Responding to the new Centers for Disease Control guidelines, the governor changed some COVID-19 restrictions ahead of schedule. 

RICHMOND-Things are changing faster than expected in Virginia. On Thursday, Gov. Ralph Northam announced he was ending some COVID-19 restrictions nearly a month ahead of schedule. 

As a result, up to 1,000 people can watch recreational sports outdoors, effective immediately. That means parents and family members will be able to watch the high school state football championships Saturday. Originally, Northam planned to increase attendance limits May 15. But as Virginia’s COVID-19 numbers continue to drop and vaccinations keep rising, he decided to move forward a bit earlier. 

Why cap outdoor sports at 1,000 people? It’s because you have to sit in seats at a sporting event. That makes it harder to stay socially distant from other groups.

Beyond the increase in crowd size, you don’t have to wear a mask as often. Taking a page from the CDC, Northam said if you’re fully vaccinated, you don’t have to wear a mask outside. That goes for anyone walking alone or if you’re in a small group. 

To be clear, this goes for all fully vaccinated people. You’re not considered fully vaccinated until two weeks after the second shot for the Pfizer or Moderna versions. With the Johnson & Johnson brand, it’s official two weeks after the first dose. 

Also, you still have to wear masks indoors and yes, you have to wear them at crowded outdoor events too. That goes for concerts, festivals, trips to Six Flags and graduation ceremonies. 

“The CDC’s recommendations underscore what we have said all along, vaccinations are the way we will put this pandemic behind us and get back to normal life,” Northam said. “Our increasing vaccination rate and decreasing number of new COVID-19 cases has made it possible to ease mitigation measures in a thoughtful and measured manner.” 

So What Happens Next? 

More COVID-19 restrictions will be scaled back on May 15, as the governor announced last week. That means up to 100 people will be allowed for indoor social events, with 250 allowed for outdoor gatherings. That’s nearly double what’s currently allowed. 

And what about festivals, concerts or theater productions? The capacity for those also goes up on May 15. While the restrictions on sports were lifted early, so parents could watch the state championships, the rest stay in place until May 15. 

At that point, all indoor entertainment venues will be able to operate at either 50% capacity or 1,000 people, whichever is lower. Right now, the cap is set at 500 people. Outdoor entertainment spaces, including festivals and concert venues, will be able to simply operate at 50% capacity. There will be no cap in place. That’s because at an outdoor festival, you have more space to move around and stay distant from other groups. When you’re indoors, that’s limited. 

As long as the number of new cases remains under control, Northam said in a statement that he plans to roll back the remaining restrictions by mid-June at the latest.

Brian Carlton is Dogwood’s managing editor. You can reach him at brian@vadogwood.com.