Virginia Schools Closed for Rest of School Year; New Restrictions on Businesses: Monday Update

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Gov. Ralph Northam gives a briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic on Monday, March 23, 2020 in Richmond. Governor of Virginia Office photo.

Gov. Ralph Northam said Monday schools will remain closed at least through the end of this academic year to help stem the spread of the coronavirus.
The order applies to both public and private schools.
As of Monday, Virginia had 254 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Six people in Virginia have died, and 3,700 have been tested by public and private labs, Northam said in his daily update on the pandemic.
“These numbers will unfortunately continue to rise,” he said.
Additionally, around 40,000 Virginians filed for unemployment last week, as the pandemic’s economic toll continues to rise.
“That number will, unfortunately, go up,” Northam said.
Northam also announced additional restrictions on businesses, effective at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.
Restaurants may remain open, but cannot serve customers in their establishments — only takeout, curbside, or delivery options are allowed.
All recreation and entertainment businesses, such as bowling alleys, theaters, racetracks, and fitness centers, among others, were ordered to close.
Personal care businesses such as barber shops, massage establishments, spas, and beauty salons, also were ordered to close.
Nonessential retail businesses may stay open, but must have 10 or fewer customers at a time, and must increase sanitizing measures and practice social distancing — that is, people must remain at least six feet apart.
Essential businesses, including grocery stores, pharmacies, supply chain businesses, and banks, will stay open, but need to practice social distancing and take extra sanitizing measures.
“You will still be able to buy food and necessary supplies for you and your family,” Northam said.
The state’s ABC stores will remain open, but will practice social distancing and take sanitizing measures.
The following retail businesses are considered essential and may remain open during normal business hours, according to the executive order:
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 stores and feed stores;
Printing and office supply stores; and
Laundromats and dry cleaners.
Guidelines for what is considered essential or non-essential are posted on the Governor of Virginia website.
Frequently Asked Questions about the order are posted at https://www.governor.virginia.gov/media/governorvirginiagov/governor-of-virginia/pdf/Frequently-Asked-Questions-Regarding-EO-53.pdf
Other professional businesses must use tele-working as much as possible, according to the order.
Additionally, gatherings of more than 10 are banned, including at beaches or elsewhere.
“The point is to limit the places where people gather in groups,” Northam said.
Localities have authority to enforce the restrictions. Businesses in violation of the order may be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor.
The measures announced Monday will remain in effect for at least 30 days, Northam said.
“We do not make these decisions lightly. Virginia is one of the country’s largest and most diverse states, but COVID-19 is serious, and we must act,” he said.
A statewide communication effort is underway to inform people about the disease and how to slow its spread — including messages on electronic highway department signs, according to Northam.
The governor said the states “have been left to figure out this on our own, and I am acting to protect Virginians.”
The main problem with the federal response to the crisis “has been misinformation and mixed messages,” Northam said, adding, “We are essentially fighting a biological war right now in this country, and I expect our president and our leaders in Washington to accept that’s the reality now and to have guidance, and also to give support to the states where we need it.”
“We haven’t received that guidance…We have had to take the lead and do what’s in the best interest of our constituents and our citizens,” Northam said.
Virginia school district leaders will decide how students in their localities will be taught the remaining information for the school year now that schools are to remain closed.
“We are already working on waivers to relieve testing requirements and ensure that our students who were on track to graduate can do so,” Northam said.
Virginia Superintendent of Education James F. Lane said school districts will be given guidelines by Tuesday for that process, including how to ascertain a student has completed a course.
“We will be offering numerous options…distance or remote learning; extending the school year next year; embedding some of that instruction into the curriculum in the next year if they don’t extend; and maybe continuing instruction now, but maybe we can’t get to every student equitably, just bringing some students back to make sure that we fill the gaps for students that were missed in the virtual space.”
The four options will be detailed for school districts.
“Each locality is going to have to make a choice,” Lane said.
Questions about child care for students out of school — and especially for children of health care and other essential workers — are pressing, according to the governor.
“We have 1.2 million children under age 12 in our Commonwealth, and half of them are in public schools or preschools,” Northam said, noting a Yale study estimated 80,000 may be children of health care workers.
“We need an urgent public/private response. Today, I am calling on our local communities, private day care providers, community childcare partners, and public schools to rally together to provide child care for the young children and school-age children of essential personnel,” he said.
The Virginia Department of Social Services and Department of Education will provide guidance Monday on how to provide emergency child care services while adhering to health protocol.
Every school district in Virginia has made provision to get food to students while schools are closed, Northam said.
He urged families wondering where their next meal is going to come from to text FOOD or COMIDA to 877877 to find out about feeding locations near them.
“We are moving into a period of sacrifice….There is more ahead, and things are changing fast,” Northam said.