Gov. Ralph Northam on Monday announced that all Virginia public schools would remain closed for the rest of the year and that certain "non-essential businesses" would be ordered to shutter as of midnight Tuesday.
All gatherings of more than 10 people are banned statewide beginning at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, with the exception of medical services and other services deemed essential.
Northam made the announcement during his 2 p.m. press conference in Richmond, which was held two hours after the Virginia Department of Health released the state's latest COVID-19 statistics. As of noon Monday, Virginia reported 254 cases of COVID-19 and six deaths due to the coronavirus, which Northam said is continuing to spread in Virginia.
Northam said that only "essential businesses," a designation that includes grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants (for carry-out or delivery orders only), construction supply stores and even ABC stores, could remain open but would be required to maintain social distancing and adhere to stricter cleaning rules.
Certain businesses considered "recreational" would be ordered closed, including bowling alleys, theaters and racetracks. Personal care outlets such as barber shops, spas and massage parlors would also be ordered closed. Non-essential stores and businesses that remain open must adhere to a 10-patron or fewer rule to remain open. The order would be in place for 30 days, Northam said.
Schools would receive guidance Tuesday from the state department of education regarding how schools should ensure they deliver instruction for the remaining weeks of the school year "and to make sure students are served equitably," Northam said.
"We do not make these decisions lightly," Northam said, regarding the closures. "But Virginia is one of the country's largest and most diverse states, and we must act. ... The point is to limit the places where people gather in groups."
While Northam's order will close public and private schools, it will allow day care centers and schools that are used as day care centers to remain open to care for children of essential workers, including health care workers, those who work in grocery stores and pharmacies and those involved in making or delivering essential supplies.
Northam said the state likely has 80,000 children under the age of 12 whose parents work in health care.
"We're calling on local communities and child care providers and public schools to rally together to provide child care for our essential personnel ... while following strict protocols to keep our children safe," Northam said.
All of Virginia's public school divisions are handing out food to students during the school closures. More information about school food distribution efforts can be obtained by texting FOOD or COMIDA to 877877, Northam said.
Northam acknowledged the financial impact of such steps but said more must be done to stop the spread of the coronavirus to keep the state's hospitals and health care providers from being overwhelmed.
"We are moving into a period of sacrifice, most of this have already begun to experience this.... there is more ahead and things are changing fast," Northam said. "Today, thousands and thousands of people are without work in our commonwealth; 40,000 people filed for unemployment last week. That number will go up."