It’s unclear what the new curfew and cutback on gatherings will do, as they don’t apply to everyone.

RICHMOND – Starting Monday, some Virginians will have a curfew. However, most people won’t notice, as it’s between midnight and 5 a.m. That was one of two changes Gov. Ralph Northam announced during a Thursday press conference, citing rising COVID-19 case numbers as the reason. 

The main problem is in Southwest Virginia, which currently accounts for 30% of the state’s cases right now. As predicted, Thanksgiving caused problems in the region. Ballad Health staff reported 4,477 positive cases that week, the highest number since the pandemic started. They expect to reach 5,000 positive cases next week. The problem, as we’ve highlighted before, is that a significant number of people in the region refuse to follow restrictions. 

“We all remember what things were like when it was really bad back in May,” Northam said. “Back then, we were seeing about 1,200 cases a day. Now we are seeing about four times as many.”

The statewide positive test rate stands at 11%, almost double from a month ago. Statewide hospitalizations jumped by more than 80% in just the last four weeks.

“Our statewide percent positivity is going up. We’re seeing more and more people hospitalized with this virus, and more people are dying,” said Northam. “This is putting a strain on our medical facilities and frontline workers, and it’s raising the danger level for every Virginian.”

Looking at the Details

The curfew order raised questions Thursday, as reporters asked why it focused on the overnight hours. Northam’s earlier November order required all restaurants, food courts, breweries, microbreweries, distilleries, wineries and tasting rooms to close by midnight each day. Alcohol sales also were cut off by 10 p.m. each night. With those rules already in place, why restrict travel between midnight and 5 a.m.? 

“Two words. Common sense,” Northam said. “Like my parents used to tell me, nothing good happens after midnight.”

He didn’t provide any further details on that point.

As for the curfew, it doesn’t apply to everyone. Those commuting to and from work are exempt. It also does not apply to people shopping for food or goods, or people seeking medical attention. It also seems to be more of a concept than an actual enforced order. Northam said police will not pull anyone over for violating curfew. Instead, he wants the new time restrictions to encourage — rather than force — residents to stay home during the early hours of the morning.

“It’s about messaging,” Northam said. “That’s something that we will ask Virginians to follow, those guidelines. That’s the way we’ll move forward with that.”

Again, he provided no reason why people needed to stay home during those hours. It’s also unclear how the curfew would help stop the spread of COVID-19. Nobody from Northam’s press team had responded to Dogwood’s followup questions on these subjects by late Thursday afternoon. The curfew will remain in effect until Jan. 31.

RELATED: Southwest Responsible for 30% of Virginia’s New COVID-19 Cases

Who Do The Limits Apply To?

As we mentioned, Gov. Northam made two changes Thursday. The second involved the number of people who can gather at one time. Currently, the limit is set at 25. As of Monday morning, that will be back down to 10.

Now to be clear, it doesn’t apply to everyone.

The new 10-person limit will not apply to restaurants or stores. Nothing changes for those businesses. The same goes for places of worship, private employment settings, and schools. That includes colleges and universities as well as K-12.

“We have left decision-making to the discretion of school boards, of superintendents in each district and the reason for that is, one size doesn’t fit all. They’re making modifications,” Northam said. “That’s a decision they made and they will continue to make and I’m not going to change that.”

Northam added it is the responsibility of community members such as school boards and church leaders to make their own decisions about how to keep their community safe.

“I strongly call on our faith leaders to lead the way and set an example for their members. Worship with a mask on is still worship. Worship outside or worship online is still worship,” Northam said.

The cap also does not apply to student athletic events. Indoor student sports can have up to 25 people on the field during indoor games and practices under the new rules. For outdoor sports events, two attendees per athlete will be able to attend.

Much like the curfew, the 10-person limit is set to run until Jan. 31.

COVID-19 in the Commonwealth

As for the cause of he numbers aren’t great. Virginia’s positivity rate is at 11%, almost double what it was a month ago.

“Our statewide percent positivity is going up. We’re seeing more and more people hospitalized with this virus, and more people are dying,” said Northam. “This is putting a strain on our medical facilities and frontline workers, and it’s raising the danger level for every Virginian.”

The governor ended his briefing with a positive tone. He noted that a vaccine available for Virginian’s who qualify as Phase One recipients could be ready as soon as this weekend.

Erica Turman is a freelance reporter for Dogwood. You can reach her at info@vadogwood.com.