‘We are moving into a period of sacrifice.’ What you need to know about new Virginia school, business closures

By: and - March 23, 2020 3:34 pm

Gov. Ralph Northam, pictured on Tuesday, has been holding daily briefings on the spread of COVID-19 in Virginia and the state’s response. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Schools in Virginia will remain closed through at least the end of the academic year and the state will enforce a range of new restrictions on businesses and private gatherings, Gov. Ralph Northam announced Monday.

“We are moving into a period of sacrifice,” Northam said.

The new emergency order goes into effect Wednesday and lasts at least 30 days. Here’s what you need to know:

K-12 schools are closed until the end of the year

Northam extended his order closing public and private schools, which had been limited to two weeks, through the rest of the academic year.

Officials acknowledged that it would be difficult to ensure that students throughout the commonwealth had access to virtual instruction. Virginia Superintendent James Lane said the Department of Education would post official guidelines by tomorrow, offering individual school districts different options for completing their curriculum.

Those include completing classes through online learning, extending the length of the school year in 2021, or embedding this year’s curriculum in future courses when schools reopen. Lane also said that schools would likely be given the option to bring certain students back for an extended school year if they weren’t able to access classes online.

Northam said he was “calling on communities,” including local schools and childcare providers, to find emergency solutions for “essential” workers who can’t stay home with their children. Daycare facilities are also expected to comply with the state’s ban on gatherings of 10 or more.

All gatherings of more than 10 people are banned.

Northam had previously discouraged public or private gatherings of 10 or more people, but effective Wednesday, he said they would be banned. Violations are punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 12 months in jail or $2,500 fine.

Entertainment and recreation businesses must close.

Northam specifically cited bowling alleys, theaters and performing arts centers, fitness centers and racetracks when he spoke at a news conference. Other businesses included in the order include: museums, indoor sports facilities, rec centers, skating rinks, arcades, amusement parks, trampoline parks, fairs, aquariums, zoos, escape rooms, indoor shooting ranges and public and private social clubs.

Tattoo artist Bob Knox works on a client at Lucky 13 Tattoo and Piercing in Richmond, Va., March 19, 2020. (Parker Michels-Boyce for the Virginia Mercury)

Personal services, like tattoo parlors and barbershops, will also be shutdown.

He said any retail business that is not able to adhere to social distancing recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control must close, which means cutting hair or providing spa treatments is now banned, as are tanning salons and tattoo parlors.

However, Northam’s administration said in an FAQ it released with the order that such service providers who offer house calls may continue to do so, but encouraged hand washing and sneezing into an elbow or tissue.

Restaurants, breweries and wineries can remain open, but must close their dining rooms.

Under Northam’s previous order, the businesses had been allowed to continue to serve dine-in customers provided they limited occupancy to no more than 10 patrons at a time.

Many food establishments have already closed or transitioned to take-out only, but Northam is now saying all businesses must take this step.

Grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, liquor stores and other ‘essential services’ can remain open.

Northam said he would allow essential businesses to remain open as long as they take steps to follow social-distancing guidelines that keep patrons and staff six feet apart.

They defined essential businesses broadly, including: Grocery stores, pharmacies and any other retailer that sells food and groceries (including convenience and dollar stores). Auto parts, hardware, building supply, lawn and garden retailers. Also included: beer, wine and liquor stores, banks, pet and feed stores, office supplies, laundromats and dry cleaners.

So can most ‘non-essential’ retail businesses, as long as they limit occupancy to 10 people.

That means small retail shops can likely stay open if they can meet social distancing requirements

Companies without public-facing operations are allowed to remain open, but he encouraged workplaces not already doing so to work from home. And in industries where that’s not practical, the order says “such business must adhere to social distancing recommendations, enhanced sanitizing practices on common surfaces, and apply the relevant workplace guidance from state and federal authorities.”

This is not a ‘stay at home order.’ You can still go outside.

Northam continues to encourage people to go outside and take walks in their neighborhoods for exercise — just to stay six feet away from others while doing it.

Other states have taken more aggressive measures, including Maryland, which ordered all non-essential businesses closed, including many of the small retailers Northam is allowing to remain open.

Northam said he spoke with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who criticized Northam for not shutting down restaurants sooner,  on Monday morning.

“We were talking about ways we can work together to be consistent with our guidelines,” he said.

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Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association.

Kate Masters
Kate Masters

Kate grew up in Northern Virginia before moving to the Midwest, earning her degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. She spent a year covering gun violence and public health for The Trace in Boston before joining The Frederick News-Post in Frederick County, Md. Before joining the Mercury in 2020, she covered state and county politics for the Bethesda Beat in Montgomery County, Md. She was named Virginia's outstanding young journalist for 2021 by the Virginia Press Association.