“It’s a really sad day,” said Superintendent Dr. Mark Lineburg following Gov. Ralph Northam’s Monday announcement that all Virginia schools would be closed through at least this academic year.

He announced it at a Monday afternoon news conference where he also tightened rules for businesses throughout the state with mounting cases of COVID-19.

While noting that there are still a lot of unknowns at the moment, the superintendent did say that teachers were encouraged to be engaged with their students and parents in the months ahead and are expecting to share a plan to increase services by summer.

He also said there were three meetings scheduled for Tuesday including one internal meeting to discuss the logistics of what school could look like in an emergency setting should this coronavirus prolong into next school year, a meeting with Dr. James Layne, state superintendent, and another between principals and central office staff with many members using zoom or conference call to participate.

“We will provide frequent updates,” said Lineburg.

While recognizing that some things are non-negotiable, he did say they would like to hold an in-person graduation ceremony for the class of 2020 if at all possible.

He also is open to holding other ceremonies for lower grades.

“We will embrace it,” said Lineburg. “What we don’t want to do is cancel everything. We want to hold onto the those things near and dear to our heart as much as possible… we will try our best to fit those things in.”

He also said they’re working on a plan on how to address grades, and “when in doubt, we will ire on the side of the student.”

The superintendent also said, “There are still some obstacles that need to be clarified.”

He also said they’re waiting on further clarification and direction from the state.

As far as hourly employees with the school system, he said they plan to put those individuals to work as much as they can.

“The money is in the budget, and we’re going to keep them working as much as we can… we will do our best….We have the same fears at the school division as everyone else,” he added.

Food service workers will continue to provide meals free of charge to school students at Halifax County Middle School, Scottsburg Elementary and Sydnor Jennings Elementary during this break. Meals will be served on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The school closure was one of several announcements made Monday by the governor as part of a statewide executive order “to protect the health and safety of Virginians and reduce the spread.”

COVID-19 stands for the coronavirus disease 2019 — a respiratory illness — that’s caused by the new coronavirus. The outbreak was first detected in China in December. It causes fever, cough and shortness of breath.

While the majority of people infected by the disease generally recover, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems are most vulnerable. And it spreads quickly. The person carrying the disease may not know they even have it, according to experts.

“The numbers will unfortunately continue to rise,” Northam said at a news conference.

“We are in this for months, not weeks,” he said. “I ask every Virginia to stand with me to fight this battle. I know the next several weeks, the next several months will be difficult.”

The governor ordered that all non-essential recreational and entertainment establishments close across the state for 30 days.

He limited non-essential brick-and-mortar establishments to 10 patrons or less.

Restaurants may stay open for takeout or delivery only.

He also banned all gatherings of 10 people beginning at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.

Northam also called on the federal government to step up its response to the emergency.

“We are essentially fighting a biological war in this country,” he said.

The full text of order can be found here. Frequently asked questions can be found here.

Public gatherings

  • All gatherings of more than 10 people are banned statewide, beginning at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday. This does not include gatherings that involve the provision of health care or medical services, access to essential services for low-income residents, such as food banks; operations of the media; law enforcement agencies; or operations of government.

K-12 schools

  • All schools will remain closed through the end of this academic year. The Virginia Department of Education will issue guidance to help divisions execute plans to continue instruction, while ensuring students are served equitably, regardless of income level, access to technology, English learner status, or special needs. This includes options for additional instruction through summer programming, integrating instruction into coursework next year, and allowing students to make up content. VDOE will submit a waiver to the federal government to lift end-of-year testing requirements and is exploring options to waive state mandated tests.

Recreation and entertainment businesses

The following recreation and entertainment businesses are considered non-essential and must close to the public beginning at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday:

  • Theaters, performing arts centers, concert venues, museums, and other indoor entertainment centers;
  • Fitness centers, gymnasiums, recreation centers, indoor sports facilities, indoor exercise facilities;
  • Beauty salons, barber shops, spas, massage parlors, tanning salons, tattoo shops and any other location where personal care or personal grooming services are performed that would not allow compliance with social distancing guidelines to remain 6 feet apart;
  • Racetracks and historic horse racing facilities;
  • Bowling alleys, skating rinks, arcades, amusement parks, trampoline parks, fairs, arts and craft facilities, aquariums, zoos, escape rooms, indoor shooting ranges, public and private social clubs, and all other places of indoor public amusement.

Dining and on-site alcohol establishments

All dining and congregation areas in the following establishments must close to the public beginning at 11:59 PM on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. These establishments may continue to offer delivery and/or takeout services. Establishments include:

  • Restaurants;
  • Dining establishments;
  • Food courts;
  • Farmers markets;
  • Breweries;
  • Microbreweries;
  • Distilleries;
  • Wineries; and
  • Tasting rooms.

Retail businesses

The following retail businesses are considered essential and may remain open during normal business hours:

  • Grocery stores, pharmacies, and other retailers that sell food and beverage products or pharmacy products, including dollar stores, and department stores with grocery or pharmacy operations;
  • Medical, laboratory, and vision supply retailers;
  • Electronic retailers that sell or service cell phones, computers, tablets, and other communications technology;
  • Automotive parts, accessories, and tire retailers as well as automotive repair facilities;
  • Home improvement, hardware, building material, and building supply retailers;
  • Lawn and garden equipment retailers;
  • Beer, wine, and liquor stores;
  • Retail functions of gas stations and convenience stores;
  • Retail located within healthcare facilities;
  • Banks and other financial institutions with retail functions;
  • Pet stores and feed stores;
  • Printing and office supply stores; and
  • Laundromats and dry cleaners.

All essential retail establishments must, to the extent possible, adhere to social distancing recommendations, enhanced sanitizing practices on common surfaces, and other appropriate workplace guidance from state and federal authorities.

Any brick-and-mortar retail business not listed above must limit all in-person shopping to no more than 10 patrons per establishment, adhere to social distancing recommendations, sanitize common surfaces, and apply relevant workplace guidance from state and federal authorities. If any such business cannot adhere to the 10-patron limit with proper social distancing requirements, it must close.

Additional guidance

Professional businesses not listed above must utilize telework as much as possible. Where telework is not feasible, such businesses must adhere to social distancing recommendations, enhanced sanitizing procedures, and apply relevant workplace guidance from state and federal authorities, including CDC, OSHA, and the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry.

Businesses in violation of this order may be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Nothing in the executive order limits the provision of health care or medical services, access to essential services for low-income residents, such as food banks; the operations of the media; law enforcement agencies; or operations of government.