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Northam: COVID restrictions will continue through Labor Day

Gov. Ralph Northam plans to continue Hampton Roads’ current COVID-19 restrictions on alcohol, indoor dining and social gatherings through Labor Day.

During a press conference on Tuesday, the governor described the virus as “moderately contained” in Virginia, but warned the commonwealth could see surges similar to those that occurred in the weeks following Memorial Day and July 4 if restrictions were lifted prematurely.

“We don’t want to repeat that as the summer draws to a close,” Northam said. “If we can avoid these same surges after Labor Day, we’ll have a running start as we go into the fall.”

While most of Virginia is in Phase III of Northam’s reopening plan, the governor announced additional restrictions in late July on the Hampton Roads region in light of rising caseloads in Norfolk and other nearby localities. These included a 10 p.m. curfew for alcohol sales, limiting indoor dining establishments to 50% capacity and restricting in-person gatherings to no more than 50 people, down from the Phase III 250-person cap. The city of Franklin and the counties of Isle of Wight, Southampton and Surry were not included in the governor’s list of Hampton Roads localities subject to these additional restrictions.

“We have now lived with this virus for two seasons, and it’s still with us,” Northam said. “I expect this virus will remain with us through the fall and winter before a safe vaccination is found.”

Northam then said that with the fall semester about to begin, or in some cases, having already begun, now is the time to “double down on what we know is working.”

Some Virginia colleges, such as James Madison University, are already seeing outbreaks. According to JMU’s student newspaper, The Breeze, there were 528 cases on campus as of Sept. 1 after just four days of classes.

“About two weeks ago, the Trump administration reclassified teachers as ‘critical infrastructure workers,’” Northam said. “This means they could be expected to continue working even if they have been exposed to COVID-19, and that’s the wrong thing to do. Virginia is taking a different approach. If you are a teacher and there’s a high chance you’ve been exposed to COVID-19, you should get tested and stay home until you get the result, even if you don’t have symptoms.”

The governor then encouraged Virginians who have not already done so to download the COVIDWISE smartphone app. The app uses Bluetooth to alert users if their phones come within six feet of someone who has anonymously reported himself or herself to be COVID-19-positive. Over 460,000 Virginians have already downloaded the app, he said.

Northam then announced that in light of the pandemic, driver’s licenses, learners permits and IDs set to expire in September and October will have their validity extended for 60 days. According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, customers whose credentials already expired in August are also eligible for this extension at no penalty. Credentials set to expire in November will remain valid through the end of that month.

Vehicle registrations set to expire between March 15 and July 31 will remain valid for up to 180 days, not to exceed Oct. 31, as per Northam’s March 17 executive directive. Though 68 of the state’s 75 DMV centers have reopened, renewing your license or registration online is still the best option, Northam said.