New guidelines for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic were rolled out by Gov. Ralph Northam during a Friday press briefing. The governor said he is shifting from a “Stay at Home” policy to a “Safer at Home” policy, as outlined in Executive Order Sixty-One.
Under Northam’s “Forward Virginia” plan to gradually ease public restrictions while containing the spread of COVID-
19, businesses throughout Virginia will be able to open this Friday, except in certain Northern Virginia localities. Retail businesses will be limited to 50 percent occupancy, while restaurants and beverage establishments will be able to offer outdoor dining at 50 percent occupancy.
Personal grooming services may begin to operate once again on Friday, with one customer per service provider, and fitness centers will be able to offer outdoor exercises. Campgrounds may also begin taking reservations for short-term stays, and churches may resume inside services at 50 percent capacity.
However, social gatherings of more than 10 people are still banned, said the governor, and people are urged to maintain social distancing, telework when possible, and wear face coverings.
Northam said his guidelines are grounded in science and data, and that, while millions of Virginians have stayed at home to flatten the curve, “our work is not done.”
“While we move into this first phase, it will be important for Virginians to act cautiously,” he said, “especially our most vulnerable populations, the elderly, and those with underlying medical conditions.”
Some specific guidelines
In order to ensure safety and continue to limit the spread of COVID-19, the governor established specific guidelines for all sectors that will be opening.
Some of those guidelines for businesses include continuation of physical distancing and teleworking whenever possible; wearing face coverings when possible, especially where maintaining six feet of distance is not possible; and limiting conferences, trade shows, and trainings.
The guidelines also include practicing routine cleaning of surfaces; using a disinfectant on shared tools or equipment; frequent hand washing; and screening employees prior to starting work by asking about temperature and symptoms.
Employers should develop flexible sick leave policies and instruct people who are sick to stay home, say the guidelines, with employees over age 65 minimizing their contact with customers and teleworking when possible. Staggered shifts are also suggested.
Guidance documents for businesses may be found online at www.governor.virginia.gov/media/governorvirginiagov/governor-of-virginia/pdf/Virginia-Forward-Phase-One-Business-Sector-Guidelines.pdf.
For churches, the 50 percent occupancy restriction means 50 percent of the lowest occupancy load on the certificate of occupancy of the room or facility where religious services are conducted. In addition, those attending services must practice physical distancing, including remaining seated six feet apart, other than families who may be seated together.
Other restrictions on church services include using only disposable items for distributing food or beverages, thoroughly cleaning frequently contacted surfaces before and after each service, and posting signage with public health reminders that include prohibiting people with a fever, symptoms of COVID-19, or known exposure to the virus from attending.
The guidance document also asks that churches encourage those in attendance to wear face coverings. The document is available at www.governor.virginia.gov/media/governorvirginiagov/governor-of-virginia/pdf/Virginia-Forward-Phase-One-Religious-Services-Guidelines.pdf.