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 traveling for work or seeking medical attention and certain food items.
Police will not stop anyone at those hours, as Northam intentionally 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.
Northam acknowledged the curfew is essentially “messaging . . . but it’s also about saving lives.” He tried to encourage Virginians to comply by playing a video message from Emily Nichole Egan, a coronavirus ICU nurse in hard-hit Southwest Virginia.
“I’ve put an ungodly amount of people in body bags,” she says from behind a mask. “I understand the sacrifice, and that it’s hard to stay home and it’s hard to wear a mask and you feel like you can’t breathe. But seeing these people die that can’t breathe — it starts to take a toll on you.”
Virginia Republicans were critical of Northam’s new restrictions.
In a statement, Senate Minority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City) and other GOP Senate leaders said the new curfew “smacks of martial law.” House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) called it “blatantly unconstitutional.”
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.
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.”
County 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.
Frederick County became the fifth Maryland jurisdiction to issue tougher restrictions in the past two days, announcing that public and private indoor gatherings will be capped at 15 people.
As part of his 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 of 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.
The Virginia Department of Health will step up enforcement of the mask mandate in businesses open to the public, such as convenience stores. But Northam acknowledged that enforcement is not generally possible in newly affected locations, such as offices.
“We’re not going to go into private places of business,” he said.
Northam 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 1 misdemeanor. State officials said police will continue to emphasize education over criminal charges.
Northam, a physician, outlined the changes 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 — a move that requires council approval — while Baltimore City 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 harm from the coronavirus.
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 be implemented only if 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 Wednesday 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.
D.C. leaders on Thursday said social gatherings, including those over Thanksgiving, were mostly responsible for its 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,” D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt said.
D.C. also unveiled results Thursday from an 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.
Although 83 percent of people required to wear a mask wore one, 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.”
The new restrictions in Prince George’s on Thursday came as the county’s coronavirus metrics have worsened along with those of the rest of the region.
The county reported 2,908 new confirmed 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.”
“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. 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.
Ovetta Wiggins and Patricia Sullivan contributed to this report.