RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond will not initiate “phase one” of Virginia’s reopening plan until at least May 29, two weeks after most of the state will start loosening coronavirus restrictions, following a decision from Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Thursday to grant the city’s request to delay reopening.
The city, along with Accomack County, will enter phase one “no earlier than midnight” on May 28, according to the governor.
“As I have said previously, Virginia’s Phase One guidelines represent a floor, not a ceiling,” Northam said in a statement. “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.”
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney formally asked Northam for a “phase one” delay for the city Thursday, citing additional data from the state that shows coronavirus cases in Richmond have increased over the last two weeks.
“I want to thank Governor Northam for working with us,” Stoney said after the decision was finalized. “This step will make Richmond safer as we face this challenge together.”
The announcement of the request came after Stoney sent a letter to Northam earlier in the day asking state health officials for specific metrics before the city could take steps towards reopening.
“To be clear – I want to reopen our city,” Stoney wrote. “However, we should only take that step when there are adequate protections for our most vulnerable communities. That is why I am writing to formally request that VDH provide locally coded testing data for the City of Richmond and the Central Virginia Region.”
The letter, which was obtained by 8News, laid out the mayor’s concerns over Richmond beginning “phase one” of Virginia’s plan to reopen, specifically the racial disparities in the city’s COVID-19 deaths and fears over “Richmond’s dense urban environment.”
Virginia has reported 611 coronavirus cases in the City of Richmond, with 18 deaths linked to the virus and 102 residents in the hospital. African Americans make up 16 of the city’s 18 coronavirus deaths.
On Monday, the Richmond Health District Director Dr. Danny Avula called on the Virginia Department of Health to provide assistance to the city, at Stoney’s request, with creating “a city equivalent of the statewide percent positivity ratio,” according to the letter.
“Until we can establish percent positivity over time and use the same metrics as the state, we cannot effectively monitor whether we should continue to move forward with the various phases of reopening, or if we need to reassess,” Stoney added in his letter. “This data should be critical to our joint decision-making. If this data cannot be provided, then I cannot justify risking the health and safety of the residents of the City of Richmond by moving forward with Phase One.”
During a briefing Thursday, Stoney said consequences “will range” for those who violate the city’s extension of social distancing guidelines outlined in Northam’s stay-at-home executive order.
“We never want to have to close anyone down, obviously. We never want to get to that point,” the mayor said. “We will likely start with a warning which we have been doing for the course of the last eight weeks, but warnings easily could turn into penalties too.”
The governor’s stay-at-home order said a Class 1 misdemeanor charge could be levied on those who violate social distancing guidelines.
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