Northam: Schools will not open for rest of academic year, non-essential businesses must close

Gov. Ralph Northam announced the closure of Virginia schools and many non-essential businesses, during a press conference on Monday. Photo by Georgia Geen

Hannah Eason, News Editor

All Virginia schools will remain closed for the rest of the academic year, and non-essential businesses, including entertainment and recreational, will close tomorrow after midnight, Gov. Ralph Northam announced at a press conference on Monday.

Barber shops, spas and other businesses that cannot operate while practicing social distancing will close, as part of an order issued in the state for the next 30 days.

Non-essential brick and mortar stores will be limited to 10 patrons at a time, not including store employees. 

Essential businesses — such as grocery stores, pharmacies and health care providers — will remain open. ABC stores will also stay open.

Restaurants can stay open, but must only offer take-out and delivery options.

Northam said about 40,000 people filed for unemployment in Virginia last week, which the governor said would have “serious health consequences” such as anxiety, depression, alcohol abuse and domestic violence.

Officials are distributing medical supplies from the national stockpile, and equipment, such as respirators, is being mobilized from other industries.

Based on lab capacity and supplies, the state has the ability to perform about 1,000 COVID-19 tests, with more supplies expected this week.

The governor said that officials are monitoring issues like price gouging.

“We do not make these decisions lightly,” Northam said. “Virginia is one of the country’s largest and most diverse states, but COVID-19 is serious and we must act. Unfortunately the virus does not respect national borders or state borders.”

The Virginia Department of Education will issue guidance for schools on how to address the closure. Each locality can choose how to proceed. Resources and guidance on watching children during the day and food insecurity will also be provided.

Options for schools include distance or remote learning, extending next school year, adding instruction to the curriculum next year or bringing back students who couldn’t access virtual learning.

There are now 254 positive cases in Virginia, and the COVID-19 outbreak has caused 6 deaths in the state. About 3,700 Virginians have been tested by public and private labs.

“These numbers will unfortunately continue to rise,” Northam said. “As I said yesterday, we are in this for months, not weeks.”

Northam said “there is no playbook for this,” and said that states have been left to figure things out on their own.

“We are essentially fighting a biological war right now in this country,” Northam said. “I expect our president and our leaders in Washington to accept that that’s the reality now, and to have guidance and also to give support to the states where we need it.”

Rules take effect tomorrow at midnight. Northam said he will give another press conference tomorrow at 2 p.m.

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