RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia will ease restrictions on crowd-size limits for sporting events, entertainment venues and gatherings starting on May 15, Gov. Ralph Northam announced in a video Thursday. Starting then, restaurants will also be allowed to stay open and sell alcohol past midnight again.

“Sales are going to go sky high as soon as the restrictions ease to 2 a.m.,” said Kevin Sheffield, a bartender at Lady N’awlins in Richmond.

Crediting the growing vaccination rate in Virginia, Northam signaled it was time to ease some of the measures imposed to reduce the spread of COVID-19. As of April 22, the Virginia Department of Health is reporting that more than a quarter of Virginia’s population is fully vaccinated and an average of nearly 77,000 shots are going into arms each day.

Under the proposed changes to Executive Order 72, on top of being permitted to sell alcohol after midnight again, restaurants will also be able to keep their dining rooms open between midnight and 5 a.m. on May 15. The governor’s announcement comes a day after he quietly amended the same executive order to allow restaurants to open up their bar seating for customers for the first time in more than a year, something Sheffield welcomes.

“Here it’s been rough because it’s such a small bar. We enjoy our customers at the bar,” he told 8News.

“Vaccination numbers are up, and our COVID case numbers are substantially lower than they were earlier this year,” Northam said in the video. “So we have been able to begin easing some mitigation measures. We took a few more targeted steps this week, and we will do more next month.”

According to Northam’s office, changes to the executive order will expand capacity for social gatherings from 50 to a 100 people for indoor gatherings and from 100 to 250 people for outdoor settings.

For outdoor sporting events, venues can have up to 1,000 people or be at 50% capacity, whichever is less, starting on May 15. That’s double the current limit of 500. Indoor sports can have 250 spectators, up from 100, or 50% capacity, whichever is less.

Todd “Parney” Parnell, chief executive officer for the Richmond Flying Squirrels is excited for this step. “Being able to get more people in here is obviously what we want. We still have guidelines to go by for Major League Baseball as well as the Commonwealth of Virginia,” he said.

The governor will allow indoor entertainment and public amusement venues — which include bowling alleys, theaters and museums — to operate at either 50% capacity or 1,000 guests, an increase from 30% and 500 attendees. Also beginning on May 15, outdoor venues will have their capacity expanded to 50% and there will be no cap on the number of people.

Because social distancing will still be enforced under all of these restrictions, Jessica Gordon, co-owner of Broadberry Entertainment Group, said the looser rules will not have a large impact on their business.

“The issue is that as capacity increases, there isn’t really a way, in a general admission, standing room only type venue the way the Broadberry or the National is, there isn’t really a clear way to maintain social distancing,” Gordon told 8News.

The Broadberry venue in Richmond will not be opening on May 15, according to Lucas Fritz with the group. However, they continue to hold outdoor, socially distanced concerts and some indoor seated shows.

Northam said he believes the commonwealth is on the path to reduce capacity limits even further in June, saying “hopefully all the way” in the video.

“I’m optimistic that we will be able to take more steps in June. We’re aiming to significantly ramp up vaccinations even further, and aim to reduce capacity limits in June, hopefully all the way,” Northam said Thursday.

“But some things need to continue—we all need to keep wearing masks, we need to continue social distancing, and we all need to keep encouraging each other to get a shot. It’s how we take care of one another.” 

The governor’s office provided a list of the changes coming May 15:

  • Social gatherings: The maximum number of individuals permitted in a social gathering will increase to 100 people for indoor settings and 250 people for outdoor settings. Social gatherings are currently limited to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors. 
  • Entertainment venues: Indoor entertainment and public amusement venues will be able to operate at 50 percent capacity or 1,000 people, up from 30 percent capacity or 500 people. Outdoor venues will be able to operate at 50 percent capacity—up from 30 percent—with no specific cap on the number of attendees. 
  • Recreational sporting events: The number of spectators allowed at indoor recreational sporting events will increase from 100 to 250 spectators or 50 percent capacity, whichever is less. Outdoor recreational sporting events will increase from 500 to 1,000 people or 50 percent capacity, whichever is less. 
  • Alcohol sales: Restaurants may return to selling alcohol after midnight, and dining room closures will no longer be required between midnight and 5 a.m.