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Northam Orders Schools, Non-Essential Businesses Closed

Ralph Northam speaks at a podium at a press conference
Gov. Ralph Northam at a press conference on Monday (Ben Paviour/VPM News)

Schools will be closed for the academic year and many businesses will have to be shuttered for at least 30 days under an executive order issued by Gov. Ralph Northam on Monday.

The new rules meant to fight COVID-19 will apply to entertainment businesses ranging from salons to fitness centers beginning at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday. 

Other retail stores that remain open are to maintain a 10-customer cap and enforce social distancing or face forced closure by local authorities.

Social gatherings with more than 10 people are also banned. 

Northam urged schools as well as public and private childcare providers to find ways to provide care for the children of “essential personnel”; he said that workers’ would be taken on their word as to whether they qualified for that designation.

The governor said the changes were a reluctant concession to the fast-moving spread of COVID-19, which has killed seven Virginians as of Monday afternoon.

“We are moving into a period of sacrifice,” Northam said. “There is more ahead and things are changing fast.”

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said Richmond Police Department would enforce the ban on social gatherings, including patrols in city parks and along the James River, after receiving complaints from residents about crowds last week.  

The ripple effects on workers and businesses were already spilling into Virginia’s economy last week. Roughly 40,000 people applied for unemployment insurance last week, compared to an average of about 2,600 per week last year

“We can expect to see more depression, alcoholism, and domestic violence,” Northam said. “But the sooner we all take these necessary steps to slow the spread, the sooner we will all get through this.”

Northam said he consulted with Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan earlier on Monday to help maintain consistency across the region. Both Bowser and Hogan announced some similar guidelines on Monday.

Northam said they were working to counteract “misinformation and mixed messages” from President Donald Trump about the pandemic. He said the federal government’s lack of coordination on testing and medical gear continued to hamstring the state.

“We are essentially fighting a biological war right now in this country,” Northam said. “And I expect our president and our leaders in Washington to accept that that's the reality.”

Congress is currently hashing out a $1.8 trillion aid package to deal with fallout from the pandemic.