Blacksburg Town Council passes ordinance requiring extra safety measures during pandemic

Published: Aug. 11, 2020 at 8:06 PM EDT
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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) - The Blacksburg Town Council voted in favor Tuesday night for a major step toward added safety efforts throughout the community during the coronavirus crisis. The moves went into effect at midnight Tuesday night.

As WDBJ7 previously reported, these stricter guidelines will impact local businesses heavily and come with a penalty for those who choose not to follow the following:

-All food establishments must close by midnight

-Indoor business capacity is limited to just 50 percent of maximum occupancy

-Gatherings are limited to no more than 50 people

-All people must wear masks when out in a public setting

Violators of the ordinance are subject to a Class 4 Misdemeanor and $250 fine up to a Class 3 Misdemeanor $500 fine.

“Basically our bartenders are now servers that come to your table instead of you coming up to the bar because we don’t allow that,” said TOTS manager Alicia Pool. “Everyone sits at a table and we’ll come to you.”

These are practices restaurants like TOTS (Top of the Stairs) and the Milk Parlor already have in place. Both require masks to enter and whenever you get up from your table to use the restroom.

Under new town guidelines, food establishments are limited to 50 percent capacity and will be required to close their doors to visitors at midnight. Takeout and delivery are still allowed.

“This isn’t about coming down on people, students or anybody in town,” said Mayor Leslie Hager-Smith. “This is going forward together looking for health and success.”

A manager at the Milk Parlor said the restaurant has been closing around midnight due to fewer customers each night. TOTS managers said their crowds have been smaller, but the ordinance will cause them to close earlier. Both say they’re willing to do what it takes to keep business open.

The town’s population is about to increase by thousands with the return of Virginia Tech students, who make up two-thirds of residents.

“Naturally it does address their behaviors and naturally supports them to accomplish what we all want, which is a healthy and successful fall semester so that we can have a perfectly normal spring semester,” Hager-Smith said.

The mayor says this gives police another tool to use if needed. Violators could face a $250 to $500 fine after a warning.

“That will never be the first line of defense,” she said. “What we want to do is set a norm for behaviors.”

Hager-Smith said the ordinance is a three-pronged effort with police department, dean’s office and apartment council, all which have been meeting for weeks to compile these rules.

Although TOTS may not be exactly what students and visitors might remember from a pre-COVID world, the menu and drinks are still the same. These are guidelines managers expect you to adhere to.

“I think it’s very important that people still want to come in as long as they’re willing to obey the regulations that are in place,” Pool said.

Under this new ordinance, gatherings are limited to no more than 50 people, but there are exceptions for religious ceremonies, weddings and expressive activity.

An outdoor space is an exception for the face covering aspect of the ordinance. They are required when physical distancing is not possible.

Everything remains in effect for 90 days. Council can revisit and tighten or loosen restrictions based on how COVID-19 cases evolve in Montgomery County.

Read the entire ordinance here.

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