After a surge in infections in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia, Governor Ralph Northam (D) took more aggressive steps to prevent the virus from spreading further. He orders inspectors to make unannounced visits to restaurants and retail stores and then revoke their licenses if workers are not allowed to wear masks or customers are allowed to congregate in a confined space.
“If you own a restaurant or business and don’t comply, your license is at stake and we won’t hesitate to take action if necessary,”
He said the nationwide campaign will involve 500 health inspectors, 100 of whom will be added in the coming weeks.
“Remember that you don’t have to operate a user who doesn’t wear a face mask,” said Northam, adding that these customers can be cited for a past order offense violation that requires masks in assembly environments. “You can tell them to go. If not, enter the house and you can call the police again. “
The action will mainly focus on the touristy area of Hampton Roads, where some younger guests haven’t worn masks in restaurant bars and parties, Northam said.
In this part of the state, infections have skyrocketed in the past two weeks. The 7-day average for new cases increased to 346 on Tuesday from 57 in early June. Virginia Beach has discovered 40 percent of the 817 known cases in the coastal city in the past two weeks.
“There is clearly a spread of the community,” said Northam, calling the number of cases “very worrying.”
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) urged local leaders in his state to take bold steps to enforce physical distance and mask requirements for bars and restaurants.
“The vast majority of our state’s bars and restaurants are compliant, but some are apparently illegal and public health,” Hogan wrote in a letter to the county health department and local alcohol authorities.
“It is your responsibility to enforce these laws,” the letter said. “Infringements should be warned, fined, measures taken regarding their licenses, or closed if necessary.”
Hogan’s letter came after Maryland reported 733 new cases on Tuesday – the largest daily increase since June 5. The state’s 7-day average for new cases was 552, the highest mark since mid-June. The largest peak came in Prince George’s County.
Maryland also reported a daily increase in hospital admissions and use of beds in the intensive care unit, with 29 more people admitted to the hospital and 10 more patients in the intensive care unit.
Hogan warned of an increase in infections in younger adults and found that the rate of positive test results among residents under 35 was 84 percent higher than among older ones.
“At least 12 states have already moved to close bars and restaurants. We don’t want to be forced to do anything here in Maryland,” said Hogan.
An executive order signed by Hogan last month requires employees to wear face covers while at work, prohibits people from gathering in bar areas, and limits service to six people at one table while using each other and let customers sit six feet apart.
Some of the most affected areas of the state did not need Hogan to remind them of the importance of enforcing the rules.
In Montgomery County, officials said they had already closed two companies and punished a third for failing to comply with social distance measures.
The Society Lounge and the Republic Garden in Silver Spring were closed and their licenses suspended on Sunday for failing to comply with the social distance rules, the county said on Tuesday. The Block, a grocery store and bar in Rockville, was fined $ 500 for also violating social detachment requirements after receiving a first warning from the county on July 8.
The district had 40 additional infections on Tuesday and no deaths from Covid-19 on a fifth consecutive day.
Health experts have praised area managers for increasing their hospital bed capacity, but said they fear that a sustained increase in infections could overwhelm some hospitals.
“The virus is still nearby, and is still circulating and being transmitted,” said Eric R. Houpt, director of the Department of Infectious Diseases and International Health at the University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville. “We have hospital capacity, but we hope we don’t need it.”
As residents become increasingly frustrated with shutdown restrictions, repeated calls from local officials to wear masks and distances have created tension, with some people overtly violating these guidelines.
Northam tried to alleviate these frustrations, saying that the region’s health and economy depend on everyone working together. However, he was considering further measures to prevent the virus from spreading, including reducing the size of the meeting from 250 to 50 and introducing an earlier cut-off time for alcohol sales in the state.
“This is not political,” he said. “This is about our health and well-being, and it is also about our economy. We’ll all need to get there safely. “
Nicole Riley, director of the National Federation of Independent Business in Virginia, praised Northam’s decision to address violations rather than tighten restrictions on all companies. However, she warned that his order could put some business owners in the uncomfortable position of playing “the executor for the government” by telling customers they could not enter without a mask.
“This opens the door to lawsuits against the company and in return, the state should offer them legal immunity,” said Riley.
The Republican leaders of Virginia described Northam’s actions as unfair to companies and people who choose not to wear a mask.
“This mandate puts companies in an untenable position. To keep their licenses, they have to confront customers who choose not to comply, ”said Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah), chairman of the house’s minority, in a statement. “I can’t help believing that issuing a nationwide or other threat does little but creates more defiance.”
Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky made it clear that companies will not lose their licenses if customers refuse to wear masks. The governor urges companies to encourage customers to wear masks, but they only have to enforce the wearing of masks among their employees.
The district, Maryland and Virginia reported 1,574 cases on Tuesday. Maryland and Virginia each reported nine deaths.
The average number of deaths in the region after seven days fell to 24, a level most recently reached in early April. While hospital stays in the region have increased in recent days, the number of intensive care beds used and the number of patients who need ventilators remains constant.
Rebecca Tan and Laura Vozzella contributed to this report.