ALEXANDRIA, Va. (WRIC) — Governor Ralph Northam was joined by President Joe Biden Friday morning in Alexandria to celebrate the end of capacity and social distancing restrictions in Virginia just in time for Memorial Day weekend.
“Today we mark a tremendous milestone in our fight against COVID-19,” Northam said.
This time last year, Virginians were still being told not to travel for non-essential purposes and some parts of the state hadn’t even started reopening.
Now, Northam’s updated executive order, which took effect at 12:01AM on Friday morning, means there will be no more attendance limits on social gatherings like weddings and barbecues. Plus, full bars, sports stadiums and entertainment venues can come back.
“For the first time since March 2020, there are no limits or capacity or distancing in Virginia’s restaurants, businesses, offices, or other venues,” Northam explained. “We are closer to a more normal life than we have been in the past 14 months and, I don’t know about you, but for me that feels really good.”
Face coverings are still required in certain places in Virginia in accordance with CDC guidelines, including public transportation, healthcare settings and K-12 schools. Businesses can mandate them too and ask for proof of vaccination. Otherwise, it’s generally ok for people to take their masks off two weeks after getting their final vaccine dose.
All of these changes come as new daily COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to fall in the Commonwealth. According to Northam, six weeks ago, the state was seeing more than 1,600 new cases per day on average but now there are fewer than 400 cases per day–the lowest rate since April 2020 when testing wasn’t as widely available.
“We’re not just saving lives, we’re getting our lives back,” Biden said. “As more Americans get vaccinated the days grow brighter and brighter but, let me be clear, we’re not done yet.”
About six months into Virginia’s vaccine roll out, more than half of the state’s adult population has been fully vaccinated and 66% have gotten at least one dose. Northam said that’s the 14th highest vaccination rate in the nation.
“We can see in real time that the more people get vaccinated, the fewer people get COVID,” Northam said. “It is very simple math.”
Virginia is on track to meeting Biden’s goal of having 70% of adults vaccinated with at least one dose by July 4, according to Northam. Biden said ten states have already met that threshold.
“If we succeed we can celebrate our independence from the virus together on the 4th of July,” Biden said. “We still have five weeks left to meet our goal and I know we can do it.”
Northam thanked President Biden for his leadership and support.
“As a doctor, it also makes a big difference when leadership respects science and follows its lead,” Northam said.
President Biden urged Virginians and Americans to continue getting vaccinated. He called Gov. Northam one of the best governors in the country for his handling of the pandemic.
“Governors like Governor Northam have been instrumental partners,” Biden said.
The Biden Administration has accelerated vaccinations in Virginia by providing over $247 million in federal funding for community vaccination sites. He said the federal government also funded over 360 National Guard members that supported the state’s COVID-19 response.
Virginia’s House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert issued the following statement on President Biden’s visit to Virginia:
“President Biden and Governor Northam can pretend that onerous COVID restrictions are a thing of the past in Virginia, but the truth is something else entirely. Virtually every workplace in Virginia is still bound by law to continue acting like it’s April 2020 thanks to the inflexible workplace ‘safety’ rules put in place by the Department of Labor and Industry at the insistence of Democrats.
“These rules still require frequent surface cleanings, masking for employees, and other mitigation measures — even for employees who are fully vaccinated. Republicans warned these rules were inflexible and likely to become outdated before they were ever put in place, and sadly, we were right.
“It’s time for the Governor to end the state of emergency so that these inflexible, unscientific rules can be rolled back and businesses can stop wasting time and money on ‘safety’ measures that are clearly no longer needed.”House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert