Northam announces stronger enforcement of COVID-19 guidelines at businesses

Gov. Northam announces stronger enforcement of COVID-19 guidelines

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Governor Ralph Northam says Virginia is seeing COVID-19 numbers increase in parts of the state, especially Hampton Roads.

Northam hasn’t ruled regional rollbacks off the table but before that, he says we still have a chance to turn the tide.

“There is nothing to slow this down other than us right now - until we get a vaccination,” said Northam. “If everybody doesn’t cooperate, we’re not going to get there, and if they don’t and we’re watching as I’ve stated then there are going to be consequences.”

Tuesday, the governor announced the Virginia Department of Health and Virginia ABC will increase unannounced business inspections to make sure everyone is in compliance. There are 500 inspectors on staff with another 100 expected in the coming weeks.

"Are looking for people who are egregious violators of the guidelines," said Dr. Norm Oliver, Virginia Health Commissioner. "Violators will find that their permits and licenses will be suspended."

That's always been the case since the governor issued his indoor mask mandate at public buildings and businesses.

The inspections are statewide, but with a larger focus on Hampton Roads where the governor says they're getting complaints of both customers not being compliant and businesses not seeming to care.

“At the start of this process of what we call blanket guidance plans, now we’re kind of more surgically going in these areas where there are hotspots and that’s the way we will move in the future,” said Northam.

The governor said business owners reserve the right to ask patrons to wear a mask and that if they refuse, customers can be asked to leave. If they do not leave, they are considered to be trespassing and the police may be called.

Reducing the side of large gatherings permitted from 250 people to 50 people is also being considered.

The governor also says an earlier cut-off time for alcohol sales at restaurants is possible - though not imposed just yet.

It’s just the latest in a number of challenges the governor faces to prevent the state from regressing back to the early days of the pandemic.

“We can’t let down our guard. We can’t act like the virus has gone away,” said Northam.

When asked if the state could move back to Phase Two, Northam said it is a fluid situation and he is considering it.

This was the governor’s first press conference in more than two weeks.

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