Arlington, VA

Gov. Ralph Northam announced today that he is easing some public health restrictions, including the 10 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales.

Effective March 1, Virginians will be able to buy and drink alcohol at restaurants, food courts, breweries, distilleries and wineries until they are required to close at midnight.

The changes to the current executive order come amid declining rates of hospitalizations and infections and rising vaccination rates in the Commonwealth, Northam said during a press conference this morning (Wednesday).

Northam is also easing restrictions for outdoor entertainment and social gatherings, where evidence shows the risk of airborne transmission of COVID-19 is lower, as well as allowing overnight summer camps to open “with strict mitigation measures in place.”

“Thanks to the hard work and sacrifice of all Virginians, hospitalization and positivity rates across the Commonwealth are the lowest they have been in nearly three months,” Northam said in a press release. “As key health metrics show encouraging trends and we continue to ramp up our vaccination efforts, we can begin to gradually resume certain recreational activities and further reopen sectors of our economy.”

He attributed the rise in cases over the winter to cold weather and the holidays.

In Arlington, the rate of new coronavirus cases dropped from a peak of around 850 cases per week since mid-January, but has since leveled off between 250-300 cases per week. Cases have similarly dropped nationwide, but that drop has been leveling off.

Meanwhile, Virginia’s Safer at Home strategy — and its accompanying requirements for physical distancing, mask-wearing, gathering limits and business capacity restrictions — will remain in place.

“Even as we take steps to safely ease public health guidelines, we must all remain vigilant so we can maintain our progress — the more we stay home, mask up, and practice social distancing, the more lives we will save from this dangerous virus,” Northam said.

The current modified Stay at Home order will expire on Sunday.

Several Arlington restaurants have told ARLnow that they were waiting on a decision about the Stay at Home order before making plans for March, a month that includes St. Patrick’s Day, March Madness basketball and other events that are traditional draws for local bars.

The full press release from the governor’s office is below.

Gov. Ralph Northam today announced that as COVID-19 hospitalizations and infection rates continue to decline and vaccinations rise in Virginia, certain outdoor sports and entertainment venues may begin to operate at increased capacity starting Monday, March 1. He amended Executive Order Seventy-Two with the next steps of the “Forward Virginia” plan to safely and gradually ease public health restrictions while mitigating the spread of the virus.

“Thanks to the hard work and sacrifice of all Virginians, hospitalization and positivity rates across the Commonwealth are the lowest they have been in nearly three months,” said Governor Northam. “As key health metrics show encouraging trends and we continue to ramp up our vaccination efforts, we can begin to gradually resume certain recreational activities and further reopen sectors of our economy. Even as we take steps to safely ease public health guidelines, we must all remain vigilant so we can maintain our progress–the more we stay home, mask up, and practice social distancing, the more lives we will save from this dangerous virus.”

The Commonwealth will maintain a Safer at Home strategy with continued strict health and safety protocols including physical distancing, mask-wearing requirements, gathering limits, and business capacity restrictions. The current modified Stay at Home order will expire on February 28, 2021.

Governor Northam is beginning to ease public health restrictions by taking steps to increase capacity limits in outdoor settings, where evidence shows the risk of airborne transmission of COVID-19 is lower. The key changes in the Third Amended Executive Order Seventy-Two include:

  • Social gatherings: The maximum number of individuals permitted in a social gathering will increase from 10 to 25 people for outdoor settings, while remaining at 10 persons for indoor settings.
  • Entertainment venues: Outdoor entertainment and public amusement venues will be able to operate with up to 1,000 individuals or at 30 percent capacity, whichever is lower. If current trends continue, these venues may be able to operate at 30 percent capacity with no cap on the number of people permitted to attend starting in April. Indoor entertainment and public amusement venues must continue to operate at 30 percent capacity with a cap of 250 people. All entertainment venues were previously limited to a maximum of 250 individuals.
  • Dining establishments: The on-site sale, consumption, and possession of alcohol will be permitted until midnight, extended from 10:00 p.m. All restaurants, dining establishments, food courts, breweries, microbreweries, distilleries, wineries, and tasting rooms still must be closed between midnight and 5:00 a.m.
  • Overnight summer camps: As of May 1, overnight summer camps will be able to open with strict mitigation measures in place. Registration can begin now.

The new guidelines will be effective for at least one month and mitigation measures may be eased further if key health metrics continue to improve. Current guidelines for retail businesses, fitness and exercise, large amusement venues, and personal grooming services will remain in place. Individuals are strongly encouraged to continue teleworking if possible.

The full text of Third Amended Executive Order Seventy-Two and Order of Public Health Emergency Nine is available here. Updated guidelines for specific sectors can be found here.

Last week, Governor Northam amended Executive Order Seventy-Two to increase the number of spectators permitted at outdoor youth sporting events to 250.

Visit virginia.gov/coronavirus/forwardvirginia for more information and answers to frequently asked questions.

Hannah Foley contributed to this report. Image via Virginia Public Media/YouTube.

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