Virginia Governor Ralph Northam issued a statewide stay-at-home executive order that prohibits residents from leaving home with exceptions for essential errands in a virtual press conference Monday afternoon. Virginia is the 28th state in the country to implement such a measure in efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
The order, which is effective immediately, will remain in place until June 10 — making it the longest-lasting stay-at-home statewide order in the country.
The stay-at-home order is a stricter form of social distancing. The order restricts movement outside the home to essential errands, such as buying food or seeking medical care. Outdoor activities — like walking a pet or running — are permitted, provided that individuals maintain a six-foot distance from others and remain in groups fewer than 10 people. The state’s parks will remain open, but public beaches will be closed to all activities other than fishing and exercise.
“This weekend, some of our beaches and other recreational areas were literally packed,” Northam said. “Anyone who is gathering in a crowd at any place around the state is putting themselves and others at risk.”
Under the stay-at-home order, essential employees such as healthcare workers, grocery store employees, restaurant carryout workers and food-delivery employees may go to work, but all employees considered non-essential must remain at home.
During the press conference, Northam pointed out that half of the COVID-19 cases in Virginia have been in those under 50 years old. He urged Virginians — young and old alike — to stay home in the name of public health.
“I want to be clear — do not go out unless you need to go out,” Northam said.
Northam said that he expects “all Virginians to comply” with the stay-at-home order, but those gathering in groups of 10 or more could be subject to a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 or up to 12 months in jail.
It is unclear as of press time how the order will impact students needing to move out of on-Grounds housing. The University is yet to make an official announcement on the status of summer courses and orientation.
Prior to Monday’s announcement, Northam avoided implementation of a statewide stay-at-home order — instead calling on Virginians to remain in their homes and police their own behavior.
“We’re talking semantics here,” Northam said in a Friday press conference.
Via an executive order last week, the governor banned all gatherings of 10 or more individuals, canceled in-person instruction at K-12 schools for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year and shuttered “non-essential” businesses.
The Charlottesville Fire Department, Charlottesville Police Department and Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker wrote a letter to Northam March 24 urging him to enact stricter measures within the Commonwealth to “mirror the stay-at-home Executive Orders issued by the Governors of New York, California, and Louisiana.” These states’ orders limit nonessential movement outside the home but permit essential errands such as grocery shopping, picking up medication or picking up take-out from a restaurant.
As of March 30, there are 1,020 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Virginia — an increase of 130 cases from 890 reported Sunday — according to the Virginia Department of Health. The VDH also reports 136 hospitalizations and 25 deaths.
In Charlottesville, there are 13 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 19 in Albemarle County.