Virginia's Hampton Roads restrictions will hurt hotels and restaurants, business community says

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New COVID-19 restrictions for Hampton Roads that will shut restaurants down early, put a curfew on on-site alcohol sales, and limit the size of gatherings are expected to further impact sales for the hospitality and lodging industries in the region, according to the business community.

In response to a regional spike in COVID-19 cases, Gov. Ralph Northam ordered restaurants to shut down by midnight every day beginning Friday, which will end late-night dining, take-out and delivery. Indoor dining at restaurants and bars will be limited to 50 percent capacity and on-site alcohol sales will be prohibited after 10 p.m. Public and private gatherings of groups of more than 50 people will be prohibited.

The announcement received a mixed response from Robert Melvin, director of government affairs at the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging & Travel Association. He said he is pleased Northam did not impose new restrictions statewide, but the regional rules cause concerns for restaurants and hotels.

Although Melvin said the curfew on alcohol sales will likely curtail social distancing violations, he urged the governor to re-evaluate the complete shutdown of restaurants at midnight. He said pickup, delivery and drive-through have remained permissible throughout the pandemic and that his organization is working with the governor’s office to make that an exemption.

The tighter restrictions on group gatherings will cause hotels to lose a significant amount of business, Melvin said. A lot of hotels hold weddings or small conferences, many of which will have to be canceled or postponed. He said hotels have been following the guidelines and most large gathering problems have stemmed from private events or block parties, which the Department of Health will have a hard time enforcing.

Liz Parker, general manager of a Hilton Inn in Newport News, told The Center Square the new gathering limit will shake up scheduled events. She said the Newport News Police had to cancel its gala this weekend because it was booked for 55 people, one couple had to reschedule a wedding for the second time, and another couple will have to cut down their guest list from 125 to 50 after already changing their date twice.

“It has been absolutely horrible for hotels,” Parker said.

Parker, who is also president of the Newport News Hospitality Association, said the order to shut restaurants down early for drive-through and delivery will hurt a lot of franchises in the area. She said people who work late nights will often get food from these restaurants after hours, but will no longer be able to.

Although Northam took a regional approach to the new restrictions, Parker said he should have broken it down even further. Much of the growth in COVID-19 cases has occurred around Virginia Beach, while Newport News has had lower numbers. Located on the Virginia Peninsula, Newport News is not connected to Virginia Beach by land.

“We have a body of water that separates us,” Parker said.

Melvin said he hopes these restrictions can be lifted in two to three weeks because the region relies heavily on tourism and hospitality.

In the future, Melvin said Northam should try to avoid occupancy limits on restaurants and stricter gathering limits if the state has a spike in cases. Rather, he said the governor should focus on beefing up enforcement and establishing a curfew on alcohol sales.

The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment from The Center Square.

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