Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday announced the loosening of some COVID-19 safety restrictions in the commonwealth.
Starting April 1, the cap on social gatherings will be lifted to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors, Northam said at a news conference. He later clarified that weddings are included under this cap.
Indoor entertainment venues can open up to 30% capacity, up to 500 people, while outdoor venues can open up to 30% without a numerical cap.
Fans at recreational sports venues indoors and outdoors are capped at 30%.
The moves came after Northam said, “I’m optimistic about our numbers here in Virginia.”
Almost 1 in 4 Virginians has had at least one dose of a vaccine, Northam said, adding that he had spoken with the nation’s other governors and Biden administration staff, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, and that the federal government had promised to increase allocations of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine fivefold next week. That would mean 48,000 doses for Virginia.
“We’re moving pretty quickly through our priority populations,” Northam said, predicting it would be “a matter of weeks” before they can open up vaccine appointments to everyone.
That said, case numbers are plateauing in Virginia at about 1,400 cases a day, the governor said, “but that is still a vast improvement over where we were just six weeks ago.”
He said the test positivity rate was at 5.6%, down from 17% in January, and that hospitalizations, ICU usage and ventilator usage were all at their lowest levels since October.
Northam placed his faith in the increasing vaccination numbers, as well as the spring weather, to keep the virus in check as restrictions are loosened. But he added that compliance with measures such as masks and distancing were the most important factors.
“It really depends on Virginians how well this goes,” Northam said.
Asked whether Fauci had approved of his plan for Virginia, Northam said, “I won’t say that we talked specifically with Dr. Fauci about what we’re doing in Virginia, but he’s aware … and I think what we’re doing falls in line with what he’s [recommending].”
Northern Virginia concerns
Dr. Danny Avula, the head of the commonwealth’s vaccine program, said that the state was already addressing the concerns of Northern Virginia, where leaders on Monday wrote to Northam asking for more allocations of vaccine.
The leaders said more than 400,000 people are on their waiting lists, while rural areas of the commonwealth were vaccinating people in Phase 1c because they had more doses than people in the current Phase 1b who wanted them.
Avula said the state had been monitoring vaccine interest since January, and that tweaks had already been made.
“We are, and have been for the last couple of weeks, been shifting allocations based on [Phase] 1b demand,” he said, adding that he wanted all of Virginia to head into Phase 2 (the general population) more or less together.
Northam also commented on the shootings last week in Atlanta and Monday in Colorado.
“It’s been a year of this pandemic, and in this year we’ve seen something very alarming. … Ugly, hateful, racist rhetoric, and, too often, violence directed against Asian people.”
He said, “That is not acceptable. … We have no room for hate here, in our nation or in our commonwealth.”
He called both incidents “the latest in a long and heartbreaking list of tragedies driven by men who had access to firearms.”
Northam said he was proud that after Virginia Beach shootings, “we said enough is enough” and passed some gun-control legislation.
“We need similar action at the federal level,” he added.
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