Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced on Monday that state-wide lockdown orders would begin to ease on May 15, but for many Virginians, his slow rollback set more than a week in the future isn't enough. Residents gathered in the state capital of Richmond on Wednesday to push for an early opening and a more complete return to normalcy.
One elected official in the Virginia state legislature led the charge to fully reopen the state at the rally, inviting participants to join her via email and social media. State Senator Amanda Chase (R), who is also running a 2021 gubernatorial, criticized the governor's soft approach to reopening, calling on him to approve all businesses to open by May 15.
"See you at the Virginia State Capital TODAY in Richmond from 1pm to 3pm as we parade in our cars around Capital Square and honk our horns to encourage our Governor to turn his 'MAY' safely reopen VA to 'DEFINITELY' reopen Virginia on Friday, May 15," Sen. Chase said on Facebook.
Northam said on Monday that the state will "Reopen next Friday," clarifying that Virginia would enter a "phase one" approach to reopening that would allow restaurants, salons, and gyms to reopen with safety measures in place. He did not elaborate on each measure that businesses would have to adapt in order to open their doors.
One stipulation of Northam's plan is that restaurants may open, but only with fewer seats and tables to maintain social distancing. Many restaurant owners across the country have said that limiting dining room capacity is not a functional business model, as they were already operating on a razor thin margin in order to keep up with rent, vendors, payroll, and taxes.
The governor said in his announcement that a delay of nearly two weeks from his decision was intended to give businesses and "nonessential" business operators a chance to prepare to reopen. A phase one reopening in Virginia, he said, could last approximately three weeks. The state ban against gatherings of more than 10 people was extended indefinitely on Monday with a vague claim by Northam that "normal life" in Virginia may not resume until July.
Chase and others at the rally intended to push Northam to reopen the economy fully and to flip the switch immediately, giving hurting businesses a chance to put employees back to work right away and turn on their revenue streams.
"Governor Ralph Northam has overstepped his authority by imposing restrictions on businesses that are crippling our economy,” an email from Chase to supporters said on Tuesday. “Yesterday the governor extended his draconian orders to May 15. This is too much. We need to tell the governor we are ready to go back to work."
Gubernatorial Hopeful Amanda Chase waves on the sea of cars honking to reopen Virginia pic.twitter.com/qmiiAyyfjo— Talya Cunningham (@Talya8news) May 6, 2020
On Wednesday, Sen. Chase, wearing latex gloves, took to the streets in Richmond to greet the influx of rallying Virginians.
"All businesses are essential!" one motorist proclaimed while driving by in the rally of dozens of honking, American flag-waving cars. Chase offered the thumbs up and cheered on the protestors as they filled the streets surrounding the state capitol. Signs being carried by motorists included messages of "Freedom over Tyranny," "Open Virginia Now," and criticisms of the governor including, "Wreck it Ralph," and "Northam Sucks."
HAPPENING NOW: Senator Amanda Chase leading a Reopen Virginia really outside the State Capitol. pic.twitter.com/9hH1wejz6T— Enzo Domingo (@EnzoDomingo) May 6, 2020
"The point of this rally was to hold Ralph Northam accountable to his opening deadline of May 15th,” an aide to Sen. Chase said. “The people of the commonwealth are holding him to his date. We just want to reopen Virginia back up again."
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