Some Virginia businesses seek more restriction relief despite minor changes from Northam


Despite some minor reductions in COVID-19 restrictions from Gov. Ralph Northam, some members of the business community are seeking an even further lessening of restrictions as they continue to struggle to make money during the pandemic.

On Tuesday, Northam announced he would ease some restrictions on social gathering limits and attendance for entertainment events. This includes raising capacity limits for outdoor social gatherings to 100 people and indoor social gatherings to 50 people beginning April 1. Indoor entertainment venues will be allowed to have 30% capacity with a cap of 500 people and outdoor entertainment venues will be allowed to have 30% capacity with no cap on people.

However, the governor’s distinctions for what classifies as an entertainment venue has fallen under scrutiny. Isabelle Russell, the owner of the wedding venue Belle Garden Estate, said her business is continuing a lawsuit against the state, claiming its exclusion of wedding venues from the entertainment category is arbitrary.

Under the governor’s order, Russel’s lawsuit claims its events are regulated as religious events if it is a religious ceremony and under entertainment events if certain entertainment is provided to guests. However, if an event does not fall under these categories, the event is regulated under the social gathering limit, which allows fewer people to attend.

“We are still moving forward with our lawsuit because the governor is still not [treating] wedding venues equally with other venues [and] because venues can still not operate with only a 50 people limit to indoor spaces,” Russell told The Center Square. “We are happy he is moving the restrictions in a positive direction. But [I] do feel it is not enough to sustain our industry.”

Nicole Riley, the Virginia state director for the National Association of Independent Business, told The Center Square that their restaurant, winery and brewery members appreciate the higher capacity limit for social gatherings. Yet, she said she has members concerned about the governor “splitting hairs” in his classification of entertainment venues. She said some businesses are arbitrarily being treated differently than others.

As vaccinations continue to increase, Riley said she hopes to see the economy open further. When vaccinations reach 70%, she said the state should consider loosening the social distancing guidelines from six feet between restaurant tables to three feet, which would mirror the current CDC guidelines for distancing between desks at schools. Although restaurants are allowed to operate at full capacity in theory, she said many are only able to operate at 40% or 50% capacity if they are properly enforcing social distancing rules.

By June, Riley said she hopes the economy to open fully.

Robert Melvin, the director of government affairs at the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging & Travel Association, told The Center Square that the changes to capacity guidelines will help restaurants and hotels that host events. However, he said the state should offer specific guidelines for work and education events, which should be allowed to operate at a greater capacity.

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