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Virginia Restaurants Could Reopen With Restrictions in Less Than Two Weeks

Gov. Ralph Northam expects them to restart business with limited seating and employees in masks May 15

A man wearing a face mask waits outside a closed restaurant in Arlington advertising “Happy Hour” 

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced last night that he expects to allow the state’s restaurants to reopen for dine-in business by May 15. That move would be part of the first phase of the state’s reopening plan and is conditional on its continued progress in slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus. If it comes to pass, it would signal the first return for business in the D.C. region, where D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan are following their own plans.

Northam addressed the public on Monday to tell them the state’s shutdown of nonessential businesses would be extended from May 8 to May 14. After that time, he said he expects to let restaurants accept a limited number of dine-in customers so long as they spread them out and require their employees to wear face masks. Barbershops and salons will operate with similar restrictions.

The governor credited Virginia’s residents with flattening the curve of COVID-19 cases and said the state’s hospitals are showing open beds and a steady level of protective equipment.

The Washington Post reports that per capita deaths are lower in Virginia (8.1. per 100,000) than in D.C. (38) and Maryland (22). On Monday, Virginia tallied 24 deaths, reportedly its lowest in six days.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Northam lagged behind Bowser and Hogan in closing Virginia, waiting a full week longer than D.C. and Maryland when he shut down on-site dining and nonessential businesses on March 23. Virginia has a “stay-at-home” order in place until June 10, though the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports the governor’s office will swap its message to “safer at home,” and the first phase of reopening could last two to four weeks or longer.

In D.C., emergency measures are set to expire May 15, but Bowser has taken a cautious tone in discussing reopening that suggests she may extend the target date, something she’s already done once. The District is following guidelines that call for a consistent decrease in coronavirus cases for 14 consecutive days. A presentation the mayor shared Monday showed the city isn’t counting a downward trend yet. A recent expansion in testing could also pose a challenge to tracking a decline. None of this, however, seemed to be on the minds of the D.C. residents who flouted the District’s dine-in ban over the weekend by gathering with to-go drinks on the patio of 14th Street NW bar Red Light.

Restaurants have already started reopening with limited capacity (and mixed responses) in Georgia and Texas. In Atlanta, over 120 restaurants have pledged to stay closed to dine-in customers, even as others have begun to reboot their businesses. In Houston, several high-profile restaurants have also committed to sticking with takeout and delivery.