Virginia emphasizes social distancing rules with new “Stay-at-Home” order

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam added the Commonwealth to the growing ranks of states with so-called “stay-at-home” orders, issuing Executive Order 55 in the latest effort to battle the spread of the coronavirus.

Executive Order 55 is the furthest use of the governor’s executive power, but relative to his previous actions is only an incremental step that moves from encouraging people to stay home to ordering such action.

The governor strongly encouraged Virginians to stay home as he announced the latest action, but in reality there is little difference from his previous actions. You should stay home unless your activity is “essential” as defined under the two applicable executive orders.


Previously the governor issued Executive Order 53, limiting all restaurants and entertainment establishments to carry-out or delivery, banning all in-person gatherings of more than 10 people, requiring all non-essential retail establishments to either close or stay under the 10-person limit for gatherings.

That order stays in effect and remains the primary guidance on what actions business should take. In summary, Virginia:

  • Closed K-12 schools for the remainder of the school year
  • Banned all gatherings of more than 10 people statewide
  • Closed all “recreation and entertainment” businesses
  • Limited all restaurants, bars, and food establishments to offering carry-out or delivery only
  • Required all “non-essential” retail businesses to limit the number of patrons to no more than 10, and require they always practice social distancing

You can read more on that order by clicking here.

Executive Order 55

The new order builds on those previous actions and goes a step further to orders individuals to stay home unless conducting an essential activity – such as buying food or medical supplies or traveling to work that cannot be done remotely.

E.O. 55 requires all Virginians to “remain at their place of residence,” with a few exceptions including:

  1. Obtaining food, beverages, goods, or services as permitted in Executive Order 53;
  2. Seeking medical attention, essential social services, governmental services, assistance from law enforcement, or emergency services;
  3. Taking care of other individuals, animals, or visiting the home of a family member;
  4. Traveling required by court order or to facilitate child custody, visitation, or child care;
  5. Engaging in outdoor activity, including exercise, provided individuals comply with social distancing requirements;
  6. Traveling to and from one’s residence, place of worship, or work;
  7. Traveling to and from an educational institution;
  8. Volunteering with organizations that provide charitable or social services; and
  9. Leaving one’s residence due to a reasonable fear for health or safety, at the direction of law enforcement, or at the direction of another government agency.

The order also incorporates all of the guidelines issued in the previous order.

E.O. 55 also reinforced the prohibition on gatherings of more than 10 people, limited all public institutions of higher education to online instruction, closed all public and private campgrounds, and closed all public beaches except for fishing.

While Governor Northam stated publicly, he expects law enforcement to urge compliance before making arrests or issuing tickets, by law the new order is punishable as a class 1 misdemeanor, which means up to 1 year in jail or a $2,500 fine.

The so-called “stay-at-home” order is designed to further limit the spread of the coronavirus. Previously state officials had only encouraged people to stay home and taken steps to increase social distancing or close “non-essential” businesses. The new order, which now applies to individuals, is the most drastic action to date but also represents an incremental change from previous state actions.

Gentry Locke’s Government and Regulatory Affairs team is closely monitoring the developments related to state government as part of Gentry Locke’s coronavirus response team. If you have questions about how your business or organization may be affected by state action, please call us directly at 866.983.0866.

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