Gov. Ralph Northam will recommend that May's local elections be postponed until November and will delay the June congressional primary for two weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Northam also announced during a news conference Wednesday that restaurants with a mixed-beverage license from the ABC can start selling mixed-beverages for takeout and delivery. That change will become effective Thursday at midnight. Restaurants previously were allowed to sell only wine and beer through takeout and delivery.
The move to relax the state's ABC laws, which typically prohibit carry-out sales of mixed beverages, "will augment their [restaurants'] revenue streams so they can continue to operate and employ Virginians," Northam said.
Regarding local elections, currently scheduled for May 5, Northam said he will ask the General Assembly to approve the delay until the general election Nov. 3. The legislature will consider the request when it meets in Richmond on April 22 for its annual veto session.
"Postponing these elections is the best way to protect democracy without endangering public health or violating the stay-at-home order," Northam said.
Northam has the power to postpone primaries for up to two weeks, so he said he will delay the statewide congressional primaries scheduled for June 9 until June 23.
Absentee ballots that have already been cast in the local elections would be discarded, Northam said, and all voters eligible in November could vote in all races. In addition, local office-holders whose terms otherwise would have ended June 30 will continue in office until their successors are elected and are qualified to serve.
The Virginia Department of Health reported Wednesday that the state has over 3,600 positive cases of the coronavirus, with 1,600 of those, or about 45%, in Northern Virginia, including the Fredericksburg area.
Northam said he is aware of concerns that the Washington, D.C., region could become a hot spot for the disease over the next few weeks. "We are prepared for all scenarios."
He said that based on reports he's heard Northern Virginia residents are doing a good job of following the stay-at-home and social distancing guidelines. "They're taking this seriously," Northam said.
Northam said he spoke with CEOs from hospitals around the state on Tuesday. Of those in Northern Virginia, he said, "They’re ready. They're being taxed They’re working very hard. They’re worried about PPE, they’re worried about testing, but they are prepared.”
The availablity of personal protective equipment, or PPE, continues to be a concern, Northam said. The state has distributed 1.5 million pairs of gloves and 430,000 N95 masks to localities and hospitals around the state. A $27 million shipment of PPE that Northam announced Monday is still expected to arrive by early next week.
"That market is chaotic and difficult due to a lack of federal direction," said Northam, echoing the concerns of other governors.
On other topics covered during his thrice-weekly news conference, Northam said:
- The state is working to gather more demographic and ethnic data on positive cases and deaths, amid concerns that coronavirus affects African Americans more severely than other racial groups. So far, racial and ethnic data is available only on about 47% of all positive tests, and African-Americans make up 30% of those cases.
- Northam indicated that he will be making major amendments to the state budget that was passed by the General Assembly in early March, before the impacts of the pandemic were so widespread. He has until Saturday night to veto, amend or sign the budget and nearly 1,300 other pieces of legislation passed this winter. “We know the budget that passed a few short weeks ago cannot move forward as written," he said.