Northam Eases COVID-19 Restrictions. What Does That Mean?

The governor announced restrictions on gatherings and businesses are lessening Wednesday

By Megan Schiffres

February 24, 2021

Governor sketches out new plans for the Commonwealth, starting March 1.

RICHMOND – Some restrictions on gatherings and businesses in Virginia will be eased beginning on Monday, March 1. 

Governor Ralph Northam made the announcement that some businesses and private gatherings can increase their capacity on Wednesday. He said the lessening of restrictions is due to a recent decline in COVID-19 cases, in addition to a rise in vaccination rates. 

“Now it’s two months past Christmas and with thousands of Virginians vaccinated we’re finally seeing covid numbers fall and vaccination numbers rise. That means we can start to consider how to slowly, safely ease some of the measures we put in place before the holidays,” said Northam. 

COVID-19 Cases Fall Following the Holidays 

Overall cases of COVID-19 in the Commonwealth have been falling since they spiked in mid-January. 

The day of Northam’s announcement, the Virginia Department of Health reports 1,907 cases of the virus in the Commonwealth. Cases of the virus spiked on January 17, when 9,914 Virginians were reported to have the virus in a single day. According to Northam, the reason for that spike is that people were traveling or congregating in large numbers over the holidays. 

The restrictions currently in place in Virginia were announced in anticipation of the holiday spike.  They were going to expire in January, but Northam made the decision to extend them after January 17. 

RELATED: Northam Increases Spectator Limits For Outdoor Sports

Lessening Restrictions Doesn’t Mean An End to COVID 

For the last year Virginia has been going in circles, imposing the same restrictions each time cases spike as a result of lessening those restrictions when cases drop. But overall, even when Virginia’s cases are declining, they’re high in comparison to their numbers a year ago. Governor Northam did not acknowledge this when speaking about the anniversary of COVID-19’s official acknowledgement in the US.

“We have come a long way since then,” Northam said. “We do not want to risk our progress by easing restrictions too quickly, not now when more and more Virginians are getting protection from vaccines. And now that there are variants that can infect more people more quickly are spreading.” 

Unfortunately, things are much worse than they were in March of 2020. On the first day that Virginia has daily records of COVID-19 cases, March 18, 2020, they report only 10 cases in the commonwealth. Currently, we have over 19 times that amount of cases. 

Screen Shot 2021 02 24 at 6.52.28 PM
From the Virginia Department of Health

Restrictions Increase Capacity of Gatherings and Businesses 

Under the new restrictions, limitations on the number of individuals who can gather increase from ten to 25 people. This only applies to outdoor settings. Inside, only ten people may congregate. 

Under current restrictions, entertainment venues both inside and outside can only host 250 people or less. Now, outdoor entertainment and public amusement venues can increase their capacity. Starting on Monday, outdoor venues can have to up to 1,000 people, or 30% capacity, whichever is less. Restrictions limiting indoor venues to 250 people or less, or 30% capacity, are still in place.

For in-person dining in Virginia, restrictions requiring restaurants and other food establishments to close between midnight and 5 a.m. remain. However, bars can now stay open until midnight. Before, bars had to close at 10 p.m. 

Northam’s announcement also allows registration for overnight summer camp to begin. Overnight summer camps can open under strict social distancing guidelines on May 1. 

Gatherings in crowds, dining in-person, going to bars, and attending events like summer camp are all inadvisable and irresponsible, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Just because Virginia now allows it, doesn’t mean these practices aren’t still dangerous. Additionally, these behaviors increase the spread of the virus. 

In addition to lessening restrictions on gatherings, businesses and summer camps, Northam’s announcement ends the curfew between midnight and 5 a.m. currently in place across the Commonwealth. 

These new, less strict restrictions will be in effect for at least a month, according to the governor. 

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