Virginia is easing some more COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings, sporting events and entertainment venues next week, Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday.
Speaking at a news conference in Richmond, Northam said restrictions will be changed as follows, starting April 1:
- Social gatherings may have up to 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors. Gatherings were previously limited to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.
- Indoor entertainment venues may operate at 30% capacity up to a maximum of 500 people. The cap was previously 250 people.
- Outdoor entertainment venues, including college and professional sports stadiums, can operate at 30% capacity with no maximum. Previously, attendance was capped at 1,000. This means, for example, that the minor-league baseball stadium in Richmond, which has 9,500 seats, could allow about 3,000 spectators.
- The maximum number of spectators for recreational sports, which includes high school sports, will increase to 100 for indoor events and 500 for outdoor events, such as high school football games, provided it does not exceed 30% capacity.
As Northam announced last week, college and high school graduations this spring and summer that are held outdoors will be capped at 5,000 people or 30% of capacity, whichever is less, while indoor events will be capped at 500 people or 30% of capacity, whichever is less.
Northam did not ease any restrictions Tuesday on indoor dining, alcohol sales and bars. Bar seating is still disallowed in restaurants, and alcohol sales must end at midnight.
Northam said that as capacity guidelines for other venues and gatherings are eased, attendees must still wear masks and follow social-distancing measures.
“To be very clear, we are not simply throwing the doors open," he added. "These are measured changes.”
Asked about not easing restrictions on bars and restaurants, Northam said, "We know that when people congregate and it gets late and they let their guard down … this is where the virus tends to be spread.”
Nearly one-quarter of all Virginians, or about 2.1 million, have now received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and over 1 million have been fully vaccinated. The state's seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases has fallen from a peak of over 6,100 in mid-January to about 1,400 in the past week, but has plateaued at that level. Hospitalizations for treatment of the virus have generally fallen to levels not seen since the fall.
"All in all, things are going well," Northam said. "There’s still a lot of virus out in our communities. That number has hit a plateau, and we’re watching that very closely.”
In response to a letter Friday from government leaders in Northern Virginia seeking more vaccine doses for the region, Dr. Danny Avula, the state's vaccine coordinator, said that while initial vaccination supplies were allocated based on population, the state is starting to shift some doses to areas that have more demand. He said demand has started to wane in some rural communities of the state that have moved into Tier 1(c) of vaccinations, while the Northern Virginia health districts are still in Tier 1(b).
The letter also asked state leaders for additional flexibility in administering vaccines to ensure access by minority communities, some of which were hardest hit by COVID-19. A letter from the Prince William Chapter of the National Coalition of Black Women to Northam's chief of staff and state health leaders provided some suggestions to increase access, including establishing vaccination clinics at African-American churches.
Avula and Dr. Norman Oliver, the state's health commissioner, said the state is doing additional outreach to minority communities, including going to churches and filling vaccination appointments with people who may not have registered on the state's website.
They noted the mass vaccination clinic that opened in Woodbridge on Tuesday was designed in part to reach Black and Latino populations in that area. The clinic will operate six days a week with capacity to administer about 3,000 vaccine doses a day.
"We're ramping up that work," Oliver said.
Northam said the state received word Tuesday from the federal government that it can expect another 48,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine per week, starting next week. That vaccine requires only one dose to be fully effective, unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which require two doses.
The state is currently averaging just under 50,000 vaccine doses a day, a goal Northam set in early January.
“We feel good about where we are with vaccinations," Northam added.