RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — On Tuesday, Governor Ralph Northam announced that he will ease some of Virginia’s coronavirus restrictions starting April 1st.
The updated executive order impacts entertainment venues, recreational sports, social gatherings and graduations. It does not alter guidelines for bars or restaurants, since these locations come with a higher risk of transmission, according to Northam.
“We’re focused on places where there is the least risk for spread such as outdoor venues,” Northam said.
Northam is removing the 1,000 person cap for outdoor entertainment venues, though a 30 percent occupancy limit will remain in place. For indoor venues, he is increasing the maximum from 250 to 500 people or 30 percent capacity, whichever is less.
As for recreational sports, including high school athletics, Northam is still limiting both indoor and outdoor venues to 30 percent capacity. However, a maximum of 500 spectators will now be allowed outdoors and 100 people indoors. That’s an increase from the current 250 person cap outdoors and the 25 person limit indoors.
Asked why his Administration is continuing to hold high school sports to stricter standards, Northam said college and professional teams often have more resources to enforce safety guidelines.
“It gets down to our ability to have the infrastructure and the staff in place at college and professional venues. We don’t have that ability in high school,” Northam said.
The governor is also updating social gathering restrictions, which apply to weddings. Moving forward, indoor events will be limited to 50 people instead of 10. Outdoors, the cap will be increased from 25 to 100 people.
This updated executive order also formalizes preliminary guidance on college and high school graduations that Northam released last week. The new guidelines say outdoor graduations will be capped at 5,000 people or 30 percent of the venue’s capacity. Events held indoors will have stricter guidelines, only allowing 500 people or 30 percent occupancy. Masks and social distancing will still be required.
These changes will take effect at midnight on April 1st.
The new restrictions are being announced as Virginia is seeing a slight increase in case following a steep decline throughout February.
Northam said hospitalizations have come down significantly but new, more contagious variants of the virus are continuing to cause uncertainty.
On Monday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky raised concerns about an “avoidable surge” as states like Virginia are seeing a growing proportion of cases connected to these variants.
“As I’ve stated before, the continued relaxation of prevention measures while cases are still high and while concerning variants are spreading rapidly throughout the United States is a serious threat to the progress we have made as a nation,” Walensky said at a White House briefing.
Asked about these concerns on Tuesday, Northam defended his decision to ease restrictions.
“We are not simply throwing the doors open or, as Dr. Fauci said this morning, we don’t want to just flip a switch. These are measured changes,” Northam said. “I think what we’re doing falls in line with what he is saying.”
As of Tuesday, about a quarter of Virginians had gotten at least one vaccine dose.
Virginia’s vaccine coordinator Dr. Danny Avula told 8News on Monday that the state is expected to open up eligibility to all adults by the end of April, about one week before President Joe Biden’s May 1st goal.
“Vaccines are the light at the end of the tunnel but only if people take them and only if we make smart choices until most people are protected,” Northam said.
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