Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said he is planning to lift all capacity limitations for businesses on June 15 if the current trend of falling COVID-19 case numbers continues.
Northam made his announcement at a news briefing Thursday.
“If our COVID case numbers keep trending down and our vaccination numbers keep going up, we plan to lift our mitigation measures, capacity restrictions and social distancing requirements,” Northam said. He didn’t set any specific benchmarks for what would or wouldn’t cause him to change his mind.
“Obviously,” chief of staff Clark Mercer said, “there’s always the caveat that if the numbers take a dive, we’re going to have to address that.”
Northam didn’t mention mask requirements as one of the measures he plans to lift. However, wearing a mask in public is not permitted in Virginia unless there’s a state of emergency, and that ends June 30.
The governor said he was “absolutely” considering not extending it; his chief counsel, Rita Davis, added that “the governor has the prerogative to re-issue a state of emergency” specifically for that purpose.
The move came after Northam announced the good news in the numbers for Virginia. There has been “a welcome drop in our daily count” of cases, the governor said; the daily number hasn’t topped 1,000 cases for two weeks. Meanwhile, the percentage of COVID-19 tests that come back positive, as well as the number of Virginians in hospitals from COVID-19, are at their lowest levels since October.
“That’s a big deal after a hard year,” Northam said. The data “have informed every decision … and today they give us a very clear message: The vaccines are working.”
That said, the numbers show that vaccinations are on the decline in Virginia. The governor continued to encourage Virginians to get vaccinated, saying that they’re now available in grocery stores, doctors’ offices and pharmacies, as well as health departments and hospitals. He added that the state’s mass vaccination sites are accepting walk-ins: “You don’t need to register and you don’t need an appointment. You just go.” Some people, he said, “may not realize that we don’t have long wait times anymore.”
Northam said getting vaccinated isn’t just the right thing to do for the community, but for people’s own freedom: “Vaccinated people can safely do more things.”
And he added his own personal experience with the virus as testimony: “Seven months later, I still can’t smell or taste anything,” Northam said. “I’ve had COVID, and I’ve had the vaccine, and between the two, it’s an easy choice.”
Northam added that he didn’t anticipate mandating vaccines for children once they’re approved, saying the process would require moves by federal authorities and the Virginia legislature. He did, however, point to a recent study that found about two-thirds of Virginia parents want to get their kids vaccinated.
You can find vaccine sites near you by going to vaccinate.virginia.gov and typing in your address, or by calling 877-VAX-IN-VA. You can also use a federal program and text your ZIP code to GETVAX.
“We still have a lot of work ahead to meet President Biden’s new goal” of 70% vaccination by the Fourth of July, Northam said, “but I still feel confident that Virginia can do our part.”
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