GOV. Ralph Northam issued a “stay-at-home” executive order Monday in an effort to reduce the spread of coronavirus in Virginia. “Our message today is very clear: stay at home,” the governor declared during a press conference, praising the thousands of people across the commonwealth who have been diligently following social distancing guidelines—but warning those who have been congregating at beaches, parks and other recreational areas that any social gatherings of 10 or more people are banned until June 10.

“I’ve suggested it before,” Northam said. “Today it’s an order.” Violations are a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a fine up to $2,500. These are serious consequences for disobeying the governor’s order.

Although the commonwealth is trying to stay ahead of the fast-moving contagion, it’s not fast enough. Northam noted that state health officials have been looking at various pandemic models predicting the spread of COVID-19 in Virginia. While all predict “different outcomes and timelines, what they all have in common is a surge in cases that require hospitalization,” he said.



The problem is that there’s only 2,000 intensive care beds in all of Virginia, many of them already occupied by people who are injured or sick with other diseases, including influenza. There could be a major shortage if the number of patients hospitalized with coronavirus (136 at the time of the governor’s press conference) gets much bigger.

To be clear, the latest executive order does not prevent employees of companies providing essential services from venturing out of their homes to go to work, or forbid individuals from obtaining “food, supplies, medical care, fresh air, or exercise,” Northam said. But hanging out at the park or the beach with dozens of your friends will have to be curtailed. “Do not go out unless you need to go out,” the governor said. “That’s very different from wanting to go out.”

This pandemic is causing an enormous amount of economic and social upheaval that is having real consequences now that will continue far down the road. But this is the new normal until the virus is contained, whether we like it or not. And social distancing is one of the best ways to contain it.

But isolation is hard. The City of Fredericksburg’s Step Outside, Say Hello! Campaign is an excellent way to keep tabs on the neighbors—from a distance, of course. City residents are asked to open their front doors and step outside their homes at 6 p.m. sharp each evening to simply say hello, giving people—especially the elderly and those who live alone—a little bit of social interaction while they are sheltering in place.

It’s also an excellent way for city residents to unobtrusively check on the people living closest to them without compromising their privacy or social distancing guidelines. According to the city, “This helps our community keep in touch—if you notice a neighbor who has stopped saying hello at 6 p.m. each day, maybe it’s a good time to check on them to see if they are OK. A simple hello can mean a lot!”

Yes it can. The power of small caring gestures like this during a crisis that has shaken everyone to the core should not be underestimated.

Other local jurisdictions should launch similar programs, providing shut-in residents a simple way to make themselves useful during this difficult time. They don’t cost anything but a few minutes of peoples’ time, but they only work if everybody participates.

So stay at home, please, but say hello to your neighbors every day.

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