Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced a statewide ban on all events over 100 people on Sunday as officials announced closure of all public buildings for two weeks in the Peninsula Health District, where the state’s first death from the coronavirus was reported.
In the Richmond region, all government offices and facilities in the city and the counties of Chesterfield, Goochland, Hanover and Henrico will be closed Monday for planning and cleaning, according to an announcement Sunday from the office of Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney.
Also on Sunday, Virginia Commonwealth University confirmed that a person who attended a program at VCU’s Larrick Center on March 5-6 has tested positive for COVID-19. The individual is not an employee of the university or its health system and is self-quarantined at home.
In a news release, VCU officials said the Virginia Department of Health has indicated that the risk to program participants is low, but that the department is reaching out to those who may have been in contact to inform them.
In announcing the ban on events over 100 people during a news conference Sunday afternoon, Northam said: “If you are planning an event with several people, you should cancel it, period.”
He said the state is not to the point of calling for a mandated quarantine, but he urged residents to avoid bars, restaurants, churches and any other social gathering and to stay home as much as possible.
Despite the warning, he said the ban will not affect the operations of businesses across the state and will only extend to events outside of normal daily life such as parades, festivals or events.
“It does not mean normal operations at airports, offices, hospitals, restaurants, grocery stores or other retail establishments,” Northam said. “What we are trying to achieve here is the kind of social distancing that experts tell us is critical to stopping the spread of the virus.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday recommended that organizers cancel or postpone events consisting of 50 people or more nationwide for the next eight weeks.
State Health Commissioner Norman Oliver was on hand at Sunday’s news conference and reiterated the additional restrictions for the Peninsula Health District because of a clustering of cases there. Public buildings will be closed through March 30 in the district, which covers Newport News, Poquoson, Williamsburg, James City County and York County.
The state’s first death from the coronavirus occurred in James City and was reported on Saturday. The man was a hospitalized patient in his 70s who acquired the virus through an unknown source, the Virginia Health Department said.
The Peninsula cases are considered a cluster because all but one were associated with the same two contacts. In Fairfax County, by contrast, more total cases have been reported as of Sunday, but they all came from different sources, Oliver said.
Virginia officials still are investigating the James City death, but so far have not been able to determine how the man was initially exposed.
“We were unable to find any source of exposure and it’s that case that makes us concerned for the likelihood of community spread,” Oliver said.
Officials said they are working on containment and tracing the 284 contacts the patient may have had after infection.
As of Sunday evening, 45 people had tested positive in Virginia for the coronavirus.
The four new cases announced on Sunday were spread over Alexandria, Arlington, Prince William and Virginia Beach, which all had at least one case already.
Officials said the state currently has the capacity to test from 370 to 470 individuals, with more test kits on the way, and private entities in the state have now added to the state’s capacity.
Northam suggested that businesses engage in social distancing practices, such as spacing out customers eating in restaurants.
Northam said there can be a reforecast of the final budget before signing if needed but he does not anticipate the state legislature needing to meet again to pass relief legislation before the scheduled session next month.
“We’re watching very closely how the economy is doing and, certainly, if we need to take action, if I need to have the legislature back here sooner than reconvened session, we will, but I don’t anticipate that right now,” Northam said.
On Saturday, state health officials announced Chesterfield County’s first positive test for the coronavirus, a man in his 60s who was said to be doing well and is isolated at home.
A Virginia Department of Emergency Management employee tested positive for the coronavirus on Sunday, according to a release from the department.
“VDEM leadership has made appropriate notifications to others who may have also been exposed, and is currently working closely with the Virginia Department of Health,” the agency, which is based in Chesterfield, said in a news release.
“VDEM has ensured that all employees are aware of the necessary precautions and preventative measures, as well as the steps necessary in the event of a possible exposure.”
Certain designated employees will report to work to ensure public safety and health will be unaffected.
The Chesterfield and Colonial Heights circuit courts, general district courts and juvenile and domestic relations district courts will be closed to the public Monday with limited access through March 30.
All child support, civil custody and visitation and criminal cases in which the defendant is not incarcerated have been continued, and witnesses subpoenaed for these cases are excused. Criminal cases for adults and juveniles who are incarcerated, bond hearings, protective orders and abuse cases will resume on a limited basis starting on Tuesday.
Riverside Health System also announced Sunday it will suspend all routine visitations in its network of hospitals until further notice.
The five-hospital network consists of Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News, Riverside Doctors’ Hospital Williamsburg, Riverside Walter Reed Hospital in Gloucester, Riverside Tappahannock Hospital and Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital in Onancock.
The YMCA of Greater Richmond also announced Sunday it would suspend child-care services starting Monday. A release from the organization said it would not charge participants for the weeklong hiatus and that it would not be closing any of its facilities as of now.
All youth sports, swim meets and Adventure Guides program events have been postponed through April 18 as well.
Henrico County released details for its student meal sites during the cancellation of classes, according to a release from the school district.
Beginning on Tuesday, six sites will open from 11 a.m. to noon to distribute to all students and anyone under age 18. The release also said the program’s hours and locations may be expanded, depending on demand.
School officials also announced it will be accepting donations beginning Monday for Henrico families in need to supply students and families with additional food and supplies on weekends. Donations will be accepted at the New Bridge Learning Center from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Monday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. the rest of the week.