Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Gov. eases COVID-19 restrictions as daily case numbers decrease, vaccine doses rise

During a press conference Wednesday, Gov. Ralph Northam announced a lift on COVID-19 restrictions, amending Executive Order Seventy-Two. (WYDaily/Courtesy of VPM)

As COVID-19 hospitalizations and infection rates continue to decline and vaccinations rise in Virginia, Governor Ralph Northam announced today certain outdoor sports and entertainment venues may begin to operate at increased capacity starting Monday, Mar. 1.

He amended Executive Order Seventy-Two with the next steps of the “Forward Virginia” plan to safely and gradually ease public health restrictions while mitigating the spread of the virus, according to a news release from the governor’s office.

According to Northam, Virginia’s daily case numbers are down to 1,708, the lowest it has been since Thanksgiving. Nearly 1.7 million vaccines have been distributed, and there are currently 220 vaccine events set to happen around the state.

“Thanks to the hard work and sacrifice of all Virginians, hospitalization and positivity rates across the Commonwealth are the lowest they have been in nearly three months,” Northam said.

“As key health metrics show encouraging trends and we continue to ramp up our vaccination efforts, we can begin to gradually resume certain recreational activities and further reopen sectors of our economy,” he said.

Virginia will maintain a “Safer at Home” strategy with continued strict health and safety protocols, including physical distancing, mask-wearing requirements, gathering limits, and business capacity restrictions.

The current modified stay at home order will expire Feb. 28.

“Even as we take steps to safely ease public health guidelines, we must all remain vigilant so we can maintain our progress — the more we stay home, mask up, and practice social distancing, the more lives we will save from this dangerous virus.”

Governor Northam is beginning to ease public health restrictions by taking steps to increase capacity limits in outdoor settings, where evidence shows the risk of airborne transmission of COVID-19 is lower.

Spreadsheet showing COVID-19 restriction changes, effective Mar. 1. (WYDaily/Courtesy of the Office of the Governor)

Here are the key changes in COVID-19 restrictions:

  • Social gatherings: The maximum number of individuals permitted in a social gathering will increase from 10 to 25 people for outdoor settings while remaining at 10 persons for indoor settings. Northam cited his reason for the difference between outdoor and indoor gatherings was due to the way the virus spreads more easily in contained spaces.
  • Entertainment venues: Outdoor entertainment and public amusement venues will be able to operate with up to 1,000 individuals or at 30% capacity, whichever is lower. If current trends continue, these venues may be able to operate at 30% capacity with no cap on the number of people permitted to attend starting in April. Indoor entertainment and public amusement venues must continue to operate at 30% capacity with a cap of 250 people. All entertainment venues were previously limited to a maximum of 250 individuals.
  • Dining establishments: The on-site sale, consumption, and possession of alcohol will be permitted until midnight, extended from 10 p.m. All restaurants, dining establishments, food courts, breweries, microbreweries, distilleries, wineries, and tasting rooms still must be closed between midnight and 5 a.m.
  • Overnight summer camps: As of May 1, overnight summer camps will be able to open with strict mitigation measures in place. Registration can begin now.

The new guidelines will be effective for at least one month and mitigation measures may be eased further if key health metrics continue to improve. Current guidelines for retail businesses, fitness and exercise, large amusement venues, and personal grooming services will remain in place. Individuals are strongly encouraged to continue teleworking if possible, according to the news release.

“Mar. 1 comes just six days shy of a year since the first positive COVID case was identified in Virginia, and we have come a long way since then, through a very very tough time, and we do not want to risk our progress by easing restrictions too quickly,” Northam said.

“We’re at a very dangerous but hopeful moment,” he said.

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