I drove from D.C. to Virginia to get a puppy yesterday. What? Well yes, I’m glad you asked, it is the most adorable puppy in puppy history. And it sure does break up the monotony of Corona-quarantining. Be that as it may, my family may have welcomed little Hershey into our homes with no time to spare. Because under the Order issued by Virginia Governor Northam, effective at 11:59 pm on April Fools Day, leaving one’s house to obtain a precious little puppy could result in up to 12 months in jail, a $2500 fine, or both. That’s because violating the governor’s “stay-at-home” order is a class 1 misdemeanor—the most serious category of misdemeanor in Virginia. For frame of reference, other top Virginia misdemeanors include Assault, Petit Larceny, and Driving While Intoxicated. So potentially, puppy procurement could get you some hard time.
The Governor’s “Stay at Home” Order did not come as a surprise, and Northam was joined by Maryland Governor Hogan and Washington, D.C. Mayor Bowser, who issued similar orders. But considering that such en masse restrictions on personal liberty have never been issued in any of our lifetimes, the occasion is a monumental one that certainly bears some scrutiny. Like any law, Executive Order #55 (2020), was drafted by human beings, and like many laws, leaves itself open to interpretation. On its face, the Order prohibits Virginia residents from leaving their homes, except for certain outlined activities. In fact, however, the Order may be more notable for what it continues to allow than for what it prohibits.
Depending upon one’s aversion to risk/getting infected with Covi-19, any Virginian is still free to obtain food, beverages, goods, or services from the “essential” businesses that are still open; seek medical attention, essential social services, governmental services, assistance from law enforcement, and emergency services; take care of other individuals, animals, or visit the home of a family member. In addition feel free to travel if required by a court order or to facilitate child custody, visitation, or child care. You can still exercise outdoors, as long as you give your fellow jogger/cyclist/roller skater that magical 6-foot birth. If you’re out and about, you can go home. If you pray, you can still go to your preferred house of worship. Volunteering at non-profits is still cool, and as the Order’s no brainer, you can still leave home if you have a reasonable fear for health or safety, at the direction of law enforcement, or at the direction of another government agency.
With all the activities that still get you a ticket out of your increasingly claustrophobic place of abode, the real question is what doesn’t qualify as a good reason to roll the corona dice? Well according to the Order, you can’t party, celebrate, simply hang out socially, or attend a non-house-of-worship religious gathering with more than 10 people. You can’t go to school or college if you’re a student. You can’t camp for less than 14 days (that one’s a head-scratcher), and if you planned to spring break at a Virginia beach, you’re out of luck. And of course, you can’t visit non-essential businesses, but since they’ve already been closed, it’s unclear what additional impact that would have.
All-in-all, Executive Order 55 ostensibly seems to have less impact than its predecessor, which closed the non-essential businesses. But you’d probably disagree with that if you did have spring break plans, were planning a wedding, or were really looking forward to your high school or college graduation party. These are once in a lifetime events that are generally pretty important to people.
So we now know what the Order says, but two big questions remain: 1) what percentage of Virginia residents will follow the Order and 2) how much enthusiasm will law enforcement have for enforcing it? Is that bride-to-be willing to indefinitely postpone her impending nuptials? Are the proud parents of a new UVA graduate going to miss their chance to send the apple of their eye off to the real world with a gathering of friends and family? The Virginia Order remains in effect until June 10th, with no guarantees that all of this will be over. As spring turns into summer and the cabin fever becomes potentially more serious than COVID-19 itself, the great people of the Commonwealth may decide for themselves that the cure is worse than the disease, and decide to take their chances with the law. There is no playbook for this, and the government is curtailing Americans’ most cherished right. Only time will tell how this is Order is obeyed and enforced.
If you are arrested for violating the Virginia Stay at Home Order, call Scrofano Law PC to discuss your legal rights. In the meantime, many of us are stuck at home and waiting to see how this whole thing plays out. But at least I’m stuck at home with a puppy.