As the nation’s eyes turn towards New York City, the epicenter of America’s coronavirus pandemic, hundreds of miles to the south, Virginia has begun to experience a crisis of its own, as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the state has grown to over 300 as of this morning.
Monday, Governor Ralph Northam addressed the Commonwealth. In response to the rapid spread of the Chinese-born coronavirus, he announced that public schools, shuttered since March 13th, would remain closed statewide for the rest of the academic year.
Additionally, the Governor announced a number of new restrictions on public life, mirroring the actions of Governors in a number of states nationwide, including the closure of “non-essential” businesses.
“Governor Ralph Northam today issued a statewide order to protect the health and safety of Virginians and reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19,” a Monday statement from the Governor’s office read.
“Executive Order Fifty-Three orders the closure of certain non-essential businesses, bans all gatherings of 10 or more people, and closes all K-12 schools for the remainder of the academic year.
Governor Northam is also urging all Virginians to avoid non-essential travel outside the home, if and when possible.”
Northam’s order went into effect at 11:59 PM Tuesday night and will remain in effect until 11:59 PM on Thursday, April 23rd.
While addressing the Commonwealth, Northam told Virginians that everyone in the state will be forced to make “sacrifices” in the coming weeks and months.
The sacrifices will, inevitably, be felt the hardest by working families and those with small children, who have suddenly found themselves both out of work and without schools.
While Governor Northam says that childcare will be in place for those employed in essential sectors of the state’s economy, parents leaving their children at such care centers will not be required to prove that they are employed in an essential sector, or that they are even going to work at all, something that has led to concern among parents that the system may be abused, and lead to a negative impact on their children.
According to Northam’s order, all places of “indoor amusement” are considered non-essential and will be required to close, including fitness centers, beauty parlors, and shooting ranges.
Restaurants will be required to close by 11:59 PM and will continue to only serve customers by delivery or to-go orders.
Essential retail businesses include the likes of grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware and building supply retailers, medical and vision supply retailers, and auto repair facilities.
Notably omitted from the list are gun and ammunition retailers which, as of now, are permitted to remain open so long as social distancing can be maintained, and less than 10 patrons at a time are admitted.
The aforementioned guideline applies to all brick and mortar businesses not specifically ordered to close, although the list of businesses ordered to close may be expanded by the Governor at any time.
The exclusion of gun and ammunition stores has drawn the ire of Virginians, some of whom have pointed to the absurdity of Northam’s classification of wineries, breweries, and state-owned and operated liquor stores as essential businesses, while gun and ammunition stores, essential to the safety and security of Virginians, operate under the risk of state-mandated closure at any time.
Additionally, restaurants will be permitted to serve beer and wine by the drink to go, just as they will food, despite Virginia’s strict laws regarding open alcohol containers in vehicles.
All of this has led to many Virginians questioning whether state and local governments are now in the role of deciding winners and losers in the state’s business sector based on political bias and the monetary interest of the state government.