AP NEWS

Virginia bans large gatherings, closes some public offices

March 15, 2020 GMT

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.

Statewide, 45 people have tested positive for the virus, Northam said.

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.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said seven out of the eight cases in the Peninsula district were associated with the same two contacts. He said the exception was the case of the man who died. Officials have so far not been able to determine how he was exposed to the virus.

“We were unable to find any source of exposure, and it’s that case that makes us concerned for the likelihood of community spread,” Oliver said.

The Virginia Department of Emergency Management announced Sunday that one of its employees has tested positive for the virus.

The agency said it has notified other people who may have also been exposed and is currently working closely with the Virginia Department of Health.

“VDEM has ensured that all employees are aware of the necessary precautions and preventative measures, as well as the steps necessary in the event of a possible exposure,” the agency said in a news release.

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.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak