RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — While some states began reopening their economies on Friday, Gov. Ralph Northam released his blueprint for easing business restrictions in the Commonwealth.
The announcement comes as Virginia’s unemployment count increases to nearly half a million, raising the stakes for the governor as he tries to figure out how fast and how far to go.
Gov. Northam said he’d like to see the state move forward to phase one of the federal guidelines by May 8th, when his executive order closing some non-essential businesses is set to expire. Northam emphasized that the data has to support that decision.
“I’m as eager as anyone to move into the time where we can ease some of these restrictions but we must do so in a safe manner,” Northam said. “One step forward and two steps back is no way to move ahead.”
When it goes into effect, phase one of the reopening plan will include:
- Some businesses will re-open with strict safety restrictions
- Continued social distancing
- Continued teleworking
- Face coverings recommended in public
As daily coronavirus cases continue to rise, Northam said the growth rate is slowing and hospitalizations are flat. The number of positive COVID-19 cases in the state was doubling every three days, but now it’s doubling every nine, according to the governor.
Meanwhile, one model suggests that Virginia reached it’s pandemic peak on Friday.
CDC guidelines say the percentage of positive tests and hospitalizations should decline for 14 days straight before restrictions are lifted. Hospitals have to have enough ventilators, bed space and personal protective equipment to treat patients. Plus, contact-tracing has to be increased.
“We will get back to work by greatly increasing our testing, then tracing the contacts of people who test positive, then isolating those individuals, not everyone in Virginia. That is the key to moving forward,” Northam clarified.
Northam’s Administration no longer sees testing capacity as a barrier to reopening. Right now, Virginia is testing about 2,600 people per day. A newly appointed task force’s goal is to increase that to 10,000 people daily in the next few weeks.
A separate task force made up of industry leaders from across the Commonwealth has been established to assist Northam in putting out consistent and clear guidelines for businesses for the reopening process.
“This recovery is going to be business and consumer driven,” the governor said.
When asked if he would consider easing restrictions in regions of Virginia that have fewer cases, the governor says his current plan would not do that.
Northam also announced that state and local elections will be held on May 19 after the state senate shot down his proposal to move them to November. Northam only has the authority to push it back for two weeks unilaterally.