RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY/WRIC) — Gov. Ralph Northam said Wednesday he will provide more details on the specifics of Virginia’s “Phase 1” reopening plan this Friday, as Virginia looks to start that phase next Friday, May 15.

“Phase 1” of reopening update

After saying Monday that he had no interest in opening up parts of the state before others, Northam Wednesday said that if local governments want to continue with additional restrictions while the rest of the state moves into Phase 1, he will allow that.

 “I know that across Virginia our localities are being affected in very different ways,” Northam (D-Va.) said.

He says the state’s guidance is the “floor.”

“We realize the greater Washington area is one we need to pay particular attention to,” Northam said. “We’re still a week a half away from the 15th but if they have concerns and they want to raise that floor we’ll work with them.”

Earlier this week, Northam gave some details about the reopening plan as he extended the non-essential closure to Thursday, May 14.

“A week ago, I said we needed two weeks of declining numbers [to move forward],” Northam said. “We’re seeing that, and I hope we can move into Phase 1 on May 15.”

The metrics he pointed to are:

“To increase testing we don’t just need kits. That’s certainly an important part of it but we need the people to perform those tests and to send them to labs,” Northam said.

Northam said the state has largely been relying on Virginia’s National Guard for man power and logistical expertise.

At the end of May, federal funding for the National Guard under Title 32 status is set to expire. Northam is asking President Donald Trump to extend that aid through August.

“It is clear we’ll continue to need this help,” Northam said. “The National Guard regularly provides assistance in emergencies and this is the greatest emergency that we have seen in many years.”

Without an extension, Virginia Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs Carlos Hopkins said funding will fall to the state at a time where budgets are strained.

“We believe the request will be granted and it’s important to Virginia and our response. If it were not granted, the members of the National Guard would still be able to respond,” Hopkins said.

The Virginia National Guard has about 570 personnel actively working or ready to support Virginia’s COVID response.

“Our top priority is providing additional capacity for COVID test sample collection and mask fit testing at long term care and correctional facilities, which are some of our most vulnerable population,” said Maj. Gen. Tim Williams.

According to VDH, about 100 long-term care facilities are interested in point prevalence testing, a process in which all staff and residents are tested at the same time. VDH says 2 to 3 facilities can be covered each day.

Cases at chicken plants on Eastern Shore — National Guard administering tests

Northam says results from widescale testing from Accomack County’s two large chicken plants, Perdue and Tyson, are expected soon. A majority of the Shore’s COVID-19 569 cases (based on May 5 count) have come from the plants, the county’s largest employers.

State Health Commissioner Norm Oliver likened the plants as the equivalent of a cruise ship disembarking every day in the community. He says that both companies are arranging for employees who test positive for COVID-19 to be put up in hotel rooms away from their families while they recover. Oliver noted how many plant workers live in dense communities that could lead to spread among family and community members.

Federal workers have been deployed to help the situation, but workers’ advocates said Wednesday they’d like to see “enforceable regulations.”

Northam said there will also be free drive-thru testing available to the public on the Eastern Shore this weekend, with help from the Virginia National Guard.

Northam says he’s asking President Donald Trump to extend authorization that allows federal money to continue to pay for the guard, which are being used in multiple areas of the state to help administer testing, and will be on the Eastern Shore to help.

Maj. Gen. Tim Williams with the Guard says testing support and mask fitting instructions for vulnerable populations are the Guard’s top priority. The Guard has also prepared food boxes for food pantries and have deliver about 50,000 pounds of food.

VDH COVID-19 data coming later Wednesday

State Health Commissioner Norm Oliver acknowledged that the state’s COVID-19 data website was down on Wednesday and that updates should be coming later today.

Teacher Appreciation Week

Northam emphasized how this week is Teacher Appreciation Week. “I can’t say enough about what our teachers are doing across the commonwealth of Virginia.” WAVY is highlighting the great work teachers are doing across our area. For more, click here.

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