RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Thursday that he would be further loosening coronavirus-related restrictions on businesses and social gatherings in mid-May. He also said that a more substantial rollback is likely coming in June.
Beginning Saturday, May 15, sports and entertainment venues in Virginia may begin to operate with expanded capacity, and social gathering limits will increase under changes Northam is making to an executive order. The state's existing mask mandate will not be lifted.
The Democratic governor said the easing of the measures would be possible thanks to increasing vaccination rates. All Virginians over the age of 16 are now eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, and more than half of all adults have gotten at least one dose.
“I’m optimistic that we will be able to take more steps in June," Northam said in a statement. “We’re aiming to significantly ramp up vaccinations even further, and aim to reduce capacity limits in June, hopefully all the way.”
Under the changes taking place in May, the maximum number of individuals permitted in a social gathering will increase to 100 people for indoor settings and 250 people for outdoor settings, up from 50 and 100, respectively.
Indoor entertainment and public amusement venues will be able to operate at 50 percent capacity or 1,000 people, up from 30 percent capacity or 500 people, Northam's office said. Outdoor venues will be able to operate at 50 percent capacity.
The number of spectators allowed at indoor recreational sporting events will increase, and restaurants will be allowed to return to selling alcohol after midnight. Dining room closures will no longer be required between midnight and 5 a.m.
Earlier this week, Northam made smaller changes, allowing bar seating in dining and drinking establishments, relaxing limits on outdoor races and allowing school performances like musicals to take place.
Both cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations from the disease have fallen tremendously in Virginia since the post-holiday surge. On Thursday, the health department was reporting 1,373 new cases, and the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association was reporting 1,104 hospitalized with COVID-19 or with tests pending.