Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Monday issued a mandatory stay-at-home order for the state’s 8.5 million residents to help slow the spread of the virus.
Northam announced that people cannot go out except for food, supplies, work, medical care or to get fresh air or exercise. Any gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited. Beaches are closed except for exercising or fishing. Northam’s order takes effect Monday and shall remain in force until June 10.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan issued a similar order hours earlier.
“This is an unprecedented and difficult time,” Northam said. “And it will be hard for people.” As for enforcement, Northam said, if more than 10 people gather they can be subject to a class 1 misdemeanor. “This is not a time when we’re looking to put people into jail.”
Northam’s order was similar to the one issued Friday by Gov. Roy Cooper (D) of neighboring North Carolina. Cooper has ordered everyone in his state to stay home, with some exceptions. Those include travel to protect health and safety, such as to obtain medication or to visit a health care provider or veterinarian.
The order allows “traveling required by court order or to facilitate child custody, visitation, or child care...traveling to and from one’s residence, place of worship, or work; Traveling to and from an educational institution; Volunteering with organizations that provide charitable or social services; and Traveling required by court order or to facilitate child custody, visitation, or child care.”
Until Monday, Northam had merely asked Virginians to stay home. When asked Friday why he had not issued a stay-at-home order as in other states, Northam said the difference between his request and other governors’ mandates was “semantics.”
As he explained his about-face, Northam contrasted the sacrifice of health-care workers to the “selfish” sunbathers who packed the state’s beaches over the warm weekend.
“I know what it’s like to be in mass casualty exercises," said Northam, a former Army doctor who treated wounded soldiers in the Gulf War. “I know what it’s like to be in the hospital, in the emergency rooms on the front line. And I have seen heroes, literally across Virginia over the past couple weeks – doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, you could go right down the list. They are sacrificing their time. They’re sacrificing perhaps their health, the health of their families. And I commend them for all that they’re doing.
“And I see that,” Northam continued, "but I also see people congregating on the beach that are completely ignoring what we’re doing. And I will remind those folks: You are being very, very selfish because you’re putting all of us – especially our healthcare providers -- at risk. And so to date, this has been a suggestion to Virginians. Today it’s an order.”
Restaurants may remain open, but only for take-out. Non-essential retail may stay open as well, as long as they continue to observe social distancing.
“People can still go to the golf course and play golf,” Northam said. But he said the clubhouses will be closed and warned golfers to keep their distance.