Gov. Northam: Social gatherings, capacity limits to expand again in May

Gov. Northam: Social gatherings, capacity limits to expand again in May
Gov. Ralph Northam speaks at a news conference in August (FILE) (Source: Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Things will be changing around the commonwealth come mid-May.

Governor Ralph Northam announced a number of pandemic restriction rollbacks Thursday, April 22.

“It’s good news that half of all adults in Virginia have gotten a shot so far,” Northam said. “Vaccination numbers are up, and our COVID-19 case numbers are substantially lower than they were earlier this year. So, we have been able to begin easing some mitigation measures. We took a few more targeted steps this week, and we will do more next month.”

It will be a slow return, and what the governor announced Thursday won’t go into effect until May 15. Northam said social gatherings will increase to 100 indoors and 250 outdoors.

Restaurants may return to selling alcohol after midnight, and dining room closures will no longer be required between midnight and 5 a.m.

Both indoor and outdoor entertainment venues, including amusement parks, can operate at 50% capacity. Gov. Northam said vaccination progress, along with plateaued COVID-19 case numbers, are factors in his decision.

“Vaccinations are the way out of this pandemic, and getting the shot is the right thing to do for your family, for your friends and neighbors, and for everyone,” the governor said.

Spectators at indoor and outdoor recreational sporting events can also increase to 50%.

But not every outdoor venue will be able to apply these changes. Broadberry Entertainment Group owner, Lucas Fritz, says at this point they can’t add more people to its pod concerts in Richmond without violating social distancing measures.

“It’s great that we’re moving in a positive direction towards fewer restrictions for social gathering, but specifically the events that we’re working on, we’re mostly concerned with the fan experience when it comes to social distancing,” Fritz said. “Somewhere like the Diamond or the Flying Squirrels has space and they can add more people to a baseball game, but for our concerts, we’re still looking at about 1,000 people”

Other industries like the wedding venues welcome the expansion, but Estate at River Run director Kim Moody says the expansions don’t go far enough.

“One-hundred is an arbitrary number and for venues that are 20,000, 30,000 square feet, the clients expect to have a percentage capacity,” Moody said.

Moody is pushing for the governor to allow the wedding industry to operate with the same standards as entertainment venues when these changes go into effect to help make up for crippling losses and over a year of rescheduling events.

“Until we are laterally and equitably compared to other industries that are similar to us in the way people gather, I think the clients are going to be upset. I know the vendors are still hurting financially, and we’ve all bared as much as we can bear,” Moody said.

Northam also said he’s hopeful to announce even more rollbacks in June.

“I’m optimistic that we will be able to take more steps in June. We’re aiming to significantly ramp up vaccinations even further and aim to reduce mitigation measures in June, hopefully, all the way,” he said

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