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‘A period of sacrifice’: Governor orders schools closed for rest of academic year

Gov. Ralph Northam on Monday announced more drastic measures to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in Virginia.

Among the announcements was Northam’s decision to keep Virginia schools — both public and private — closed for the remainder of the academic year. On March 13, he had ordered schools to close for two weeks, and Monday was the start of the second week of that.

“We do not make these decisions lightly,” Northam stated. “COVID-19 is serious, and we must act. Unfortunately, the virus does not respect national borders and state borders; it is everywhere, or it will be soon.”

Northam said the state Department of Education would provide guidance to school divisions on how to move forward, and each school division would have a variety of choices to make based on what would be best in its particular circumstance.

Suffolk Public Schools Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III stated in an email there will be a plan developed by the end of the week.

“Suffolk Public Schools is closely working with the Virginia Department of Education and the other school divisions in Region II to develop an instructional and safety plan moving forward,” Gordon wrote. “We are looking at strategies to continue learning, meal distribution, and a process to close out the school year.

“While we know that there are several unknowns including the awarding of credit, graduation planning, and the like, we are going to provide more guidance at the end of the week. We are asking for the continued patience of our school community as we develop a clear and efficient plan for all.”

Northam also announced further restrictions on businesses, which take effect at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday and remain in effect for 30 days:

  • Recreational and entertainment establishments, as well as personal services like salons and spas that cannot maintain social distancing, must close.
  • Restaurants must cease any dine-in services they are still doing and provide drive-through, takeout, curbside service and delivery only.
  • Non-essential brick-and-mortar retail establishments must maintain 10 or fewer patrons in the building at a time, maintain social distancing and adhere to stricter sanitation procedures, or they also must close.
  • Essential businesses, like grocery stores and pharmacies, must adhere to social distancing and increased sanitation.

Essential businesses include the following:

  • Grocery stores, pharmacies, and other retailers that sell food and beverage products or pharmacy products, including dollar stores, and department stores with grocery or pharmacy operations;
  • Medical, laboratory, and vision supply retailers;
  • Electronic retailers that sell or service cell phones, computers, tablets, and other communications technology;
  • Automotive parts, accessories, and tire retailers as well as automotive repair facilities;
  • Home improvement, hardware, building material, and building supply retailers;
  • Lawn and garden equipment retailers;
  • Beer, wine, and liquor stores;
  • Retail functions of gas stations and convenience stores;
  • Retail located within health care facilities;
  • Banks and other financial institutions with retail functions;
  • Pet and feed stores;
  • Printing and office supply stores; and
  • Laundromats and dry cleaners.

Northam clarified nothing in the order would limit the provision of health care or medical services, access to essential services for low-income residents, or the operations of the media, law enforcement agencies or government.

Northam also issued an urgent call for childcare providers to do everything they can to prioritize the children of essential workers, and for those who can keep their children at home to do so to free up capacity.

“We are moving into a period of sacrifice,” Northam stated. “We all need to take care of each other from afar, because social distancing is the only path forward.”

He called on all Virginians to do their part — stay home except for shopping for essential items and working in essential roles. Wash your hands and practice social distancing when you do have to go out.

“I am calling on you to do just that,” the governor stated. “We must put aside what we want and replace it with what we need. This will change every part of our life and all the daily patterns we’re used to. It will require all of us to live differently.

“We will get through this together. We will win this battle.”