Virginia moved a step closer to a complete shutdown this week, with Gov. Ralph Northam banning public gatherings of more than 10 people and closing certain non-essential businesses.
He also extended the closure of the state’s K-12 schools, initially only for a two-week period, for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year. All of these actions are being taken in response to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Northam made his announcement on Monday afternoon, with the changes going into effect the following day. The ban on gatherings and closure of businesses is to remain in effect until April 23. The governor is also urging all Virginians to avoid non-essential travel outside the home, if and when possible.
“This is an unprecedented situation, and it requires unprecedented actions to protect public health and save lives,” said Northam. “I know the next several weeks will be difficult. These restrictions on non-essential businesses will create hardships on the businesses and employees affected. But they are necessary, and we do not undertake them lightly. I am calling on Virginians to sacrifice now, so that we can get through this together.”
All gatherings of more than 10 people are banned statewide. This does not include gatherings that involve the provision of health care or medical services, access to essential services for low-income residents, such as food banks; operations of the media; law enforcement agencies; or operations of government.
All schools will remain closed through the end of this academic year. The Virginia Department of Education is issuing guidance to help divisions execute plans to continue instruction, while ensuring students are served equitably, regardless of income level, access to technology, English learner status, or special needs.
This includes options for additional instruction through summer programming, integrating instruction into coursework next year, and allowing students to make up content.
On Tuesday, Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane announced that he is using his authority granted him under Northam’s Executive Order No. 51 to ensure that high school seniors who were on track to earn a diploma later this spring are able to graduate, despite the closure of schools for the remainder of the year.
“The governor and I agree that every student who was on a trajectory toward earning a diploma should be able to graduate on time and move on to the next stage of his or her life,” Lane said. “I hope the flexibility that I am announcing today will help students and teachers as they cope with the deep disappointment of having their time together unexpectedly cut short and of not being able to enjoy the recognitions and celebrations that should be a part of every student’s graduation experience.”
In a guidance document sent to the commonwealth’s 132 school divisions, Lane said that high school seniors in the following categories will be able to graduate on time, despite the closure of schools for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year:
—Seniors currently enrolled in a course for which they need a standard or verified credit in order to graduate (verified credits are earned by passing a required course and also passing the associated Standards of Learning test);—Seniors who have successfully completed a course required for graduation, but have not earned the associated verified credit, and
—Seniors who have not passed a required student-selected SOL test.
Lane said flexibility also is available for seniors who have not earned a required career and technical education credential; seniors who have not completed a fine or performing arts course or CTE course; seniors who were unable to complete sequential course requirements, and seniors who have not completed a course in economics and personal finance.
“The vast majority of our high school seniors have already met most of the commonwealth’s rigorous graduation requirements,” Lane said. “And for most students in the class of 2020, that means passing nine end-of-course SOL tests in English, mathematics, science and history to earn an Advanced Studies Diploma.”
The following recreation and entertainment businesses have been deemed non-essential and were ordered to close to the public beginning on March 24:
—Theaters, performing arts centers, concert venues, museums, and other indoor entertainment centers;
—Fitness centers, gymnasiums, recreation centers, indoor sports facilities, indoor exercise facilities;
—Beauty salons, barber shops, spas, massage parlors, tanning salons, tattoo shops, and any other location where personal care or personal grooming services are performed that would not allow compliance with social distancing guidelines to remain six feet apart;
—Racetracks and historic horse racing facilities;
—Bowling alleys, skating rinks, arcades, amusement parks, trampoline parks, fairs, arts and craft facilities, aquariums, zoos, escape rooms, indoor shooting ranges, public and private social clubs, and all other places of indoor public amusement.
All dining and congregation areas in the following establishments were ordered to close to the public on Tuesday. These establishments may continue to offer delivery and/or takeout services. Establishments include restaurants, dining establishments, food courts, farmers’ markets, breweries, microbreweries, distilleries, wineries and tasting rooms.
The following retail businesses are considered essential and may remain open during normal business hours:
—Grocery stores, pharmacies, and other retailers that sell food and beverage products or pharmacy products, including dollar stores, and department stores with grocery or pharmacy operations;
—Medical, laboratory, and vision supply retailers;
—Electronic retailers that sell or service cell phones, computers, tablets, and other communications technology;
—Automotive parts, accessories, and tire retailers, as well as automotive repair facilities;
—Home improvement, hardware, building material, and building supply retailers;
—Lawn and garden equipment retailers;
—Beer, wine, and liquor stores;
—Retail functions of gas stations and convenience stores;
—Retail located within health care facilities;
—Banks and other financial institutions with retail functions;
—Pet stores and feed stores;
—Printing and office supply stores, and
—Laundromats and dry cleaners.
All essential retail establishments must, to the extent possible, adhere to social distancing recommendations, enhanced sanitizing practices on common surfaces, and other appropriate workplace guidance from state and federal authorities.
Any brick-and-mortar retail business not listed above must limit all in-person shopping to no more than 10 patrons per establishment, adhere to social distancing recommendations, sanitize common surfaces, and apply relevant workplace guidance from state and federal authorities. If any such business cannot adhere to the 10-patron limit with proper social distancing requirements, it must close.
Professional businesses not listed above must utilize telework as much as possible. Where telework is not feasible, such businesses must adhere to social distancing recommendations, enhanced sanitizing procedures, and apply relevant workplace guidance from state and federal authorities, including CDC, OSHA, and the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry.
Businesses in violation of this order may be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Nothing in the Executive Order No. 53 limits the provision of health care or medical services, access to essential services for low-income residents, such as food banks; the operations of the media; law enforcement agencies; or operations of government.