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Virginia Governor Ralph Northam Issues Order Limiting Gatherings and Closing Certain Non-essential Businesses

Yesterday, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam issued a state-wide order aimed at promoting health and safety and reducing COVID-19’s spread. The order, which goes into effect today at 11:59 p.m., bans all gatherings of more than 10 people and mandates that certain non-essential businesses close. The order will remain in effect until April 23, 2020, at 11:59 p.m.

This is an unprecedented situation and requires unprecedented actions to protect public health and save lives,” explained the Governor. He continued:  “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.”  Northam urged Virginians “to sacrifice now, so that we can get through this together.”

The order doesn’t require Virginians to remain at home. But, Governor Northam is urging them to limit all non-essential travel, if possible. If individuals choose to go to the park for a walk, or exercise outdoors, they should practice strict social distancing and keep six feet apart from others.

The order’s public gathering limitation exempts gatherings that involve the provision of healthcare or medical services, access to foodbanks and other essential services to low-income residents, media operations, law enforcement agencies, and government operations.

Below is a summary of the restrictions contained in the order and related government-issued materials.

Public and Private Gatherings

  • All public and private gatherings of 10 or more individuals are prohibited. This includes places of worship.
  • Limit all non-essential travel outside the home. If you choose to go outdoors, practice social distancing and keep six feet apart from others. Non-essential medical care (e.g. eye exams, teeth cleanings, elective procedures) should be rescheduled.
  • Roads and highways will remain open.

Workplaces

  • All businesses are encouraged to utilize teleworking as much as possible.  However, employment settings are not considered gatherings. Where telework is not feasible, businesses should require social distancing and sanitize common surfaces.
  • Employers who are required to slow or cease operations will not be financially penalized for an increase in workers requesting unemployment benefits.
  • Employees whose workplaces are closed and who do not have paid leave, or employees whose hours have been decreased as a result of coronavirus may file for Unemployment Insurance benefits with the Virginia Employment Commission
    • Note that the claimant must meet certain minimum requirements, including having sufficient past earnings and an immigration status that permits work. 
    • Weekly benefit payments depend on past earnings, and the maximum benefit amount is $378 for up to 26 weeks.
  • The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may provide up to 12 weeks unpaid leave to employees who miss work because they are sick with coronavirus, or employees who have to miss work to care for a family member that is sick with coronavirus.
    • FMLA applies if (1) your employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles of your worksite; (2) you have worked with the employer for at least a year; and (3) you worked at least 1250 hours in the year before you take time off.
    • If an employer is covered under FMLA, an employee may take unpaid leave for a “serious” condition, or a condition requiring inpatient care or three days continued treatment from a health care provider. Note that the coronavirus does not necessarily present a “serious” condition.
  • Employees who have not received earned wages may file a nonpayment of wages claim.
    • Note that a Virginia employer is only required to pay an employee for the work performed.

K-12 Schools

  • All public and private schools are closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.
  • Facilities providing child care services may remain open. Day cares are instructed to adhere to group size limits of 10 and to prioritize services for children of essential personnel. Likewise, families with the ability to keep children home are asked to do so.
  • All Virginia school divisions have received waivers to provide food to their communities.

Recreation and Entertainment Businesses

The following are closed:

  • Theaters, concert venues, museums, and other indoor entertainment centers;
  • Gyms, fitness centers, recreations centers, and indoor sports/exercise facilities;
  • Beauty salons, barbershops, spas, massage parlors, tattoo shops, tanning salons, and other personal care or grooming businesses where the provision of services requires individuals to be within 6 feet; and
  • Racetracks, bowling alleys, skating rinks, arcades, amusement parks, fairs, aquariums, zoos, escape rooms, private social clubs, and all other places of indoor public amusement.

Dining and On-Site Alcohol Establishments

  • Restaurants, dining establishments, food courts, breweries, microbreweries, distilleries, wineries, tasting rooms, and farmers markets are required to close dine-in areas, but are permitted to offer delivery and takeout.

Retail Businesses

  • The following essential businesses may remain open:
    • Grocery stores, pharmacies, other food/beverage, and pharmacy product retailers;
    • 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 and auto repair facilities;
    • Home improvement, hardware, building material, and building supply retailers;
    • Lawn and garden equipment retailers;
    • Beer, wine, and liquor stores;
    • Gas stations and convenience stores;
    • Retail located within healthcare facilities;
    • Banks and other financial institutions with retail functions;
    • Pet and feed stores;
    • Printing and office supply stores; and
    • Laundromats and dry cleaners. 
  • Retail businesses not listed above may continue to operate, but only 10 patrons are permitted in the establishment at a given time. If a business is unable to adhere to the 10-person limit with proper social distancing, it must close.
  • Businesses in violation of EO-53 may be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor.

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