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Governor eases restrictions

You’ll be able to belly up to the bar again soon.

That was among Gov. Ralph Northam’s announcements Thursday in a video message in which he outlined expanded capacity for entertainment, restaurants, sports and social gathering limits that will take effect May 15.

This comes as the state’s seven-day moving average of new COVID-19 cases is 1,348 per day — higher than any point of the first nine months of the pandemic — and the statewide COVID-19 positivity rate is 6.1%. More than half of the state’s adults have had at least one dose of the vaccine.

Those at the bar, and anywhere else in a restaurant or other food or drinking establishment, must be at least six feet apart. Social gatherings can also increase from 50 to 100 people indoors and from 100 to 250 people outdoors.

Northam suggested in his message that more loosening of restrictions could be coming, calling this week’s announcement “targeted steps.”

“I’m optimistic that we will be able to take more steps in June,” Northam said. “We are working to significantly ramp up vaccinations even further and aim to reduce capacity limits in June, hopefully all the way. But some things need to continue — we all need to keep wearing masks, social distancing, and encouraging each other to get a shot. It’s how we take care of one another.”

Mask wearing and social distancing will still be mandated as commercial restrictions ease.

Among the other loosening of pandemic restrictions:

  • Indoor entertainment and public amusement sites will be able to operate at 50% capacity, or 1,000 people, up from 30% capacity or 500 people. Outdoor venues will get to operate at 50% capacity, up from 30%, with no cap on the number of people who can attend.
  • For indoor recreational sports, the spectator limit will rise from 100 to 250, or 50% capacity, whatever is less, and outdoor recreation sporting event capacity will go up from 500 to 1,000 people, or 50% capacity, whatever is less.
  • Restaurants will also be able to begin selling alcohol after midnight, and dining rooms will not have to close overnight.

The full text of the public order can be found at http://bit.ly/governororder.

Earlier this week, Northam increased the number of people who can be at the starting line at cross country events to 68 people, up from 50. High school drama and musical performances will be allowed to have 100 people indoors, or 30% capacity and 500 outdoors, or 30% of capacity.

“We all need to remember,” Northam said earlier this week, “that the virus is still circulating. People are still getting sick, and unfortunately, people are still dying.”