RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is taking a late step to keep people from gathering at bars as the state prepares to enter Phase 3 of its reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The governor said Tuesday the state's restaurants will not be allowed to fully reopen their bars as previously planned. He announced the decision Tuesday afternoon, a day before the state was set to allow people to congregate at bars as long as they practiced social distancing. Instead, restaurants can continue to operate under Phase 2 restrictions, which allows limited table service in bar areas but generally prohibits sitting at bar counters.
Virginia does not allow establishments to only serve alcohol, they all must serve food.
Northam's office said the decision to keep stricter rules on bars was made because of a spike in virus cases in other states that have reopened earlier than Virginia. Over the past few days, states such as Florida, Arizona, Texas and California have closed or otherwise clamped down on bars, shut beaches, rolled back restaurant capacity, and put limits on crowds at pools.
"I am watching what is happening in other states - we are taking a cautious approach as we enter Phase 3 and maintaining the current restrictions on bar areas," Northam said in a statement.
Eric Terry, president of the Virginia, Lodging and Travel Association, said bars are a major profit maker for restaurants and keeping them closed longer will hurt the industry's bottom line. The late notice will also hurt, he said, as restaurants will now have to scramble to adjust their staff and inventory.
"I don't understand why it was done so late," Terry said.
Under Phase 3, restaurants and nonessential retail stores no longer have to limit indoor capacity to 50% of what their space can hold but would still have to keep customers 6 feet (2 meters) apart.
Gyms can go from 30% capacity to 75%, and social gatherings of up to 250 people are allowed. Outdoor swimming pools can operate with fewer restrictions at 75% their normal capacity.
The Virginia Department of Health on Tuesday reported nearly 63,000 total cases of COVID-19, with just over 6,200 total hospitalizations and 1,760 deaths.
In explaining his decision to move forward with reopening, Northam said recently the state’s percent of positive tests was declining and cited a falling number of people hospitalized with positive or pending cases of COVID-19. He also said Virginia’s testing, contact tracing and supply of personal protective equipment were adequate, and that hospitals have sufficient bed capacity.