RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia public schools will remain closed for the rest of the current school year and certain types of businesses, like bowling alleys, gyms and theaters, must close in response to the coronavirus outbreak, Gov. Ralph Northam said Monday.
Northam’s order would not apply to businesses deemed essential, including grocery stores, pharmacies, banks and gas stations. State-owned liquor stores will also remain open.
“I know that the next several weeks, the next several months, will be difficult. They will require everyone to change the way that we live, the way we interact with each other,” the governor said.
He added that Virginians can expect to see a rise in depression, alcoholism and domestic abuse.
Northam, who is a doctor, said the closures were necessary to slow the spread of the virus and ensure that the health care system can keep up. As of Monday, there were 254 confirmed cases and six virus-related deaths in Virginia, according to the state health department.
The virus causes only minor flu-like symptoms in most people, who recover in a matter of weeks. But it is highly contagious and can cause severe illness or death in some, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health problems. Severe cases are often only able to breathe with respirators.
The governor had previously ordered a two-week school closure, which was set to end at the end of this week. Many school districts in the state have previously said they will be closed until at least mid-April.
A growing number of states and localities have been shutting their schools indefinitely. Last week Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly closed public and private K-12 schools for the rest of the academic year.
Northam’s order on business closings is similar to what some other states have done. He had previously ordered restaurants, fitness centers and theaters to limit their capacity to 10 customers.
The new changes will take effect statewide at midnight Tuesday and will remain in effect for at least 30 days, Northam said.
The policies mean restaurants will be limited to only carryout, curbside pickup or delivery. All “recreation and entertainment services,” such as bowling alleys, theaters, gyms and racetracks, must close, Northam said.
“Nonessential” retail shops can stay open if they allow fewer than 10 patrons and follow social distancing and increased sanitizing procedures, he said.
Virginia schools superintendent James Lane said the state would be presenting local school districts with different options to handle the early school closures, which included extending the academic calendar during the school year.
Northam acknowledged that the extended school closure would have serious impacts on families of young children, and he called for “an urgent public-private response” to make sure essential workers have access to childcare. The Department of Social Services and Department of Education would be issuing guidance to communities later Monday, he said.
The governor also said he understood the impact the changes would have on the economy, noting that about 40,000 people filed for unemployment just last week. But he said the sooner the health care crisis was brought under control, the sooner the economy could begin to recover.
“We are moving into a period of sacrifice,” he said.