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“Our priority is to save lives,” Gov. Ralph Northam said at a news conference in Richmond on Monday. “We have a health crisis, and we have an economic crisis. But the sooner we can get this health crisis under control, the sooner our economy will recover.”

“Do your part: Stay at home,” read the slide concluding Gov. Ralph Northam’s press conference Monday afternoon that announced aggressive, extraordinary new restrictions to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

All K-12 schools across the commonwealth — public and private — will remain closed through the end of the academic year. For the next 30 days beginning at 11:59 p.m. on March 24, recreational and entertainment businesses, such as movie theaters, museums and hair salons, will go dark. Restaurants can only stay open for takeout or delivery. Grocery stores, banks and pharmacies are among those businesses deemed essential, though they must adhere to adequate social distancing. Nonessential stores can stay open, but only serve 10 patrons or less at a time.

As of Monday, Virginia listed 254 reported cases of the coronavirus, a nearly 60% increase of confirmed cases from Saturday. Seven people have died. It’s spreading across the state, even showing up in its far reaches: Lee County in Virginia’s far southwestern tip reported two cases, while Accomack County on the state’s eastern edge reported one. About one-third of Virginia’s localities have reported cases of the virus, with the top clusters in Northern Virginia, the Peninsula and the Richmond region. “These numbers will, unfortunately, continue to rise,” Northam said at his daily press conference, which thousands of viewers watched on a Facebook livestream. “We are in this for months, not weeks.”

These are unprecedented times, filled with many more questions than answers. State education officials will be sending guidelines to schools. What does this mean for K-12 education? Will high school seniors be able to graduate? How will pupils continue their studies? How will students in areas of the state without broadband cope? Colleges and universities have resorted to virtual learning. Wall Street is tanking. How will the state’s economy survive? How will the virus affect the newly passed state budget, created under a dramatically different economic outlook?

The virus is highly contagious. As the governor said, do your part. Stay home. Social distance. Wash your hands. Don’t go to large gatherings. There’s no vaccine. Many Virginians already are working at home. By following these protocols, hopefully we can stanch the spread of the virus. Northam, a physician by training, spoke of “moving into a period of sacrifice.”

As U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams told NBC’s “Today” show Monday, not enough people are taking the pandemic seriously. “Everyone needs to act as if they have the virus right now … you could be spreading it to someone else, or you could be getting it from someone else. Stay at home.” Doctor’s orders.

— Pamela Stallsmith

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