by Brandon Jarvis

As COVID-19 restrictions begin to loosen and cases across the Commonwealth continue to decline, the Tri-Cities are reporting above-average numbers of new cases. 

On Tuesday, Governor Ralph Northam announced that he will be loosening some restrictions on social gatherings across the Commonwealth. Indoor gatherings limits will be increased from 10 to 50 people and outdoor gathering limits will be increased to 100 people. 

The changes that will go into effect on April 1 are happening in part due to the drastic decrease in cases since the post-holiday surge across the commonwealth and because of the large influx of vaccines in recent weeks. “We feel good about where we are with vaccinations,” Northam said Tuesday,  while also pointing out the recent opening of the mass vaccination center in Chesterfield at Virginia State University (VSU), where thousands of people are receiving shots each day. 

The Tri-Cities, which are just feet away from the VSU mass vaccination center, has seen a decrease in cases since the post-holiday surge — but each of the three localities continues to report numbers higher than the rest of Virginia.  

The current seven-day statewide average of new cases per 100,000 residents is 16.9, but Hopewell is 37.3, Colonial Heights is 29.6, and Petersburg is 23.5 per a population of 100,000.

Petersburg has reported a total of 3,440 cases with 145 hospitalizations and 74 deaths, Hopewell has reported 2,287 total cases with 94 hospitalizations and 64 deaths, and Colonial Heights has reported 1,487 total cases, 67 hospitalizations, and 57 deaths. 

The Crater and Chesterfield Health Districts did not respond immediately to requests for comment. 

Experts have been warning of a potential ‘spring spurge’ due to variants and the loosening of restrictions in states across the country. “As I’ve stated before, the continued relaxation of prevention measures while cases are still high and while concerning variants are spreading rapidly throughout the United States is a serious threat to the progress we have made as a nation,” said Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Northam said Tuesday that he continues to watch the data and is taking nothing off-the-table in the future if the situation changes. “What we are anticipating is that more people get vaccinated and if we can continue to follow the guidelines, it is so important still to wear a mask and to keep our distance,” he said. “We will see how it goes. As I have said all along, all options are on the table and if we need to make adjustments we will, but we feel we are headed in a good direction.” 

More from Northam on the loosening of restrictions

  • Gyms, restaurants, and retail establishments will have to continue to follow the same distance requirements that were already in place.
  • Virginia is expected to receive nearly 50,000 additional Johnson and Johnson vaccines. 
  • All indoor and outdoor entertainment and public amusement venues must continue to operate at 30 percent capacity. Indoor venues must operate at 30 percent capacity or with a maximum of 500 people, an increase from the current cap of 250 people. Outdoor venues must operate at 30 percent capacity, with no specific cap on the number of attendees. These venues were previously limited to 30 percent capacity or up to 1,000 attendees, whichever was fewer. 

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By vascope