RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Governor Ralph Northam is increasing the number of people who can attend high school and college graduations this spring in Virginia.
The new guidelines released on Wednesday say outdoor graduations will be capped at 5,000 people or 30 percent of the venue’s capacity, whichever is less. Events held indoors will have stricter guidelines, only allowing 500 people or 30 percent occupancy.
“We’re going to encourage graduations to be outdoors,” Northam told 8News ahead of the announcement on Tuesday. “We know there is less of a chance of contracting COVID if you are outdoors and in open air.”
Northam said people who attend these events must wear face masks and follow social distancing guidelines.
“While graduation and commencement ceremonies will still be different than they were in the past, this is a tremendous step forward for all of our schools, our graduates, and their families,” Northam said in a statement.
Northam’s update comes after Virginia parents started multiple petitions pushing for the change.
Terrie Besnier was one of them.
“These students need to know that the governor cares about them and I think that has gotten lost,” Besnier told 8News before Northam’s updated guidance was released.
Besnier’s daughter, Jessica, is a senior at James Madison University, where she and her husband are alumni. She said the school has yet to finalize its graduation plans.
“We want to be there. We’re going to be fully vaccinated by then. More people will be vaccinated. She has worked so hard and she needs to know we’re there with her,” Besnier said.
Maryland mother Nicole Kreamer is hoping Northam’s announcement will prompt Virginia Tech to reconsider its preliminary plan to hold a virtual ceremony for parents, with possible smaller in-person gatherings for students only. Her daughter Jordan is graduating this spring.
“Graduation is the crowning moment of the college career and these students have persevered through a great deal. They’re going to go down in history as one of the most resilient classes,” Kreamer said.
Northam’s complete guidance for schools doesn’t specifically address families coming from out of state for ceremonies but, in the past, the governor has been reluctant to formally restrict travel.
Northam is expected to hold a press conference next week to update other coronavirus restrictions for the month of April.
“We are releasing this guidance early to allow schools to begin planning for this year’s events,” he said in his statement.