hampton Roads, is showing concerning signs.

“I want to reassure Virginians — we are not seeing spikes like Florida or Texas,” he said. But at the same time, he noted, Virginia is a tourist hub and borders five other states as well as Washington, D.C.

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While other regions of the state are seeing declines or only small upticks, the situation in the Eastern Region is much different. The region’s moving seven-day average of new cases was around 60 in early June; now it’s nearly 350. The percent of tests that are coming back positive is more than 10%.

“There is clearly substantial community spread,” Northam said. Cases among 20- to 29-year-olds compared to early June are up 250%. “This should be very concerning to all of us,” he said.

Northam said he was taking action to head this off and had asked health teams in Hampton Roads for recommendations.

“It’s clear that step one is stronger enforcement of the existing regulations, because, quite frankly, of the noncompliance,” he said.

A team from licensing agencies such as the Virginia Department of Health, Alcoholic Beverage Control, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and other licensing agencies will be conducting unannounced visits to establishments to ensure they are enforcing current regulations.

“If you own a restaurant or a business and you’re not following the regulations, your license will be on the line and we will not hesitate to take action if needed,” Northam said. “These enforcement actions are to stop the people who are clearly flouting the rules. You are being selfish and you’re hurting everyone.”

He added, “Remember that you don’t have to serve a patron who’s not wearing a face covering. You can tell them to leave and if they don’t they’re trespassing and you can then call the police.”

Republicans in the state Senate condemned what they called the governor’s “threats” against businesses.

“In the midst of a challenging and struggling economy, Governor Northam today further threatened Virginia businesses with license revocation and closure, either if they or their patrons fail to follow his mandates,” a news release from Senate Republicans stated. “Today’s announcement is further evidence this governor is intent on penalizing only the law-abiding. Has the governor even considered that the rise in positive tests among young adults in the Richmond and Hampton Roads regions might be directly related to the large-scale protests he encouraged? He apparently believes that being politically ‘woke’ conveys a special immunity from COVID-19.”

Northam, however, said these actions are not political.

“I want to be clear — it’s going to take everyone working together to do this,” he said. “This is not political. This is about our health and wellbeing.”