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COVID-Closures Ending for Some Beaches Before Memorial Day

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In today's briefing, Gov. Ralph Northam said some beaches are opening again, and announced new resources to help tenants, homeowners and landlords prevent evictions. (Screenshot: VPM News)

Beaches in Virginia Beach will have a limited reopening on May 22, Gov. Ralph Northam announced today. 

“This includes sunbathing and swimming, as well as fishing and surfing as defined by the city’s ordinance,” Northam said. “It does not include group sports, alcohol, speakers, use of tents or groups of umbrellas, and parking will be capped at 50% capacity.”

If people don’t follow social distancing rules, Northam said he would not hesitate to end phase one of the reopening, or close the beaches again.

Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer asked that people observe social distancing, and said he has “150 ambassadors” who will enforce the rules. “I urge all of our visitors and residents, adhere to the rules [and] regulations in order to provide distancing at our beaches,” Dyer said. “We must not take this opportunity for granted, and everyone needs to be committed to being safe and proactive when visiting the beaches.”

Although evictions were temporarily halted due to the judicial emergency order closing courts, it expired today, permitting more than 800 eviction cases to move forward. Northam said with courts reopening, “Unfortunately, this also means some eviction proceedings may move forward. So I want to outline the steps that we are taking as a commonwealth to protect Virginians.”

The governor outlined options for tenants, homeowners, and landlords. Landlords with state-backed loans can obtain a 90-day mortgage deferral, which they must pass down to their tenants. For tenants, late rent fees are capped at 10% of the month’s rent, or total amount owned, and those who lost income due to COVID-19 have a 60-day grace period before eviction proceedings can begin. The state is also seeking federal help for tenants.

“We are already pushing the federal government to include additional rent relief funding in the next stimulus package,” Northam said. He also announced $12 million in funding to nonprofit housing organizations, and a new website: Stay Home Virginia, with resources to prevent evictions.

Tomorrow, several towns will hold local elections, and Medical Reserve Corps volunteers will be on hand to help sanitize surfaces and limit the spread of COVID-19. “I hope most Virginians have already voted absentee by mail,” Northam said. “But for those who are going to the polls, we are working to ensure that cleaning and social distancing are done.”

A possible reopening of schools in the fall was also discussed, with Northam announcing a new task force made up of education officials and school administrators. “We have named a team of education leaders at all levels, K-12 schools as well as our public and private higher education institutions,” Northam said. “It will include our state superintendent of public schools, Dr James Lane, as well as local school superintendents, education officials, and university presidents from public and private schools. This group is meeting regularly together with our public health team. They’ll be laying out specific next steps over the coming weeks.”

During the question phase of the briefing, Dr. Norm Oliver, the Virginia Department of Health commissioner, answered a question about the distribution of Remdesivir, a drug which may help COVID-19 patients. He said the health department had randomized distribution to produce a “name in the hat,” process that meant “Every individual patient with COVID-19 has an equal opportunity and equal chance at getting this medication.”

*Yasmine Jumaa and Malcolm Key contributed to this report