SPRINGFIELD, Va. — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam did not join Maryland and D.C. leaders in ordering restaurants to close their dining rooms Tuesday to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Instead, he said restaurants, fitness centers, and theaters are required to close if they cannot reduce their capacity to 10 people. He issued a public health emergency order late Tuesday, to give local law enforcement the ability to enforce the 10-person ban.
The decision has forced restaurant owners like Jerry Young to make tough choices.
"I think it’s partly our responsibility to make some logical and common-sense decisions about letting customers come into the restaurant," Young said. "First and foremost we want to make sure that our customers are safe, so that’s why we’ve decided to transition to carryout and online services, just to be super cautious."
So, Young said they're shutting down the dining room and switching solely to takeout and delivery starting Tuesday at 5 p.m.
"This is unprecedented the situation that we’re in," he said. "I certainly didn’t imagine anything like this in my lifetime."
Young opened Della J's Delectables in Springfield, Virginia in 2017. He said they have built a sizeable following, but that hasn't kept them immune from the coronavirus-related self-quarantines.
He said last Friday, they had seen a 20% drop in business, and it has only gotten worse. Even takeout orders are tapering off, he said.
"I can’t sustain the business if I don’t have the revenue coming in obviously, and what about my workers? What am I going to do?" Young said. "I still have to have someone here if I’m doing carryout and delivery."
He said he won't be able to pay them their full wage, but he's trying to figure out how to offer enough for them to get by. At the same time, he's calling his lenders and landlord to see if he can get any leeway for the next month or so.
Gov. Northam said owners can contact the Employment Commission for help, but Young said he still does not feel like he has clarity on the best resources available to survive indefinitely.
"Things like gas company, power company, are we going to get some kind of direction from someone in regards to as far as what the options are for us as a business?" Young asked.
Northam's team said he's offering the following options for workers whom this decision will impact:
- Waiving the one-week waiting period of unemployment prior to receiving benefits, to ensure workers can receive benefits as soon as possible.
- Increasing eligibility for workers to receive unemployment due to COVID: If an employer needs to temporarily slow or cease operations due to COVID-19, if a worker has been issued a notice to self-quarantine by a medical or public health official and is not receiving paid sick or medical leave from their employer, or if a worker must stay home to care for an ill family member and are not receiving paid family medical leave from their employer, they may be eligible to receive unemployment benefits.
- For individuals receiving unemployment insurance, the Virginia Employment Commission has been ordered to provide flexibility on deadlines, mandatory reemployment appointments, and work search requirements.
His team said they're also offering the following help for low-income Virginians:
- The State Corporation Commission (SCC) will suspend service disconnections for 60 days on utilities it regulates, such as electric, natural gas, and water companies in Virginia.
- DMV will grant a 60-day extension to Virginians' whose license or registration is set to expire before May 15.
- Until April 6, all district and circuit courts will suspend non-essential and non-emergency court proceedings.
As owners like Young work to determine the best way to get compensation, loyal customers, like Rufus Littlejohn, have pledged to continue ordering from Della J's.
"I was going to come no matter what, to support the local businessman, friend of mine," Littlejohn said.
But, Young doesn't think that will be enough to sustain them.
"It’s really day by day, hour by hour," he said.
Other Fairfax County restaurants said they would also be switching to takeout and delivery orders. Some told WUSA 9 that they would not be closing until it was mandatory.