Governor Northam orders schools, non-essential businesses to close

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RICHMOND—Virginia Governor Ralph Northam Monday issued Executive Order Fifty-Three, which closed K-12 schools statewide for the remainder of the academic year. The order also closed certain non-essential businesses and banned all gatherings of more than ten people.

The order went into effect at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, March 24, and will remain in place until 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, April 23.

“This is an unprecedented situation, and it requires unprecedented actions to protect public health and save lives,” said the governor. “I know the next several weeks will be difficult. These restrictions on non-essential businesses will create hardships on the businesses and employees affected. But they are necessary, and we do not undertake them lightly. I am calling on Virginians to sacrifice now, so that we can get through this together.”

Virginia is launching a statewide media campaign to ensure Virginians fully understand their risk and do their part to stop the spread of COVID-19. The commonwealth’s “Health in Your Hands” campaign will include radio and television spots as well as statewide billboards and highway signs.

The statewide ban of all gatherings of more than 10 people does not include those that involve the provision of health care or medical services; access to essential services for low-income residents, such as food banks; operations of the media; law enforcement agencies; or operations of government.

The order closing schools covers grade K through 12. The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) will issue guidance to help divisions execute plans to continue instruction while ensuring students are served equitably, regardless of income level, access to technology, English learner status or special needs.

This includes options for additional instruction through summer programming, integrating instruction into coursework next year and allowing students to make up content. VDOE will submit a waiver to the federal government to lift end-of-year testing requirements and is exploring options to waive state mandated tests.

Under the provisions of the executive order, the following recreation and entertainment businesses are considered non-essential and were closed to the public as of 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, March 24:

Theaters, performing arts centers, concert venues, museums and other indoor entertainment centers.

Fitness centers, gymnasiums, recreation centers, indoor sports facilities and indoor exercise facilities.

Beauty salons, barber shops, spas, massage parlors, tanning salons, tattoo shops and any other location where personal care or personal grooming services are performed that would not allow compliance with social distancing guidelines to remain six feet apart.

Racetracks and historic horse racing facilities.

Bowling alleys, skating rinks, arcades, amusement parks, trampoline parks, fairs, arts and craft facilities, aquariums, zoos, escape rooms, indoor shooting ranges, public and private social clubs and all other places of indoor public amusement.

All dining and congregation areas in the following establishments were closed to the public as of 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, March 24. These establishments may continue to offer delivery and/or takeout services. They include restaurants, dining establishments, food courts, farmers markets, breweries, microbreweries, distilleries, wineries and tasting rooms.

The executive order declares that the following retail businesses are considered essential and may remain open during normal business hours: grocery stores, pharmacies and other retailers that sell food and beverage products or pharmacy products, including dollar stores and department stores with grocery or pharmacy operations; medical, laboratory and vision supply retailers; electronic retailers that sell or service cell phones, computers, tablets and other communications technology; automotive parts, accessories, and tire retailers as well as automotive repair facilities; home improvement, hardware, building material and building supply retailers; lawn and garden equipment retailers; beer, wine, and liquor stores; retail functions of gas stations and convenience stores; retail located within healthcare facilities; banks and other financial institutions with retail functions; pet stores and feed stores; printing and office supply stores; and laundromats and dry cleaners.

All essential retail establishments must, to the extent possible, adhere to social distancing recommendations, enhanced sanitizing practices on common surfaces and other appropriate workplace guidance from state and federal authorities.

Any brick-and-mortar retail business not listed above must limit all in-person shopping to no more than 10 patrons per establishment, adhere to social distancing recommendations, sanitize common surfaces and apply relevant workplace guidance from state and federal authorities. If any such business cannot adhere to the 10-patron limit with proper social distancing requirements, it must close.

Professional businesses not listed above must utilize telework as much as possible. Where telework is not feasible, such businesses must adhere to social distancing recommendations, enhanced sanitizing procedures and apply relevant workplace guidance from state and federal authorities, including CDC, OSHA, and the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry.

Businesses in violation of this order may be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Nothing in Executive Order Fifty-Three limits the provision of health care or medical services, access to essential services for low-income residents, such as food banks; the operations of the media; law enforcement agencies; or operations of government.