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City of Richmond to enter Phase Two of reopening plan on Friday, June 12th

Under Phase Two of Forward Virginia, eating and drinking establishments may offer indoor dining at 50 percent capacity, fitness centers may open indoor facilities at 30 percent capacity, and certain recreation and entertainment venues that do not rely on shared equipment may open with restrictions.

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On Friday, June 12, the City of Richmond will move into Phase Two of the state’s reopening plan, Forward Virginia.

Under Phase Two of Forward Virginia, eating and drinking establishments may offer indoor dining at 50 percent capacity, fitness centers may open indoor facilities at 30 percent capacity, and certain recreation and entertainment venues that do not rely on shared equipment may open with restrictions.

“Given the data landscape, the governor’s requirement that all Virginians wear face coverings and my trust in the Richmond community to look out for each other, I’m comfortable with our city entering Phase Two of Forward Virginia,” said Mayor Stoney.

“However, we cannot forget that beating this disease for good will require avid community testing, contact tracing and stable isolation for COVID-19 positive patients,” he continued. “This is the biggest team project we’ve ever undertaken as a city, and it will continue to require compassion and cooperation from every one of us.”

Since mid-March, the City of Richmond has operated under various stages of closure while adopting basic practices that are proven to fight the spread of COVID-19: wearing face coverings, practicing social distancing, sanitizing hands and spaces and intentionally protecting the most vulnerable individuals and communities.

The Richmond City Health District, alongside the City of Richmond, continues to provide testing opportunities, primary care support, mask distribution and supported isolations for those that need it.

Said Director of Richmond City and Henrico County Health Districts Dr. Danny Avula: “We know that our ability to reopen our economy, to enjoy social and faith-based gatherings, and to move forward from the most difficult early days of this pandemic depends on our continued practice of these same key prevention methods.”

“This week, as we look at local and regional trends in cases, hospitalization data, and continued reassuring reports on hospital capacity, I support Richmond’s advancement to Phase 2,” continued Dr. Avula. “However, our success in this phase will depend on everyone becoming familiar with the guidelines for how we can live, work, and play safely at this point, and sharing what they learn with their family, friends, and coworkers.”

The following is a list of guidelines all Richmonders should follow during Phase Two:

  • Continue to wear face masks.
  • Keep six feet of distance from anyone outside your household.
  • Avoid visits or social gatherings, especially with individuals who are at higher risk.
  • Continue to wash or sanitize your hands frequently, but especially after leaving a public place or before adjusting or removing your mask.
  • If you experience symptoms of COVID-19, stay home and call your primary care provider to discuss testing opportunities, or call the Richmond and Henrico COVID-19 hotline at 804-205-3501 to register for a free testing event. Testing opportunities for City of Richmond residents are listed at RVAStrong.org/testing.
  • Remember and remind others that public playgrounds, wading pools and other recreational spaces where physical distancing and avoidance of common surfaces would be impossible will remain closed through Phase Two.
  • Social gatherings are limited to 50 people or 50 percent capacity of the event space, whichever is less.

The Commonwealth of Virginia has determined the guidelines that businesses and individuals who patronize those businesses should abide by during Phase Two. The following information is a summary of the requirements the state has made of businesses who wish to open during Phase Two. Requirements and best practices are available online in full here.

The state requires all businesses serving the public to undertake rigorous sanitation practices and display extensive signage promoting the health and safety of patrons and employees.

The signage should clearly state that no one with a fever or symptoms of COVID-19 or known exposure to a COVID-19 case in the prior 14 days is permitted in the establishment. It should also include reminders of public health precautions, such as social distancing, isolating when sick and options for high-risk individuals.

A link to these guidelines, printable resources, opportunities for small businesses to receive support and other guidance are available on RVAStrong.org/reopeningguidance.

Restaurant and beverage services

Occupancy in the establishment is limited to 50 percent of the lowest occupancy load on the certificate of occupancy. Bar seating and congregate areas of the establishment must be closed.

Tables must be at least six feet apart to allow for adequate social distancing. If tables are immovable, then parties must be seated at least six feet apart.

All establishments should use single-use menus.

Additional mandatory requirements are provided in this document.

Restaurants in the City of Richmond who wish to expand outdoor seating on their own private property, such as a parking lot, should contact Chuck Davidson, Zoning Administrator at [email protected]. Those who wish to expand outdoor seating into the public right of way should apply for an encroachment permit. More guidance is available at RVAStrong.org/reopeningguidance.

Non-essential brick and mortar

Non-essential brick and mortar retailers must limit occupancy to 50 percent of the lowest occupancy load on the certificate of occupancy.

Retailers must also encourage and assist in customers keeping six feet of distance while shopping and standing in line.

Additional mandatory requirements are provided in this document.

Fitness and exercise facilities

Occupancy is limited to no more than 30 percent of the lowest occupancy load on the certificate of occupancy.

Patrons should keep 10 feet of distance between each other. To facilitate this, business owners must place exercise equipment at least 10 feet apart.

Before allowing patrons to enter, fitness facility staff should screen them for symptoms of COVID-19, asking if they are experiencing a fever, a cough, shortness of breath, chills, a sore throat, or muscle aches unaffiliated with another health condition. Anyone experiencing symptoms should not be permitted to use the facility. The state notes that these screenings should be conducted in accordance with applicable privacy and confidentiality laws and regulations.

Basketball and racquetball courts may be used as long as patrons maintain ten feet of social distance throughout use if they are not from the same household.

Additional mandatory requirements are provided in this document.

Indoor and outdoor swimming pools

Swimming pools may be open only for lap swimming, diving, exercise, and instruction. Hot tubs, spas, saunas, splash pads, spray pools, and interactive play features must be closed.

Lap swimmers and divers are to be held to the same standard of ten feet of distance as in exercise facilities.

Seating on pool decks must be at least ten feet apart.

As in exercise facilities, before allowing patrons to enter, pool staff should screen them for symptoms of COVID-19, asking if they are experiencing a fever, a cough, shortness of breath, chills, a sore throat, or muscle aches unaffiliated with another health condition. Anyone experiencing symptoms should not be permitted to use the pool. The state notes that these screenings should be conducted in accordance with applicable privacy and confidentiality laws and regulations.

Additional mandatory requirements are provided in this document.

Personal care and personal grooming services

Service should still be offered by appointment only, with a maximum of two appointments occurring in one facility at a time.

Occupancy is limited to 50 percent of the lowest occupancy load on the certificate of occupancy.

Work stations must be at least six feet apart, and clients must wear face coverings during the entirety of the service.

Employers must maintain a list of the names and contact information for all clients, to include the date and time of the appointment, to aid in contact tracing efforts.

Additional mandatory requirements are provided in this document.

Entertainment and public amusement

The following entertainment venues must still be closed in Phase Two: indoor theaters, indoor performing arts centers, indoor concert venues, indoor sports venues, horse racing facilities, bowling alleys, skating rinks, arcades, amusement parks, trampoline parks, fairs, carnivals, arts and craft facilities, escape rooms, trampoline parks and anything not explicitly approved by the state.

Phase Two allows for outdoor performing arts venues, outdoor concert venues, outdoor movie theaters, drive-in entertainment, outdoor sports venues, museums, botanical gardens, aquariums, zoos and public or private social clubs to open with restrictions.

Facilities that are permitted to and wish to open must create a guest flow plan that identifies potential areas of crowding and adjust layout inside and outside the facility accordingly.

Any on-site retail, food or drink services, or fitness facilities must abide by the state requirements specific to those classifications of the establishment.

Additional mandatory requirements for specific venue types are provided in this document.

Religious services

Occupancy is limited to 50 percent of the lowest occupancy load on the certificate of occupancy of the room in which services are conducted.

Individuals not from the same household must be seated six feet away from each other. An acceptable seating distance should be marked.

Nothing should be passed around the gathering, and any items used to distribute food or drink must be single-use and immediately discarded.

Places of worship are still encouraged to continue meeting virtually, if possible, to protect congregants.

Additional mandatory requirements are provided in this document.

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Tazza Kitchen owners bringing new Mexican concept to Patterson and Libbie

Conejo (pronounced Koh-nay-ho) will feature a lunch and dinner menu of fresh drinks, a curated list of mezcals and tequilas, house-made masa, rotisserie meats, tacos, unique salads, and vegetarian options, and a variety of classic Mexican antojitos, the owners said in a press release.

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Big Kitchen Hospitality, the Richmond-based restaurant group which owns and operates Tazza Kitchen, has announced plans for a casual Mexican restaurant at the Westhampton Commons development at the corner of Patterson and Libbie Avenues.

Conejo (pronounced Koh-nay-ho) will feature a lunch and dinner menu of fresh drinks, a curated list of mezcals and tequilas, house-made masa, rotisserie meats, tacos, unique salads, and vegetarian options, and a variety of classic Mexican antojitos, the owners said in a press release.

“We are thrilled to be partnering with Mexican Chef and cookbook author, Danny Mena, who has become an integral part of our menu and concept development,” said partner Susan Davenport. “He has a wealth of knowledge about Mexican cuisine and Mezcal – both from his upbringing in Mexico City and his work on his cookbook, Made in Mexico. He has owned and operated several Mexican restaurants in New York but was ready for a change and has moved his family to Richmond to join us on the project. As a Virginia Tech graduate, Virginia is familiar ground. The pieces just fell into place.”

“In addition to being Spanish for rabbit, Conejo is one of the varieties of Mexican heirloom corn we plan to use for our masa. And according to the Aztec myth of the 400 Conejos, divine rabbits are the gods of agave spirits. So, the word Conejo represents elements of this restaurant that are important to us. I am very excited to be here in Richmond and be a part of this team,” said Mena.

The 4,474 square foot full-service restaurant will seat 120 inside and 50 on the partially covered patio. A separate entrance will provide easy access for take-out orders.

The targeted opening date is around year-end. Big Kitchen Hospitality Partners include John Davenport, Susan Davenport, and Jeff Grant. The company has engaged 510 Architects as the architect and Whiting-Turner as the general contractor.

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Unemployment benefits aren’t the only thing keeping workers at home

Business owners, chambers of commerce types and some local officials around Virginia swore that ending enhanced unemployment benefits – of $300 a week from the federal government – would propel folks back into the workforce who’d been home during the pandemic. That may not be the case.

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Business owners, chambers of commerce types and some local officials around Virginia swore that ending enhanced unemployment benefits – of $300 a week from the federal government – would propel folks back into the workforce who’d been home during the pandemic. 

The commonwealth should play a figurative Scrooge, these folks said, because places including restaurants, hotels and small businesses needed these employees. “Turbocharge the cash registers!” they cried.

This line of thinking was a gross oversimplification of the (so-called) post-pandemic economy. Nor do I think it was by accident. Demonizing low-wage workers has been a sport in this country for ages.

Several factors have kept people on the sidelines, not just the government largesse. The recent uptick in COVID-19 infections and persistent vaccine resistance, for example, would make anybody leery of working outside the home.

Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam has repeatedly said the commonwealth will keep doling out the checks until the Sept. 6 deadline, and a spokeswoman confirmed that to me again on Monday. It’s a wise, compassionate decision. 

About half of the states, mostly led by Republican governors, ended their programs early, however. 

Now a study by a university professor of the early impacts of canceling the benefits suggests there’s been no rush to return to the workforce – even after states declined the money. 

“This doesn’t seem to have translated into most of these individuals having jobs in the first 2-3 weeks following expiration,” said Arindrajit Dube, economics professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “However, there is evidence that the reduced (unemployment insurance) benefits increased self-reported hardship in paying for regular expenses.”  

Those checks have been deemed wasteful recently by critics, but several factors are keeping people at home. Shame on those who said otherwise – and depicted many Americans as freeloaders for not waiting on tables, changing sheets, or ringing up customers.

Caveats abound to Dube’s study, as CNBC reported. Some states hadn’t reverted to a lack of federal benefits very long. Dube noted more time and information are needed.

Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer was among those who urged Northam to cut off benefits sooner. His tourist-heavy locality can use workers, especially during the summer. Many of those jobs, though, didn’t pay well and can be physically demanding. Many employers are now dangling fatter paychecks, but finding workers is still a hurdle.

Dyer told me Monday the issue is moot now, since September is around the corner and with it, the end of the peak tourist season. He’d talked to many business owners who were desperate for workers, and Dyer was voicing their concerns to the guv, he told me. 

Dyer also said employers at places like Stihl Inc., which have higher-paying and higher-skilled jobs, have told him they can’t fill vacancies. “Workforce is the biggest challenge we’ve got,” Dyer said. “If we’re going to have businesses, we have to supply the bodies.” 

That’s true. 

Since the pandemic, however, many adults and families are reassessing the necessity of working outside the home. They value spending more time with their children, while giving up lengthy commutes. 

And given our notorious reputation for being overworked compared to the rest of developed nations, many Americans wonder if our former job habits still make sense. Everyone is re-evaluating the trade-offs. 

Vinod Agarwal is an economics professor at Old Dominion University and deputy director of its Dragas Center for Economic Analysis and Policy. I knew he’d give me a balanced assessment of the unemployment insurance controversy.

Business owners who say the enhanced benefits are the sole cause of the labor shortage are just wrong, he said. Since the pandemic started, some workers left the labor force entirely. Many women, Agarwal noted, made less than their male partners, and they often assumed the primary task of helping children who could not go to in-person school. 

Minority women often had the task of taking care of elderly relatives, too. A Trump administration crackdown on J-1 visas for overseas workers also played a role, Agarwal noted, particularly in tourist-heavy areas like Virginia Beach and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. 

Among formerly low-income workers, some now have greater flexibility and choices. “Unless the wages go up, a lot of these workers won’t return to the marketplace,” the professor said.

From daycare concerns and costs, to the aggravation of low-paying jobs, many families – especially those with two adults – are reassessing what’s important. Should they return to the market, when employers aren’t meeting their goals and conditions are less than desirable?

Enhanced unemployment benefits are going to end. Our place in the revamped economy is just beginning.

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Robert Zullo for questions: [email protected] Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Elephant Insurance to give $300,000 to organizations impacted by COVID-19

Elephant Insurance announced that the company is launching a new initiative, known as the Helping Herd, that will donate $300,000 to organizations and programs that have been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic or who are providing COVID-19 relief to their community.

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Elephant Insurance announced that the company is launching a new initiative, known as the Helping Herd, that will donate $300,000 to organizations and programs that have been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic or who are providing COVID-19 relief to their community. The program will launch in June and gifts will be distributed between June and December 2021.

Through the Helping Herd, Elephant’s hope is to reach at least 50 organizations or programs with the funds, with gifts ranging in size from $2,000 to $20,000. Elephant team members will be involved in the selection process, either by nominating deserving groups or participating in the voting process to finalize the recipients.

The program was made possible by Elephant’s parent company, Admiral Group, which shares in Elephant’s mission of making a positive impact on local communities during challenging times.

“We know the Helping Herd initiative will be able to make a significant impact on individuals and communities that are hurting due to COVID-19, and Elephant is grateful to be in a position to step up and give back in this way,” said Alberto Schiavon, CEO. “The Elephant team – our herd – is eager to be a part of this important process, and we’re so appreciative of the support of Admiral Group to make this possible.”

To be considered to receive funds, applicants must serve the community in at least one of three areas: mental health, physical health, or community health. Interested organizations or programs will be able to apply to receive funds at https://www.elephant.com/contact/helping-herd-submission, where more details on eligibility are available.  Applications will be accepted through August 1, 2021.

In addition to the submission form, nominations will be collected from Elephant employees by survey.  A large portion of the funds are anticipated to be distributed in Virginia, where Elephant is headquartered, but Helping Herd funds will also go to organizations in other states where Elephant services are offered, including Texas.

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