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Opinion: Commentary: ‘Our Priority Is to Save Lives’
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Opinion: Commentary: ‘Our Priority Is to Save Lives’

Governor Northam orders statewide closure of certain non-essential businesses: all public and private schools K-12 closed for the rest of the academic year.

"COVID-19 is serious, and we must act. Unfortunately, the virus does not respect national borders or state borders. It is now everywhere, or it will be soon. That is what happens when a global pandemic hits a nation. With this pandemic, states have been left to figure out this on our own, and I'm acting to protect Virginians," said Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, who issued statewide Executive Order Number Fifty-Three (2020) in response to the novel coronavirus (COVID- 19) pandemic on Monday, March 23. It ordered the closure of certain non-essential businesses, bans all gatherings of more than 10 people, and closes all K-12 schools for the remainder of the academic year. The Order goes into effect at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. It remains in place until 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, April 23, 2020.

Northam said, "Nonessential retail establishments can remain open if they allow 10 or fewer patrons and adhere to social distancing and increase sanitizing procedures. Essential services like grocery stores, health services and businesses in our supply chain will remain open, but they must adhere to social distancing and increased sanitizing procedures. Gatherings of more than 10 are banned. We do not make these decisions lightly.” He stressed there would be expectations for essential businesses that remained open. Social distancing mattered, and businesses that remained open had a responsibility to adhere to social distancing recommendations. "You need to step up sanitizing practices on common service surfaces…Make no mistake. If you are essential and open, you have a special responsibility to do the right thing," he said.

As for schools, Northam said that closures were necessary to minimize the speed at which COVID-19 spread and protect the capacity of the healthcare system. Northam said, "By tomorrow, our Department of Education will issue guidance to help school divisions think through those decisions and ensure that every student is served equitably. We're already working on waivers to relieve testing requirements and ensure that our students who were on track to graduate can do so." He added that according to a Yale study estimate, 80,000 of students statewide may be the children of health care workers and urged a public-private response. "Today I'm calling on our local communities, private daycare providers, community childcare partners, and public schools to rally together to provide childcare for the young children and school-aged children of essential personnel. Our childcare providers are also essential personnel," Northam said.

Northam said individuals were moving into a period of sacrifice. "Most of us have already begun to experience this. Many businesses are closed already because their owners have done the responsible thing...Today, thousands, thousands of people are without work here in our Commonwealth. About 40,000 people have filed for unemployment just last week. That number will, unfortunately, go up. More families will be out of work that has serious health consequences too. It will lead to anxiety; it will lead to fear. It is difficult to live with uncertainty. We can expect to see more depression, alcoholism and domestic violence. But the sooner we all take these necessary steps to slow the spread, the sooner we will all get through this," said Northam.

In closing, Northam acknowledged the health crisis and economic crisis and said that the sooner that we can get this health crisis under control, the sooner our economy will recover. "So I asked every Virginian to stand with me as we fight this battle. Do your part. Stay home, when you can, and social distance and wash your hands when you must go out for supplies. I know that the next several weeks, the next several months will be difficult. They will require everyone to change the way that we live and the way we interact with each other. We have not been called upon to sacrifice this in many, many years. But I am calling on you to do just that. We must put aside what we want and replace it with what we need... It will take time, but we can, and we will get through this together."

According to the Executive Order, violation of paragraphs 1, 3, 4 and 6 of the Order shall be a Class 1 misdemeanor pursuant to § 44-146.17 of the Code of Virginia.

Paragraph 1-Effective 11:59 p.m., Tuesday, March 24, 2020 until 11:59 p.m., Thursday, April 23, 2020, all public and private in person gatherings of 10 or more individuals are prohibited.

Paragraph 3-Closure of all dining and congregation areas in restaurants, dining establishments, food courts, breweries, microbreweries, distilleries, wineries, tasting rooms, and farmers markets effective 11:59 p.m., Tuesday, March 24, 2020 until 11:59 p.m., Thursday, April 23, 2020. Restaurants, dining establishments, food courts, breweries, microbreweries, distilleries, wineries, tasting rooms, and farmers markets may continue to offer delivery and take-out services.

Paragraph 4-Closure of all public access to recreational and entertainment businesses, effective 11:59 p.m., Tuesday, March 24, 2020 until 11:59 p.m., Thursday, April 23, 2020 as set forth below:

Theaters, performing arts centers, concert venues, museums, and other indoor entertainment centers;

Fitness centers, gymnasiums, recreation centers, indoor sports facilities, and indoor exercise facilities;

Beauty salons, barbershops, spas, massage parlors, tanning salons, tattoo shops, and any other location where personal care or personal grooming services are performed that would not allow compliance with social distancing guidelines to remain six feet apart;

Racetracks and historic horse racing facilities; and

Bowling alleys, skating rinks, arcades, amusement parks, trampoline parks, fairs, arts and craft facilities, aquariums, zoos, escape rooms, indoor shooting ranges, public and private social clubs, and all other places of indoor public amusement.

Paragraph 6 Effective 11:59 p.m., Tuesday, March 24, 2020 until 11:59 p.m., Thursday, April 23, 2020, any brick and mortar retail business not listed in paragraph 5 may continue to operate but must limit all in-person shopping to no more than 10 patrons per establishment. If any such business cannot adhere to the 10 patron limit with proper social distancing requirements, it must close.

Paragraph 5

Grocery stores, pharmacies, and other retailers that sell food and beverage products or pharmacy products, including dollar stores, and department stores with grocery or pharmacy operations;

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 as well as automotive repair facilities;

Home improvement, hardware, building material, and building supply retailers;

Lawn and garden equipment retailers;

Beer, wine, and liquor stores;

Retail functions of 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.

To read the Executive Order, visit https://www.governor.virginia.gov/media/governorvirginiagov/executive-actions/EO-53-Temporary-Restrictions-Due-To-Novel-Coronavirus-(COVID-19).pdf

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