As part of Virginia’s ongoing response to COVID-19, on March 23, 2020, Governor Ralph Northam issued Executive Order 53 temporarily closing recreational and entertainment businesses and restricting certain other non-essential businesses statewide. The order also bans gatherings of more than 10 people and closes K-12 schools for the remainder of the academic year. These closing and other restrictions are effective from 11.59 p.m. on Tuesday, March 24, 2020 through 11.59 p.m. on Thursday, April 23, 2020.

Recreational and entertainment businesses temporarily closed

The order requires the one-month closing of the following recreational and entertainment businesses:

  • Theaters, performing arts centers, concert venues, museums, and other indoor entertainment centers.
  • Fitness centers, gymnasiums, recreation centers, indoor sports facilities, and indoor exercise facilities.
  • Beauty salons, barbershops, spas, massage parlors, tanning salons, tattoo shops, and any other location where personal care or personal grooming services are performed that would not allow compliance with social distancing guidelines to remain 6 feet apart.
  • Racetracks and historic horse racing facilities.
  • Bowling alleys, skating rinks, arcades, amusement parks, trampoline parks, fairs, arts and craft facilities, aquariums, zoos, escape rooms, indoor shooting ranges, public and private social clubs, and all other places of indoor public amusement.

The order also requires the temporary closing of dining and congregation areas in restaurants, dining establishments, food courts, breweries, microbreweries, distilleries, wineries, tasting rooms, and farmers’ markets. However, these businesses may offer delivery and take-out services as long as they are able to comply with social distancing and hygiene requirements.

Essential businesses permitted to remain open

The order expressly permits the following essential retail businesses to remain open during their normal business hours:

  • Grocery stores, pharmacies, and other retailers that sell food and beverage products or pharmacy products (including dollar stores, and department stores with grocery or pharmacy operations)
  • Medical, laboratory, and vision supply retailers
  • Electronic retailers that sell or service cell phones, computers, tablets, and other communications technology
  • Automotive parts, accessories, and tire retailers as well as automotive repair facilities
  • Home improvement, hardware, building material, and building supply retailers
  • Lawn and garden equipment retailers
  • Beer, wine, and liquor stores
  • Retail functions of gas stations and convenience stores
  • Retail stores located within healthcare facilities
  • Banks and other financial institutions with retail functions
  • Pet and feed stores
  • Printing and office supply stores
  • Laundromats and dry cleaners

The order’s ban on gatherings of more than 10 people does not apply to these essential businesses. Nonetheless, such businesses must, to the extent possible, practice social distancing, increase sanitizing of common surfaces, and follow appropriate workplace guidance from state and federal authorities.

The order also explicitly does not limit the provision of health care or medical services, access to essential services for low-income residents (e.g., food banks), operations of the media, or operations of law enforcement and government.

Restrictions on other non-essential categories of business

The order permits other brick-and-mortar retail businesses not specifically identified to continue operating, but requires them to limit all in-person shopping to no more than 10 patrons per establishment at one time. If the business cannot adhere to the social distancing requirements, they must temporarily close.

The order also advises that non-retail businesses should utilize teleworking as much as possible. Where telework is not feasible, businesses are required to adhere to social distancing recommendations, enhanced sanitizing practices on common surfaces, and appropriate workplace guidance from state and federal authorities.

The Office of the Governor has published a FAQ regarding the order. Citizens may send questions about the application of the order to

Virginia employers should review these requirements immediately to determine whether their operations are impacted. If you have any questions on these requirements or other questions with respect to your workforce related to COVID-19, please contact Reed Smith’s labor and employment team.