Northam responds to criticism that ‘Phase One’ approach is inconsistent

Capitol Connection

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – Gov. Ralph Northam is responding to criticism that his approach to ‘Phase One’ is confusing and inconsistent one day after he allowed two localities to pump the brakes on the reopening process.

On Thursday, less than 24 hours before ‘Phase One’ was scheduled to begin for most of the state, leaders in Richmond and Accomack County asked Northam to delay their start-dates by two weeks. By then, leaders in Northern Virginia had been expressing their desire to push back ‘Phase One’ for at least a week.

When asked on Wednesday if any other localities had reached out about pausing the reopening process, Northam said he hadn’t heard from anyone but he was open to possible discussions.

“Uniformity across the region is critical to a successful strategy, rather than having restrictions piecemeal across towns or counties,” Northam said on Wednesday.

MORE: Northam: NOVA will open slower than the rest of the state

Accomack County, an Eastern Shore community, formally requested a delay on Thursday as it continues to combat outbreaks in its poultry plants. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said he made the decision after reviewing local data that showed–unlike the state at large–the city’s percentage of positive cases is still increasing. Stoney also said he was swayed by the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, who wrote a letter to Northam on Wednesday strongly opposing his reopening plan.

Both Richmond and Accomack County are the only localities in their respective regions that chose to delay ‘Phase One.’

Asked if this patchwork of rules is an effective public health approach, Northam said on Friday, “I have said all along that this is a fluid situation, it changes literally by the hour and I’ll just offer you a comment as a doctor: Things change.” 

“Things have changed and we have to reassess, we have to reevaluate,” Northam continued.

MORE: Richmond restaurant owners lament timing of city’s ‘phase one’ delay

The decision to delay reopening didn’t sit well with House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, who said in a statement, “In a matter of hours, and just hours before businesses were set to reopen, Governor Northam has once again changed his mind and allowed individual localities to remain shut down, rather than requiring the regional approach he required after initially refusing requests for the same.”

“This shocking level of inconsistency inspires no confidence in the governor’s ability to lead our commonwealth in its hour of need,” Gilbert added.

The Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Tourism Association also spoke out against the delay on Thursday and lauded leaders in Richmond’s neighboring counties for moving forward with ‘Phase One.’

The VRLTA’s statement said in part:

Earlier today, Henrico County, Chesterfield County and Hanover County expressed their intent in a letter to Governor Northam to open tomorrow in Phase I. We applaud the forward-thinking of these localities in allowing businesses to begin reopening. We support the governor’s earlier directive to allow regions to delay their entry into Phase 1, however, it must be done by a region as a whole to minimize the patchwork of rules and other issues within a region.

Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Tourism Association

Northam’s decision to delay ‘Phase One’ in some areas comes after he shot down requests in late April to authorize regional reopening to accommodate Southwest Virginia. The region has had comparatively low coronavirus cases and shares a border with Tennessee, which is weeks into its reopening process.

“We do not begrudge Northern Virginia for wanting to take a slower approach to reopen. That being said, we wish our regional request had been given more consideration,” said a letter sent to Northam on Friday, signed by seven Southwest Virginia lawmakers.

On Friday, Northam appeared to have more of an appetite for local solutions.

Asked if he would allow localities to hit reverse on ‘Phase One’ if they were troubled by local trends, Northam said, “we are open minded and are willing to have those discussions.”

Northam said the same of localities with very few cases who may want to move to ‘Phase Two’ sooner than the rest of the state.

Northam emphasized that Richmond residents are still under a ‘stay at home’ order and they should not be traveling to neighboring localities that have started reopening. The governor was asked if he’s worried about confusion.

“Hopefully that will be kept to a minimum,” Northam said.

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