Northam Rolls Back More of Virginia’s COVID-19 Restrictions

(AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

By Brian Carlton

March 23, 2021

Some of Virginia’s COVID-19 restrictions on outdoor sporting events and entertainment venues will be lifted.

RICHMOND-Baseball stadiums, music venues, and other outdoor operations will open up next week across the Commonwealth. On Tuesday, Gov. Ralph Northam announced plans to roll back some of Virginia’s COVID-19 restrictions. 

“We are not simply throwing the doors open,” Northam said. “These are measured changes. With increased vaccination capacity and our health metrics continuing to trend the right direction, we can safely take these targeted steps to ease certain mitigation measures.” 

The changes come at a time when Virginia ranks eighth in the country in terms of vaccine doses used. As of Tuesday, nearly 1 in 4 Virginians have received at least one dose, while more than 1 million are fully vaccinated. 

Two things will help that number increase. First, the federal government will increase the weekly distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine by five times. That means Virginia will see an extra 48,000 doses beginning next week. Second, more vaccination sites are going active. The state’s first mass vaccination site opened up last week at the former JC Penny’s store in Danville. Others followed this week in Petersburg and Woodbridge. More mass sites will go live in the weeks to come, Northam said. 

“We all want to get back to normal, and the way to do that is to get vaccinated as quick as you can,” he added. 

Changing Virginia’s COVID-19 Restrictions

First, the number of people allowed to watch sports will go up April 1. Currently, just 25 people can watch events indoors. It’ll go up to 100 per field or 30% capacity, whichever is less. For outdoor sports, the limit doubles from 250 to 500 people. In larger outdoor venues, it’s 30%. Take the Diamond, where the Richmond Flying Squirrels play: The facility seats roughly about 9,500 people. Under these new rules, they’ll be able to let 3,000 people watch the game. 

When it comes to high school sports, the changes are a bit smaller. Yes, 100 people will now be able to watch indoor events at high schools. For things like high school sports, the number will climb from 250 to 500 spectators allowed. But that’s a big difference from the professional venues. As a result, reporters asked Northam Tuesday why high schools can’t open the doors to more than 1,000 people right now. 

“It gets down to our ability to have the infrastructure and staff at college and professional venues,” Northam said. “We don’t have that at high schools.”

He did point out, however, that under the new restrictions, cheerleaders and band members will be allowed to participate. Under previous limits, it was hard to fit them in. 

RELATED: No, COVID-19 Rules Won’t Shut Down Churches

What About Worship?

If you want to get together for a birthday party or Easter celebration with family and friends, that’s going to be much easier as well. Right now, any “social gatherings” are restricted to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors. On April 1, those numbers increase to 50 people indoors and 100 for outdoor events. One question we keep receiving is how many people can churches have for Easter services, including the outdoor Sunrise Service? 

Yes, churches can worship in person and have been allowed to do so for months. They just have to follow a couple of rules. 

  • Attendees must maintain 6 feet of distance when seated, as well as maintain physical distance at all times. However, family members from the same household may sit together.
  • Churches must mark both seating and common areas where congregations occur in 6-foot increments.
  • Before and after a service, the church must undergo routine cleaning and disinfection of high-contact surfaces.
  • People must wear cloth face coverings during the religious service. 

What About Music Festivals?

If you’re planning to go to Floyd Fest this summer or the Blue Ridge Rock Festival, nothing in Tuesday’s order will stop you. Northam called for all entertainment venues to operate at 30% capacity. Previously, the order said either 30% or 1,000 people, whichever was smaller. Now it’s simply set at 30%. So if 30% for a venue is 3,000 people, they’ll be allowed in, as long as they wear a mask and practice social distancing.

As for indoor events like musicals or theater, they do have a maximum cap. It’s either 500 people or 30%, whichever is lower. 

Brian Carlton is Dogwood’s managing editor. You can reach him at [email protected].

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