(The Center Square) – Members of the Virginia business community are worried about the economic impact from Gov. Ralph Northam’s most-recent executive order to expand COVID-19 restrictions, and at least one hospitality firm said it was left out of the discussion.
Northam’s new executive order prohibits on-site alcohol sales after 10 p.m., limits gatherings to 25 people and beefs up enforcement on businesses to ensure they’re following regulations.
The new alcohol sales curfew is expected to reduce sales in restaurants and bars; the capacity limit on public and private events is expected to significantly reduce the number of events held at hotels and convention centers; and the increased enforcement, which could lead to misdemeanor charges or civil fines, could put small businesses in a difficult and uncertain position if they inadvertently fall short of the COVID-19 regulations, according to members of the business community.
Northam’s executive order was announced Friday and went into effect Sunday.
Paul Cooper, the president of Retro Hospitality, told The Center Square there's confusion in the business community about whether all public events are subject to the capacity limit. He said the new restrictions were enacted abruptly and without much input from the business community.
"We were left in the dark," Cooper said. "... [It] came as a complete surprise to all of us."
Cooper said hotels, restaurants and other businesses have invested millions of dollars to ensure the safety of customers and staff. If the governor has issues with how they've handled it, Cooper said he would like there to be open dialogue between the industry and the governor's office. If there are not problems, he said the industry should not be penalized and patrons should be able to decide for themselves.
Robert Melvin, the director of government affairs at the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging & Travel Association, told The Center Square these restrictions will force bars and restaurants to either lay off workers or reduce hours going into the holiday season. He said people were preparing for the season expecting to have jobs, but now many of them will not.
“It’s just seriously problematic,” Melvin said. “... We know [Northam] could have done better.”
The southeastern part of Virginia has had the worst COVID-19 spike in recent weeks, which the governor mostly attributed to family gatherings. Melvin said restaurants, bars, hotels and convention centers already are following strict social distancing, face mask and sanitization guidelines and if there isn’t evidence that they are causing the spike, then they should not be subject to heavier restrictions.
Melvin said his organization urged Northam to follow North Carolina’s recent capacity guidelines, which exempted hotels and restaurants from the capacity restrictions for group gatherings. He also said restaurants and bars should have been allowed to stay open subject to the previous guidelines they already were following.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Virginia had the fourth-worst net change in eating and drinking establishment jobs, which was a reduction of 3,400 total jobs from August to September.
The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment about these concerns, but said in a statement Friday that the measures were enacted to prevent the health crisis from getting worse as COVID-19 cases are rising throughout the commonwealth and the country as colder weather is approaching.