RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — On Friday, Gov. Ralph Northam went into more detail about what ‘Phase One’ of the reopening process will look like for Virginia.
The guidelines, tentatively set to take effect on May 15th, are stricter in some cases than the White House’s recommendations and the steps other states have taken so far.
“We’re not opening the floodgates here. We’re not flipping the light switch from closed to open. When the time is right, we will turn a dimmer switch just a notch,” Northam said.
The governor emphasized that, as the state moves forward, several safety standards will remain in place. He said people should continue to wear face coverings, telework, and stay home as much as possible.
“The ‘stay at home’ order will become a ‘safer at home’ order. That means, while there will be a few more places to go, everyone should still only go there as needed and otherwise stay home as much as possible,” Northam said.
Come ‘Phase One,’ Gov. Northam is allowing personal grooming businesses to open by appointment only. Social distancing and face coverings will be required at salons.
Non-essential retailers will be able to open up at 50 percent capacity, as will places of worship, though drive-in services will still be encouraged.
Restaurants and breweries will only be allowed to seat people outdoors–also at 50 percent capacity. “Bar areas” will remain closed, according to Northam. Take out and delivery services will continue.
“If they [businesses] aren’t able to meet these restrictions they must remain closed,” Northam said. “No business is required by the state to be open.”
Entertainment venues, on the other hand, have to stay closed and so do gyms, except for outdoor classes.
Northam will allow private campgrounds to open come ‘Phase One’ but he said his administration is setting a higher bar to reopen beaches for swimming and sunbathing. People are currently allowed to fish and exercise.
“It will require a comprehensive and sustainable plan for cleaning, social distancing, education
Unlike Northam’s guidelines, the federal recommendations released as a model for states earlier this spring advised places like movie theatres and sports venues could open under strict physical distancing protocols during ‘Phase One.’
The governor’s decision to only let gyms and restaurants cater to customers outdoors also represents a more restrictive approach than neighboring states like Tennessee, which has begun its reopening process across Virginia’s Southwestern border.
Asked why he made these decisions, Northam cited conversations with his COVID-19 Business Task Force, “What I’ve heard from a lot of them is ‘please, please, please take this slowly because if you allow us to reopen and then go back to where we were before and we have to reverse directions we’re at risk of going out of business and never recovering.'”
Gov. Northam said that rules he’s laid out for ‘Phase One’ represent the minimum standard for localities.
“I know some communities may choose to go more slowly, particularly in Northern Virginia where they may not feel communities are ready,” Northam said. “I have said that ‘Phase One’ restrictions will be a floor, not a ceiling.”
Northam said each of the three phases of reopening could last two weeks or more depending on the data. He said if the commonwealth sees a surge in cases, he will consider reinstating restrictions.
Northam’s announcement comes as he says the state has seen a decline in the percent of positive cases for about two weeks–one of many good signs that the state is on track to start ‘Phase One’ by May 15. That said, new cases in the Commonwealth are still doubling every 16 days, a metric Northam’s administration says is partially being influenced by a recent increase in daily testing.
State health officials reported 22,342 cases of COVID-19 in Virginia — 21,274 confirmed and 1,068 probable — and 812 deaths tied to the virus. In general, the governor said the next steps depend on testing, tracking and isolating new cases.
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