RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Gov. Ralph Northam on Sunday banned all public gatherings of more than 100 people statewide and ordered a two-week shutdown of municipal offices in an area of southeast Virginia that has been hit by a cluster of coronavirus cases, including the state’s first death from the virus.
Northam made the announcement after meeting with local officials in the Peninsula Health District, where eight people have tested positive for the virus, including one man in his 70s who died of respiratory failure caused by the virus. The peninsula covers Williamsburg, Newport News, Poquoson, James City County and York County.
Northam stopped short of ordering a full statewide quarantine, but urged residents, particularly people who live in the peninsula district, to avoid crowds.
“This is a very fluid and dynamic situation. We have not mandated a quarantine, but we are strongly encouraging and urging people to avoid public gatherings of any kind,” he said.
For people who live in the peninsula district, Northam said: “If you are planning an event with several people, you should cancel it — period.”
Local officials said municipal buildings throughout the district will be closed through March 30, but said local governments will continue to provide essential services, including police and fire response, and trash collection.
Dr. Thomas Franck, director of the Peninsula Health District, said officials have traced more than 200 contacts of people who have tested positive for the virus in the district and will continue to trace others “to ensure self-quarantine is taking place and to identify additional cases of the virus in the community.”
Local officials urged people in the district to avoid gatherings of more than 50 people.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
The outbreak has caused more than 5,800 deaths out of 156,000 cases worldwide.