Northam warns penalties to businesses breaking COVID-19 mandates

Updated: Mar. 21, 2020 at 8:05 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - In a press conference Saturday Governor Ralph Northam doubled down on his call for businesses to reinforce mandates that limit the number of patrons to businesses in the commonwealth to 10 people or less amidst the latest confirmed COVID-19 coronavirus surpassing 150 infected individuals with all five major regions of the states reporting cases.

“I’m proud of what most Virginians are doing, but let’s be clear that their are a few people that are not getting the message,” said Northam." If our restaurants our theaters and our fitness centers stay open with more than 10 patrons you could be charged with a misdemeanor and lose your operating license on the spot."

One fitness center not taking any chances with with virus is Richmond Balance in Shockoe Bottom which closed it’s doors this week to protect it’s gym members.

“We have clients over 60 in our small groups in our one-on-one training, just as members and so it became how do we make this a safe space for them<” said strength coach Cassi Niemann.

Niemann says the 24-hour gym boutique is practicing social distancing through social media by sending personalized workout videos to their patrons and allowing them to take some of the equipment to their homes.

“We lent out dumbbells and kettlebells and bands that will allow our clients to do work at home,” said Niemann. “We’re sending lots of video we are prescribing very specific individual workouts and One of our other coaches is doing Facetime where she’ll do the workout’s with you so we’re trying out best to do whatever we can to keep people moving.”

A few blocks away the general manager of Bottom’s Up Pizza Charlie Lichter says he will continue to keep the restaurants doors open during the COVID-19 outbreak, but says that they are strictly following the guidelines set forth by Northam and the state.

“We are allowing no more than 10 patrons into the restaurant at any given time. That’s first and foremost,” said Lichter. “If more patrons want to come in than we have room for they are asked to either wait outside until we have an appropriate number of people leave the restaurant.”

Lichter says at this point only essential staff are working and he’s doubling down on sanitation efforts and is willing to do whatever it takes to keep his patrons and staff safe from the spread of COVID-19.

“We’ve gone through a lot of gloves in the past week and obviously we are highly encouraging the constant washing of hands.”

He adds that the business has been relying heavily on it’s take out services to continue serving the community, but that they are making so little money since business slowed down at the start of the outbreak that they are barely breaking even to cover the cost to maintain the restaurant.

“We’re not doing any more business than we can handle to keep ourselves within the guidelines that have been put fourth to us and if at such time it seems fit to even stop that than we will,” said Lichter.

The Richmond area Gold’s gym is also staying open with modified services to it’s gym members. GOld’s Gym parent company released a statement saying “To support at-home workouts, Gold’s Gym is offering free premium access to GOLD’S AMP™, our digital personal training app, and free on-demand video workouts to members and non-members across the United States. Activation details for that App are available Here.

During the press conference Northam also announced that there will be new testing criteria for COVID-19 which will prioritize healthcare professionals who have been exposed to COVID-19 and are showing symptoms to ensure continuity of care.

“We’re focusing on testing those who are involved in clusters of respiratory illness where Flu has been ruled out with a priority for healthcare facility outbreaks,” said Dr. Laurie Forlano for the Virginia Department of Health. The testing criteria for those who are residing in nursing homes has been slightly relaxed to remove one testing component that previously existed and we’r hoping that will relieve a barrier for testing for those individuals."

The Governor added that the State government is working on getting more personal protection equipment and other supplies to the front-line healthcare providers.

“I signed an executive order that will allow our hospitals and our nursing homes more flexibility to add beds during this situation,” said Northam. "That order lifts our certificate of public need restrictions so that our health commissioners can give hospitals and nursing home the authority to add the beds they need without going through red tape.

"We will get through this, but it is imperative that everyone does their part to limit social interaction and slow the spread of this virus..

Northam also mentioned that the Federal Department of Education announced that it will accept waivers from states from federal testing requirements and that the Virginia department of Education is preparing Virginia’s waiver in an effort to make sure that the commonwealths high school seniors remain on track to graduate.

“My administration is also considering actions necessary to provide relief to students on state mandated SOL tests.”

During Saturdays press conference an Opinion by Attorney General Mark Herring was also brought up by Northam which says that public bodies should only hold electronic public meetings if the purposes of those meeting is to address the current state of emergency with COVID-19 and should otherwise deffer any actions until they meet in person unless deemed essential.

“The regular features of public meeting remain critical including the need for public access, proper public notice, roll call votes and recorded minutes,” said Northam. “We are not throwing out public accountability and transparency measures because of an emergency,” said Northam. “Bad policies happen that way.”

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