Report: Virginia has 4th most COVID-19 restrictions

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More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, Virginia has the fourth most restrictions still in place, according to a study comparing all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

“The state requires face coverings for the general public, has some form of requirement or recommendation for customer health checks at restaurants and it hasn’t passed or proposed any laws giving business immunity from COVID-19 claims,” Jill Gonzalez, an analyst for the financial website WalletHub, told The Center Square. WalletHub produced the study.

“Plus, Florida has work from home requirements in place and is not part of any multistate agreement to reopen,” Gonzalez said. “For assisted living facilities, the state prohibits visitation and requires staff screening and personal protective equipment for all personnel.”

Virginia scored 28.92 out of a possible 100, with 100 being the most free. The study considered several metrics including facemask policies, restaurant and bar policies, school reopenings, gathering restrictions, travel restrictions and facemask requirements.

The ranking considers policies as of April 6. The commonwealth improved from its March ranking of 51 and its January ranking of 50.

Although restaurants can open at full capacity in theory, other restrictions often prevent them from doing so. Tables must still be six feet apart, which forces many restaurants to operate at half capacity or even lower. Bars and restaurants are required to shut down in-person dining at midnight and halt alcohol sales by that time.

In late March, the state slightly eased some of its gathering restrictions, but still maintained harsh rules. Indoor social gathering limits increased to 50 and outdoor gathering limits increased to 100. Indoor entertainment venues can have up to 30% capacity with a 500-person cap and outdoor entertainment venues are permitted 30% capacity with no cap.

Some members of the business community criticized the governor for reopening too slowly. A wedding venue sued the governor alleging arbitrary distinctions because secular weddings without entertainment are still subject to the strict gathering limits, rather than being included in the broader entertainment restrictions. Some members of the business community called on the governor to increase gathering sizes for work-related events.

Facemasks are still required at all indoor public areas. When a person is outdoors, he or she is required to wear a facemask if social distancing cannot be maintained.

“Virginia’s reputation for being a ‘small government’ state has been blown to smithereens by the Northam Administration, but he did not get much for all the [COVID-19] restrictions he imposed,” Christian Braunlich, the president of the free-market Thomas Jefferson Institute, told The Center Square.

“For example, the Wallethub report seems to [indicate] our [COVID-19] death rate and unemployment rate is pretty much on a par with Mississippi (8th least restrictive),” Braunlich said. “What the Governor did accomplish with his restrictions is to create new job-suppressing regulations on employers that he plans to make permanent, in response to demands by his special interest supporters. And by failing to explain his actions with transparency and clear metrics, he has reduced the trust Virginians have in the actions of their government.”

Only Delaware, the District of Columbia and Vermont had stricter COVID-19 restrictions as of April. States performing slightly better than Virginia include Washington, New York and California. The states with the least restrictions were Iowa, Florida, Wyoming, South Dakota and Texas.

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