FAIRFAX, Va. (WRIC) — At his first coronavirus briefing in Northern Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam released details on what ‘Phase Three’ of the reopening process will look like, even though he’s not allowing the commonwealth to move forward this Friday.
Starting June 18th, most areas of Virginia will have been in ‘Phase Two’ for two weeks, the minimum amount of time that has to pass before advancing to the next stage. Northam said he’s airing on the side of caution as some states are seeing steep increases in cases and hospitalizations.
The governor said the earliest Virginia will start ‘Phase Three’ is next Friday, June 26th. He said that will only happen if the data continues to support that decision.
“I want to be clear, we are not entering ‘Phase Three’ this week,” Northam said “But people need and they deserve to be able to plan.”
‘Phase Three’ allows retailers, restaurants, bars and breweries to lift capacity limits entirely, though these places still have to practice social distancing. The phase also raises occupancy caps in entertainment venues and gyms.
“It still means you’re safer at home, especially if you’re vulnerable. It means we still strongly encourage teleworking and people still need to focus on physical distancing in all situations outside of the home” Northam said.
The governor said masks will remain a requirement in indoor public spaces in most cases.
Here’s a full break down of what this means for you.
Northam has been criticized by some for not allowing ‘Phase Three’ to start sooner.
“Let us be clear, the Governor is once again walking back his own criteria. Tens of thousands of Virginians have lost their jobs, and unemployment spiked to 10 percent,” House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) said in a statement earlier this week. “If Governor Northam genuinely wants ‘science, data, and testing’ to drive our reopening, he should allow Phase 3 to proceed.”
Virginia’s percent of positive COVID-19 tests is at its lowest rate since mid-March, sitting at 7.2 percent as of Thursday. The Commonwealth is also not seeing an increase in new daily cases, unlike some states that moved through the reopening process more quickly.
That said, a Virginia-specific model shows a significant increase in hospitalizations is still a possibility. One of the worst case scenarios currently projected by the University of Virginia shows weekly hospitalizations could reach 6,319 by the week ending on July 25th. That would put bed occupancy just over 150%.
“While our numbers are trending favorably we must all be vigilant and we must pay attention to these models and also pay attention to what is going on in other states right now,” Northam said. “While the data is good and our restrictions may ease, the virus has not gone anywhere.”
Northam also emphasized the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the Latino community. The impact is seen statewide as Latinos make up 10 percent of the population but 45 percent of the cases for which the state has demographic data.
Contributing to the problem, Northam said is that many Latinos are uninsured, working high-risk jobs or undocumented.
During Thursday’s briefing, Latino leaders asked the public to speak up for what they need in their communities. The state is working with the Virginia Department of Health to track data and make sure the state is connecting with Latino communities.
In the upcoming weeks, leaders said the state will be increasing testing in high-concentrated Latino areas.
“The virus does not discriminate at legal status,” said Marvin B. Figueroa, legislative director for Northam’s administration.
Northam emphasized that no legal documentation is required to be tested.