For Danville police and city officials, it was a question of how to enforce Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's ban on gatherings.
City hall leadership met with the police department and the commonwealth's attorney early Wednesday to decide how to tackle the issue.
“The Danville Police Department understands the hardship that this order places on our businesses and their employees," according to a police department statement. "We hope that our community will not put its officers in the unfortunate position of having to take enforcement actions for violations of this order."
By late that afternoon, police report, officers had responded to one restaurant to help answer the management's request for clarification of the governor's ban.
The police officer walked into Kickback Jack's restaurant, along Crown Drive, around 3 p.m. and immediately began talking with a manager.
There were some people seated around the bar. A few others were seated in booths and others at high-top tables. About 10 more people in the waiting area near the front door watched as the manager tried to explain, with hands gesturing toward different sections of the restaurant, that they were not allowing more than 10 people in any one section.
After a few minutes, the officer walked out and the manager turned to the people in the waiting area and said that he could only allow 10 patrons in the restaurant at a time. He said the restaurant would shut down the bar, that he was about to ask the customers already seated to leave and that the business would continue to provide takeout.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday that all gatherings of 10 or more people would be banned, leading many restaurants and entertainment venues to adapt their strategies. By Wednesday, the majority of parking lots to such businesses were empty.
After announcing the ban on Tuesday morning, Northam and the state health commissioner issued an order that allowed “the district health director” to suspend operations of any establishments allowing more than 10 patrons in restaurants, fitness centers and theaters. Those that did attempt to violate the emergency order could be punished with a Class 1 misdemeanor, which carries a maximum fine of $2,500 and possibly as much as a year in jail, or Class 3 misdemeanor, which carries a maximum fine of $500.
Scott Spillmann, health director for the Pittsylvania-Danville Health District, explained that he doesn’t want to shut down any businesses and prefers to give opportunities for businesses to enforce the 10-patron limit.
“We want to partner with these establishments to keep their doors open and also do in a way that is safe for all the patrons,” he said.
County public safety director Chris Slemp said he understands that the “health department may have actual jurisdiction over this.”
Spillmann said that local law enforcement has the authority to enforce the rule, but it would be his decision to enact any suspensions if an establishment refuses to comply.
Jesse Tate, director of security for Kickback Jack’s parent company Battleground Restaurants Inc., based in Greensboro, North Carolina, said they company interpreted Northam’s mandate in a way that allowed them to seat 10 people per section.
He said he has been in contact with the police department and that Kickback Jack's is looking to boost their to-go ordering and maybe introduce curbside pickup.
“We make sure that we are 100% in compliance,” he said.
Management at the restaurant would not comment.
North Carolina resident Kay Gammon was waiting just inside Kickback Jack's for a seat at the bar when the police officer walked in. She was in Danville running errands and hoped to find a bar that was still open because most establishments where she lives are closed.
She decided to wait after the officer left for a spot inside.
"I have a 92-year-old mother in a nursing home that I can't see for 14 days," she said.