Gov. Ralph Northam loosens COVID-19 restrictions; alcohol sales expanded to midnight

Virginia News

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- Gov. Ralph Northam is loosening some coronavirus restrictions in Virginia beginning in March.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Northam said the changes will impact the state’s curfew, alcohol sales, social gatherings, entertainment venues and summer camps.

Northam’s updated guidelines will lift the ‘modified stay-at-home’ order currently in place between midnight to 5 a.m. The measure first took effect in mid-December to mitigate surges in COVID-19 cases during the holidays. 

The order also changes the cutoff on alcohol sales to midnight–pushed back from the 10 p.m. cutoff that was put in place in November. Restaurants, bars and breweries must continue to close by midnight under the new restrictions. 

“We’re finally seeing COVID numbers fall and vaccinations rise. That means we can start to consider how to slowly, safely ease some of the measures we put in place before the holidays,” Northam said. “We’re at a dangerous but very hopeful moment.”

The change was good news for Chrissie Lozano, a waitress at Bamboo Cafe in Richmond. “A lot of the people who come in here are sort of night owls so to be open that extra two hours is going to be huge for us,” she said.

Currently, social gatherings are capped at 10 people throughout Virginia. The order maintains that rule indoors but increases it to 25 people outdoors. 

“The main focus we need to talk about is indoors versus outdoors. We know the spread of COVID occurs when people are in close proximity indoors where the ventilation is not as good,” Northam said.

Under the updated executive order, outdoor entertainment venues will be able to fill up to 1,000 seats or 30 percent of their total capacity—whichever is fewer. This applies to baseball stadiums like The Diamond, according to Northam’s spokesperson Alena Yarmosky. 

Indoor entertainment venues will continue to be subject to the 250-spectator maximum that is already in place. Yarmosky said this includes basketball courts like VCU’s Siegel Center in Richmond, though smaller indoor facilities will have to cap attendees at 30 percent capacity.

Parney Parnell, CEO of Richmond’s Minor League baseball team the Flying Squirrels, said the updated guidelines announced by Northam still only allow them to fill about 1/9th of their seats. Northam said, if current trends continue, he would consider lifting the 1,000-spectator maximum for outdoor venues in April.

“This is another positive step in a long a series of positive steps that is going to have to happen in order for us to get going on May the 4th so we’re pleased,” Parnell said.

“We don’t want to risk our progress by easing restrictions too quickly–not now when more and more Virginians are getting the protection of vaccines and not when variants that can infect more people more quickly are spreading,” Northam said.

The changes announced on Wednesday will take effect at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, Mar. 1 and will remain in place for at least one month.

Northam is also announcing that overnight summer camps will be able to open as of May 1, with safety measures in place. Registrations can begin now.

The mask mandate for Virginians over the age of 5 will continue for indoor public settings and outdoors when social distancing can’t be achieved. Current guidelines for retail businesses, fitness and exercise, large amusement venues, and personal grooming services will also remain in place. Individuals are strongly encouraged to continue teleworking if possible.

You can watch the full press conference below:

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