A new wave of coronavirus-related restrictions were announced in the Washington region Thursday, with more Maryland jurisdictions eliminating indoor dining and Virginia imposing a statewide curfew to keep residents home late at night.
The executive order from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) also includes an expanded mask mandate and lowers the number of people allowed in social gatherings. The measures, which will take effect at 12:01 a.m. Monday, do not change rules for restaurants, stores or houses of worship.
The tougher restrictions come as the seven-day average number of new infections set a record Thursday across the greater Washington region, with Maryland and Virginia each hitting a new high.
The Virginia curfew, which Northam called a “modified stay-at-home order,” will require residents to stay home between midnight and 5 a.m. Exceptions will be made for people who are traveling for work or seeking medical attention and certain food items.
Police will not stop anyone at those hours, as Northam purposely did not include an enforcement mechanism, administration officials said. They said the curfew, similar to one imposed in North Carolina, is mostly intended to encourage — rather than force — residents to stay home late at night, when people tend to become more lax about observing health guidelines.
In Maryland, Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) said Thursday that indoor dining will be eliminated in the suburban county, while outdoor dining will still be allowed at 50 percent capacity.
Coronavirus cases and metrics in D.C., Maryland and Virginia
She said casinos and retail establishments will be limited to 25 percent capacity. The new restrictions will take effect at 5 p.m. Wednesday and last at least through Jan. 16.
“The numbers that we are seeing tell us we are headed in the wrong direction and that we need to take swift and quick actions right now,” Alsobrooks said at a news conference.
Similar restrictions were added Thursday in neighboring Anne Arundel County, where County Executive Steuart Pittman (D) said the jurisdiction will prohibit indoor dining and reduce capacity for retail stores, personal services shops, religious facilities, fitness centers and casinos.
“These restrictions will be a burden, and I had hoped to avoid them,” he said. “But we cannot ignore the projected hospitalization numbers that will result from today’s case rates, nor can we let those numbers increase further with continued community spread.”
The case rate in the county has jumped from 23 per 100,000 residents last month to 47 per 100,000 this week. Anne Arundel is averaging more than one death a day.
Health Officer Nilesh Kalyanaraman said that starting next week, contact tracers — who are increasingly overwhelmed by the number of new infections — will limit their efforts by focusing largely on those who are at higher risk.
As part of Virginia’s executive order, Northam on Thursday called for Virginians age 5 and older to wear masks in all indoor settings shared with non-household members and in outdoor settings that do not allow for physical distancing.
That’s an expansion from the current mandate, which requires masks in indoor public spaces such as stores. The new order requires masks in indoor private spaces such as shared office spaces, while someone visiting another home also will be required to wear a mask.
Enforcement of the mask mandate will remain in the hands of the Virginia Department of Health.
Northam also capped private and public gatherings at 10 people, down from the current 25. The limit does not apply to houses of worship, employment settings or schools. Restaurants and stores, already governed by capacity limits, will not be affected by the new cap.
Enforcement of capacity limits is up to police, and violators can be charged with a class one misdemeanor. State officials said police will continue to emphasize education over criminal charges.
The governor also encouraged Virginians to work from home if possible.
Northam, a physician, outlined the changes at an afternoon news conference a day after Montgomery County and Baltimore reimposed Maryland’s strictest rules since the first wave of infections in the spring.
On Wednesday, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) proposed banning all indoor dining, while Baltimore forbade any dining at restaurants, indoors or outdoors. Leaders of Maryland’s most populous jurisdictions pushed for unified shutdowns Wednesday during a joint call.
On Thursday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) resisted the call from local leaders to implement statewide restrictions, instead laying out steps to address the ongoing economic crisis.
The governor said $75 million worth of loans to small businesses will be forgiven and converted into grants, and companies will get a reprieve on an expected increase in unemployment taxes. He also announced an initiative to construct affordable housing, a federal grant that could help provide PPE and testing kits to Maryland State Police, and a $94 million program to help residents detect and treat prediabetes and diabetes, conditions that can exacerbate the harm from covid-19.
Hogan said he is closely watching data and projections to determine when and what additional “statewide mitigation efforts” will be necessary. He said broader statewide closures are being weighed against economic interests and will only be implemented when absolutely necessary, calling them a “death sentence” for some small businesses.
Hogan said he, Northam and D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) have scheduled a call for Friday to discuss a regional approach forward.
“It is clear that we are experiencing a post-Thanksgiving surge, and the worst days of the pandemic are still ahead of us,” he said.
New restrictions this week in the Washington region come as the rate of infection has surged in recent days, mirroring a national rise.
The seven-day average of new daily infections across D.C., Maryland and Virginia rose Thursday to a record 6,989. The recent average hit records in Virginia and Maryland, at 3,791 and 2,922, respectively, while in the District that number stood at 276, just shy of a record set a day earlier.
District leaders on Thursday said social gatherings, including those over Thanksgiving, were mostly responsible for the rise in cases. City officials urged residents not to travel for holidays later this month.
“We were optimistic that people would not have traveled and got together in groups but if they have — and it appears that they did — this is the result,” said D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt.
The city also unveiled Thursday results from a recent audit that measured mask compliance. The city sent contact tracers to 151 locations between Nov. 18 and Wednesday; they said that 78 percent of people met mask-wearing criteria.
While 83 percent of people required to wear a mask wore one during that time frame, officials said only 72 percent wore it correctly. Seventeen percent of people wore no mask, while the lowest percentage of individuals wearing masks correctly were in Ward 7 (55 percent) and Ward 8 (58 percent).
Bowser said the city “anticipates the education route in reminding people of proper mask usage — not the fining route.”
D.C. also updated its guidance around quarantining after exposure to the coronavirus to more closely match Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, advising that residents can end their quarantine after 10 days, rather than 14, if they don’t develop symptoms and continue to monitor for up to 14 days. Health-care facility staff, residents and patients must still adhere to the full 14 days of quarantine, Bowser said.
The new restrictions in Prince George’s on Thursday came as the county’s coronavirus metrics have worsened along with that of the rest of the Washington region.
The county reported 2,908 new confirmed coronavirus cases last week with the average daily case rate hitting 45.7 per 100,000 residents — both records. County Health Officer Ernest L. Carter said the numbers indicate “the virus is spreading at a very rapid rate.”
He said he is closely watching the county’s number of hospitalizations, which more than doubled in the past month, from 68 on Nov. 8 to 177 on Tuesday. He said hospitalizations are lower than in May, partly because people getting sick are generally younger and less likely to become seriously ill.
“We have to fight through the fatigue,” he said, urging residents to remain in their homes as much as possible and avoid holiday shopping and gatherings. “We have to forge ahead and do the right thing.”
Prince George’s will soon roll out public awareness and education programs about the vaccine, officials said, noting that distrust is widespread in the majority-Black county.
“Believe me when I tell you that I understand the questions, concerns and misgivings many of you have regarding receiving the covid vaccine,” said George Askew, deputy chief administrative officer for health, human services and education, promising that officials will ensure the vaccine is safe before it is offered in the county.
A pediatrician by training, Carter urged residents to take the vaccine when it becomes available.
As a reminder of the pandemic’s continued economic toll, first-time unemployment claims last week jumped in Virginia to their highest level since Aug. 8, the state’s Employment Commission announced Thursday, as seasonally unadjusted claims rose to 16,654.
That is an increase of 8,048 from the previous week but much smaller than the 147,369 claims filed during the April 4 peak.
More than 73,800 people sought continued unemployment compensation, which is 2.1 percent more than in the previous week. The increase was the first in continued claims since the Aug. 15 filing week, the commission said in a statement.
Source: Washington Post