Back to the beach: Virginia Beach a test case for expanded Virginia reopening

Mike Still • May 19, 2020 at 3:00 PM

RICHMOND — Virginia Beach will open for the Memorial Day weekend as a test case for other beaches in the state, but some hopeful candidates for the state’s November ballot may not get a break.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Monday announced the relaxation of restrictions on the city’s beaches and adjacent First Landing State Park starting Friday. The new conditions for opening allow sunbathing, swimming and surfing in addition to exercise and fishing that were allowed since March under Northam’s pandemic emergency orders.

The catches to the eased restrictions are no groups events, social distancing still required and beach capacity limited by a 50% cap on beach access parking. Increased cleaning of high-touch areas and facilities at the beach will also be implemented.

Northam’s latest order follows Friday’s implementation of the first phase of his “Forward Virginia” limited business reopening, which allowed non-essential businesses and personal grooming businesses to reopen at reduced building occupancy and with face mask and social distancing measures.

Restaurants with outdoor dining facilities were also allowed to begin serving patrons onsite. Gyms and fitness businesses are still closed except where they can provide outdoor activities with social distancing.

“If people swarm the beaches … I will not hesitate to reimpose phase one restrictions or even close the beaches,” Northam said.

Northam was joined in his announcement by Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer, who thanked him for allowing beaches to open “in a phased and safe way.”

“This is short-term inconvenience for long-term gain,” Dyer said of the limited beach reopening.

Northam said other beach localities could look at Virginia Beach’s plan for reopening as an example when the time comes to reopen their beaches, too.

Northam and state Secretary of Administration Keyanna Connor also fielded questions about a June 9 deadline for candidates for some congressional and local offices on the state’s November ballots to file candidacy petitions. Northam said he was aware that some candidates have filed court challenges against the deadline after COVID-19 emergency orders limited group gatherings and proximity to others

Northam encouraged candidates seeking to complete required numbers of valid petition signatures to be creative in overcoming the challenge.

“Neither the governor, the commissioner of elections or me have any statutory authority to move those requirements or to waive them,” Connor said. Some candidates’ court challenges have been granted, and Connor encouraged other candidates to make their own court filings for relief.

Northam also mentioned a return to classes for K-12 schools, colleges and universities. An education task force including state Superintendent of Public Education James Lane, local school superintendents and college presidents are working on how and when schools and colleges can reopen safely, he said.

A moratorium on evictions for tenants and homeowners is about to end as some localities’ courts begin reopening this week, Northam said. State officials are working to get deferrals on mortgage payments, a 60-day deferral on evictions and federal assistance with rent relief funds, he added.

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