Northam says ‘phase 1’ of reopening will start Friday, except for Northern Virginia, Accomack and Richmond granted delays

Coronavirus

RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY/WRIC) — Gov. Ralph Northam says he’s officially allowing most of Virginia to go to “phase 1” of reopening this Friday, May 15.

The announcement comes as Virginia has seen a 14-day decline in the percent of positive cases– a threshold many states failed to meet before beginning the reopening process. Northam said he’s confident Virginia’s hospital capacity, personal protective equipment supply and testing capabilities are sufficient to safely move forward.

“Phase one represents a small step forward but we will remain vigilant. We will continue to monitor health data closely,” Northam said. “I again want to remind all Virginians that this virus has not gone away and everyone needs to act accordingly.”

The move will not include Northern Virginia, which is delaying reopening to at least May 29, because of a high rate of COVID-19 cases compared to the rest of the state. It’s using a regional approach because the area is so interconnected, area leaders say.

Northern Virginia has one-third of the state’s population, but more than 50% of Virginia’s cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, officials say.

On Wednesday evening, Accomack County requested Northam exclude it from the reopening phase 1 for another two weeks. On Thursday afternoon, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney also requested a delay in entering phase 1.

By 5 p.m. Thursday, Northam granted both requests.

“As I have said previously, Virginia’s Phase One guidelines represent a floor, not a ceiling,” Northam said in a news release. “I have encouraged local leaders to request exemptions when appropriate, and I am pleased to grant the delays for both Accomack County and the City of Richmond.”

Northam said he’s gauging reopening by several metrics, including:

  • Percent of positive cases to total cases (which has mostly been trending down for more than two weeks)
  • Increased testing numbers per day (VDH data shows about 6,500 people are being tested daily, which some experts say is still too low to reopen May 15)
  • Downward trend in hospitalizations (hospitalizations have been up and down, but mostly steady over the last two weeks)
  • Hospital capacity, personal protective equipment needed to handle surge in cases (no hospital has reported difficult in getting PPE in nearly two weeks)

Click here for information on those metrics and the latest case data.

Here’s what phase 1 will look like:

In a letter to the governor on Wednesday, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus expressed “grave concern” and “strong opposition” to the plan. The group represents more than 20 members of the General Assembly who fear a rushed reopening will disproportionately impact people of color. 

The letter goes on to read, in part: 

Under the current plan, and with the already existent racial disparities that this pandemic and economic crisis are perpetuating, we will be creating a situation where Black and Brown Virginians outside of Northern Virginia will become guinea pigs for our economy. We’ve already seen this take place in Georgia, where that state’s premature reopening resulted in a huge spike in COVID-19 cases, with the overwhelming majority being Black people and People of Color.

VIRGINIA LEGISLATIVE BLACK CAUCUS

Asked about a potential surge in cases following this partial reopening, Northam said, “We’ve got to be ready for that. We’re not only preparing for tomorrow. We’re preparing for months and years down the road.”

DMV limited opening

Also, starting Monday, May 18, the Virginia DMV will open 11 centers in seven of the eight regions. Available services include issuing of drivers licenses and vehicle registrations, and disabled parking permits by appointment only. DMV locations will not open in Northern Virginia.

More: As Virginia reopens, those refusing to return to work could lose unemployment benefits


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