While Northam has come in for some criticism for his reluctance to follow the more draconian examples of governors elsewhere in restricting both individual movement and commerce, his political restraint and doctorly calm is a welcome relief.
He’s not soft-pedaling the emergency. But he’s not slamming the brakes on the economy, either.
Yes, both public and private schools are closed. Yes, so-called “nonessential businesses” are shuttered until April 23. No trips to the trampoline park or the tattoo parlor for you.
And to my conservative friends wondering where the governor gets the authority to shut down the water parks and movie theaters, Northam helpfully supplies the answer: It’s all in the Virginia Code.
According to the law, Northam could do far more. But he hasn’t (yet). Consider:
In paragraph 6 of his March 23 executive order, brick-and-mortar stores not considered essential, nor explicitly closed, can still open for business but “must limit all in-person shopping to no more than 10 patrons per establishment. If any such business cannot adhere to the 10 patron limit with proper social distancing requirements, it must close."
And there’s even a dispensation or two for those businesses told to shut down.
According to a FAQ produced by the governor’s office, “[P]roviders with a cosmetology license can provide one-on-one services in their clients’ homes during this 30 day period. Providers must, to the extent possible, practice social distancing and take health precautions, including washing your hands and sanitizing all tools. To protect yourself and your clients, stay home at the first sign of a cold or fever.”
But even if the commonwealth gets paler (thanks to the closing of tanning salons) and shaggier over the next 30 days, life hasn’t ground to a complete halt.
Grocery stores and pharmacies are on the open list (though good luck finding toilet paper at either). So, too, are businesses that take a moment or two to put in perspective, such as auto supply stores, lawn and garden equipment centers and office supply stores.
They make sense, given the demands of working from home (and having to buy your own toner and pens) and keeping what commerce is allowed moving (which can’t happen if the delivery van’s water pump fails).
And for those of a certain age: The beer, wine and liquor stores are open.
The data from Virginia ABC shows liquor sales are rising as the shutdowns expand.
The spirits will flow in other ways. The governor has waived regulations and is allowing restaurants with liquor licenses to sell beer and wine with every takeout or delivery meal.
Is this, indeed, the way we live now?
For the next month or so, yes, it is. Northam said this new normal may last for several months.
We can hope that American ingenuity will win out and produce a vaccine long before today’s emergency-driven procedures become ingrained habits.
And then Virginia can get back to the simpler things in life: getting the kids to school, buying toilet paper and hitting the ABC store (just in case).