RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – All social distancing and capacity restrictions in Virginia ended on Friday, May 28 at 12:01 a.m., though masks will still be required in certain places.
Gov. Ralph Northam originally proposed a June 15 effective date for his updated executive order but he later decided to move up that timeline by two weeks.
“Commonsense public health restrictions have kept many Virginians safe during the last year, and with vaccines now widely available– over three millions Virginians are fully vaccinated and safe from serious illness or death caused by COVID-19 – it is time to begin our new normal,” Northam’s new order reads.
For the past several weeks in Virginia, places like entertainment venues have been bound by occupancy limits that range from 30-50%, depending on whether the space is indoors or outdoors. There are also caps on the size of social gatherings.
The new changes taking effect overnight mean there will be no more limits on social gatherings like weddings.
Plus, sports stadiums can fill every seat with fans. The Flying Squirrels, Richmond’s minor league baseball team, plans to fully reopen on June 1, according to a spokesperson.
The updated executive order also has major implications for theaters and concert halls.
Lucas Fritz, owner of The Camel in Richmond, said the end of capacity restrictions will allow them to start selling standing-room tickets for shows again, instead of requiring the audience to stay seated at their tables. It’s something he plans to start doing this weekend after the new order takes effect.
“It’s kind of surreal being able to imagine going back to what concerts used to be like but it’s great. I know I’m looking forward to it, the staff is looking forward to it,” Fritz said.
Fritz said some larger venues may take longer to return to normal because it takes time to schedule events. He also owns The Broadberry in Richmond, which he plans to reopen in late summer or early fall.
With social distancing guidelines also going away, restaurants will be able to serve more customers. Right now, different parties are required to be at least six feet apart at tables and at the bar.
“We had to take all the bar stools away to meet the six feet of distancing with the tables but now that that’s all gone we’re going to fill it back up with bar stools so you can come in, sit down and have a drink for happy hour,” Fritz said.
As for face coverings, those are still required for Virginians in certain places, such as public transportation, healthcare facilities, K-12 schools and in businesses that mandate them. Otherwise, fully vaccinated Virginians have the green light to go without a mask in most indoor and outdoor settings, while unvaccinated people are still strongly encouraged to wear one in accordance with CDC recommendations.
All of this comes as the state’s go-to data analysts say new COVID-19 cases are at their lowest rate since last summer and that decline is expected to continue.
Bryan Lewis with the University of Virginia’s Biocomplexity Institute, has been modeling possible worst case scenarios for the Northam Administration since the beginning of the pandemic.
Lewis said a surge is possible this summer, though the likelihood of that occurring is “low” based on current trends. Additionally, because the most vulnerable populations have largely been vaccinated, he said an increase in cases won’t neccessarily correspond with a spike in deaths or hospitalizations.
“You can take that sigh of relief but let’s try to be cautious. We’re emerging from the woods but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still some danger lurking out there,” Lewis said.
Even though researchers from the RAND Corporation say—with the current vaccination pace—the state won’t be able to reach herd immunity before September, Lewis agrees with Northam’s decision to move forward with reopening.
“Yeah I think it’s about the right time for us to start moving towards the new normal. We have very little case prevalence. We have high levels of vaccination. To get totally back to normal though everyone needs to do their part and get vaccinated,” Lewis said.