Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) issued an executive order on Tuesday directing his state’s agencies to report fines and suspensions related to COVID.
Youngkin announced he will end all future fines related to coronavirus restrictions in his budget plan later this month which will include a reimbursement process for those who paid “unjust” fees.
“I am today requiring a statewide review of COVID-19 related penalties imposed by the Northam administration. The fact that businesses are still dealing with COVID-19 related penalties and fines is infuriating. Livelihoods are on the line,” Youngkin said in a press release. “In the previous administration, we saw our government shut down businesses, close our schools, and separate us from each other. While we can’t undo the damage done during the Northam administration, we are taking action going forward to end COVID-era draconian overreach.”
The order will include some exceptions to the proposed reimbursement effort. Incidents related to hospitals, nursing homes, certified nursing facilities, hospices, or assisted living facilities are excluded from Youngkin’s announcement.
The governor’s announcement comes just days after a Fredericksburg-area restaurant called Gourmeltz was raided by authorities over pandemic violations. Owner Matt Strickland, a military veteran now running for the Virginia Senate, spoke out in a Facebook video regarding the raid.
In a call with The Daily Wire, Strickland noted that the governor likely felt pressured to respond after the pushback following the video of agents at his business.
“It won’t do anything to help now,” Strickland said. “The executive order only says they’re compiling a list of businesses. There is no guarantee reimbursements will be made.”
Strickland’s frustration resonated with many across the state — and nationwide — who are wondering why state businesses are being investigated over COVID restrictions when Virginia is led by a conservative governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general.
State Sen. Amanda Chase (R-VA) was among those who spoke out on Strickland’s behalf.
“Here is the current situation going on at Gourmeltz. Language Disclaimer! The owners are obviously upset. Keep these Patriots & this veteran owned business in your prayers. Flood this business to show we won’t stand for unconstitutional mandates!” she tweeted.
Here is the current situation going on at Gourmeltz.
Language Disclaimer! The owners are obviously upset. Keep these Patriots & this veteran owned business in your prayers. Flood this business to show we won't stand for unconstitutional mandates! pic.twitter.com/M4EBP8dNi5
— Senator Amanda Chase (@AmandaChaseVA) December 2, 2022
Virginia’s Attorney General Jason Miyares has worked to roll back several COVID-related restrictions in the state. In January, he was one of 27 state attorneys general to call on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to withdraw its COVID vaccine mandate for large employers.
Miyares also issued a legal opinion in January that public universities cannot mandate COVID-19 vaccines for students. “‘[T]here is no question that the General Assembly could enact a statute requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for in-person school attendance,” he wrote.
Despite the freedom-focused rulings, however, businesses in the state that violated COVID restrictions have not yet adequately been assisted.
During 2020, Virginia businesses in violation of COVID policies could face a penalty of up to $13,000 per violation and accrue fines of up to $130,000. Many businesses were forced to close or limit operations during the pandemic, while an unknown number of workers chose to lose their jobs rather than comply with COVID vaccine mandates.
Youngkin has largely blamed the state’s previous Gov. Northam (D-VA) for coronavirus concerns. In a statement to the Washington Post, Northam’s former spokeswoman, Alena Yarmosky argued against the governor’s criticisms.
“Governor Northam made Virginia one of the safest states in the nation during the height of COVID-19,” Yarmosky wrote. “I understand Governor Youngkin is just tuning back into Virginia, but he’s been in office an entire year. I’d recommend he focus on his own administration.”