Virginia Governor Makes it a Crime More Than 10 People to Attend Religious Services or College Classes

By Terence P. Jeffrey | March 30, 2020 | 4:16pm EDT
 
(Getty Images/Win McNamee)
(Getty Images/Win McNamee)

(CNSNews.com) - Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia issued an executive order on Monday directing Virginians to stay in their homes unless they are engaging in certain exempted activities such as going to the grocery store or seeking medical attention.

While this new “Executive Order Number Fifty-Five” permits travel to and from a “place of worship” or an “educational institution,” it makes it a crime to have a gathering of more than 10 people for a “religious event” or “in-person classes and instruction” at an “institution of higher education.”

Last week, Northam issued his “Executive Order Number Fifty-Three” prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people, shutting “non-essential” businesses, allowing restaurants only to provide take-out or delivery services, and closing all K-12 schools for the rest of the school year. That order also made it a misdemeanor to hold gatherings of more than 10 people in a place of worship.

The new order targets the movement of people as well as the places they might go. It also states that it will stay in effect through June 10 and also extends the expiration of Executive Order Number Fifty-Three through that same deadline. Executive Order Fifty-Three was initially set to expire on April 23. So, the new order extends it for approximately seven weeks.

“Our message today is very clear, that is to stay home,” Northam said at a briefing on Monday announcing his new executive order. “Social distancing and frequent handwashing are our best tool to combat the coronavirus. Most Virginians recognize this and are complying.”

“But this weekend some of our beaches and other recreational areas were literally packed,” Northam said. 

“Everyone who is gathering in a crowd at any place around the state is putting themselves and others at risk,” he said.

"So, today, I am announcing a stay-at-home order for all Virginians,” he said.

“Under this order, everyone in Virginia must remain in their place of residence unless they must go out for food, supplies, work, medical care, or to get fresh air or exercise,” Northam declared.

“Any parties or social gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited,” he said.

“Private campgrounds will be closed for short-term stays,” he said.” Virginia’s beaches will be closed to any activity except exercising or fishing. All institutions of higher education will cease in-person instruction and cancel any gathering of 10 or more people.

“If you can work remotely, you need to do so, and companies need to allow that,” he said.

“I want to be clear: Do not go out unless you need to go out. This is very different from wanting to go out,” Northam said.

“Don’t go to the store just for one thing,” he said. “Wait until you have a whole list of needs. If you are travelling from out of state—particularly a hot spot—I urge you to self-quarantine for fourteen days.

“But I will say it again because I want everyone to hear me: Stay home!” Northam said.

The text of Northam’s new “stay-at-home” executive order states: “All individuals in Virginia shall remain at their place of residence, except as provided below by this Order and Executive Order 53. To the extent individuals use shared or outdoor spaces, whether on land or on water, they must at all times maintain social distancing of at least six feet from any other person, with the exception of family or household members or caretakers.”

The order then lists the reasons someone will be permitted to leave their home. These include among other things: obtaining food and beverages; seeking medical attention, government services, or law enforcement; taking care of animals or visiting the home of a family member; traveling to obey a court order; engaging in outdoor activities like exercise (while complying with “social distancing requirements”); traveling to and from a place of work or worship; and  traveling to and from an educational institution.

People will also be allowed to leave their homes, according to the governor’s order, “at the direction of law enforcement, or at the direction of another government agency.”

The order goes on to prohibit all “public and private in-person gatherings of more than ten individuals.”

“This,” says the order, “includes parties, celebrations, religious, or other social event, whether they occur indoor or outdoor.”

The order further says: “Institutions of higher education shall cease all in-person classes and instruction, and cancel all gatherings of more than ten individuals.”

It also calls for the “cessation of all reservation for overnight stays of less than 14 nights at all privately-owned campgrounds.”

The order also closes all public beaches “for all activity, except exercising and fishing.”

Finally, the order says that violations of the paragraphs in the order that prohibit public and private in-person gatherings, including for religious events will be Class 1 misdemeanors.

Under Virginia law, a Class 1 misdemeanor is punishable by up to one year in prison and/or a fine of up to $2,500.

The order also says it will be a Class 1 misdemeanor for institutions of higher education to hold in-person classes with more than ten people.

 

 

 

 

Here is a transcript of part of Gov. Northam's press briefing about his Executive Order Fifty-Five: 

“Our message today is very clear, that is to stay home. Social distancing and frequent handwashing are our best tool to combat the coronavirus. Most Virginians recognize this and are complying.

"But I will say it again because I want everyone to hear me: Stay home! Across Virginia, in the past few weeks, we have seen people doing the right thing to help their neighbors.

“We have seen people making masks to help our medical personnel. We have seen teachers driving through their school neighborhoods so their students can see them and feel connected.

“All of these things make me so proud to be a Virginian. In this difficult time, Virginians are stepping up to support their neighbors and their communities.

“We have also seen people adhering to the rules about social distancing.  But it is clear more people need to hear this basic message: Stay home. Our doctors, nurses and other medical professionals are putting their lives and health at risk every day, working to help people who are sick with this virus. I am so very grateful to all of you.

“But this weekend some of our beaches and other recreational areas were literally packed.  Everyone who is gathering in a crowd at any place around the state is putting themselves and others at risk. So, today, I am announcing a stay-at-home order for all Virginians. Under this order, everyone in Virginia must remain in their place of residence unless they must go out for food, supplies, work, medical care, or to get fresh air or exercise.

“Any parties or social gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited. Private campgrounds will be closed for short-term stays. Virginia’s beaches will be closed to any activity except exercising or fishing. All institutions of higher education will cease in-person instruction and cancel any gathering of 10 or more people.

“If you can work remotely, you need to do so, and companies need to allow that.

“I want to be clear: Do not go out unless you need to go out. This is very different from wanting to go out. Don’t go to the store just for one thing. Wait until you have a whole list of needs. If you are travelling from out of state—particularly a hot spot—I urge you to self-quarantine for fourteen days.

“As of today, almost half of the COVID-19 cases in Virginia are in people under age 50. Every age groups needs to act responsibly and stay home. No age group is immune to this virus.

“These orders are necessary to protect public health. As of this morning, Virginia has more than 1,000 confirmed COVID cases. We know that number, unfortunately, will continue to rise. What we’re seeing now is the result of how people interacted two or three weeks ago. What we will see a few weeks from now will be determined by how people behave today and in the following days.

“We need everyone to be patient with social distancing. It will take time to show results. That’s why it is so critical that we all do our part and stay at home. We must do this to slow the potential medical surge for our hospitals. Virginia’s hospitals have approximately 18,500 licensed beds. About 2,000 of those are ICU beds. How many more we need depends on the actions that we all take right now. 

“But we know we will need more. We are looking at several different models---from FEMA, from various universities, and others. Each one shows different outcomes and timelines. We are working to unpack those and better understand their underlying assumptions and predictions for Virginia. That effort is happening every day and we expect to share more information with Virginians soon. The one thing the models all have in common, however, is that Virginia will face a surge in cases that require hospitalization.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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