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Possibility of more economic restrictions cause concern for Virginia businesses

A sign on the front door of Tarrant’s Café restaurant, as seen Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Richmond, Va.

(The Center Square) – The Virginia business community expressed concern over Gov. Ralph Northam’s announcement that he will consider scaling back the reopening of the state’s economy amid an uptick in COVID-19 cases.

“We will be watching the public health data closely over the weekend – if the numbers don’t come down, we may have to take additional steps to blunt the spread of this virus,” Northam said in a tweet on Saturday. “Wear a mask and practice physical distancing so we don’t have to move back. Be smart and stay safe.”

Taking a few steps back about a month into phase three could impede an economic recovery, according to members of the business community. Many businesses, particularly restaurants, fitness centers and entertainment businesses, have not been able to make a profit in months.

“Any move backwards is going to make it more difficult for them to survive,” Nicole Riley, the Virginia State Director for the National Association of Independent Business told The Center Square Monday.

About 71 percent of businesses represented by NFIB nationally have spent all of their Paycheck Protection Program loan money and nearly half of them say they’ll need more within the next six months. Riley said some of these businesses may be forced to shut down and try to wait out the pandemic because they’re operating with significant losses.

At the state’s current pace, about 20 percent of restaurants will likely have to close permanently, according to Robert Melvin, the director of government affairs at the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging & Travel Association, told The Center Square. If the state starts going backwards, he cautioned that it could be even worse.

Melvin said “businesses strive in predictability” and the state should not re-implement restrictions that it has already moved past. If the governor feels it’s necessary to impose new restrictions, he said it should not implement phase two regulations, but should consider stricter enforcement of current regulations or alcohol curfews to prevent people from gathering at bars late.

Riley said the governor should consider a regional approach that focuses on hot spots if he believes it is necessary to bring back restrictions, rather than imposing it on the whole state.

Emily Peck, who works with the campground Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park at Gloucester Point, told The Center Square that the potential for new regulations could hurt businesses like hers. She said she’s already had people canceling reservations because of the current restrictions.

If the state goes back to heavier restrictions for campgrounds, Peck worries that this could prohibit some of the outdoor recreational activity. She said those kinds of restrictions will probably cause them to lose 15 to 20 percent of their reservations.

Because campgrounds are not a high risk for contracting COVID-19, Peck said more restrictions on them “wouldn’t help anything.” If Northam does impose heavier restrictions, she urged the governor to only focus on businesses in which there is a high risk for spreading COVID-19.

Northam’s office did not respond to a request for comment from The Center Square about how he will mitigate the negative effect that more regulations may have on businesses.

The governor will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. Tuesday to provide a COVID-19 update.

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