As Northern Virginia localities look toward phase 1 of reopening Friday, area leaders and health officials say the region has now met four of the six criteria needed and are requesting that Northern Virginia be allowed to enter phase 2 along with the rest of the state – whenever that occurs.
The health district directors of Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun and Arlington counties, as well as the City of Alexandria, said in a May 24 memo to Gov. Ralph Northam that hospitalizations and the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests has declined over the past two weeks – key metrics that should be met to begin phase one.
The region has also ramped up its testing efforts and has enough hospital bed and intensive care capacity to move forward, the directors said.
Two metrics have not been met, however. The region does not yet have adequate contact tracing, a necessary component for reopening. But health district directors said the “infrastructure is currently being put in place” with increased capacity anticipated in the coming weeks.
Contact tracing is a key strategy for preventing further spread of COVID-19. It’s the process by which public health staff work with COVID-19 patients to help them recall everyone with whom they have had close contact during the time they were infectious with the disease. Contact tracers then contact those individuals to inform them that they might have been exposed to COVID-19 and advise them about how to get tested and whether to self-quarantine.
Fairfax Board of County Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay, D-At Large, said in a Monday Facebook post that the region is “finalizing a contract hopefully this week” to recruit and staff hundreds of contact-tracing and investigating positions needed to increase the region’s capacity of contract tracing.
Secondly, the health directors said the region does not have an “increasing and sustainable” supply of personal protective equipment. The district directors noted that PPE for hospitals “appears to be adequate” at this time, but PPE for outpatient facilities, like first responders and nursing homes, “continues to be a challenge.”
“Although there is increased supply for these entities, there is not a sustainable supply through non-government sources,” the health district directors said.
Many of the region’s mayors and board chairs signed a letter attached to the memo, including Prince William County Chair Ann Wheeler, D-At Large.
Those regional leaders are requesting that the Northern Virginia region to move to phase 2 in concert with the rest of Virginia, whenever that occurs.
“We believe there is value for the commonwealth moving forward together. If the data supports it, we would like the Northern Virginia region to move to phase 2 in concert with the rest of the commonwealth when that date is established,” the letter said.
While the rest of the state entered phase 1 of reopening on Friday, May 15, Northern Virginia, Accomack County and Richmond City requested a delay because they had met the health metrics outlined in Northam’s “Forward Virginia” plan.
Northern Virginia health officials said on May 5 that all six health criteria associated with moving into phase 1 were either unmet or “unable to assess.”
Phase 1 reopening eases restrictions on “non-essential” businesses, such as restaurants and retail stores. Restaurants are able to open outdoor patios at 50% capacity. Retail can open their stores at 50% capacity, and hair salons can open by appointment only with both patrons and staff required to wear face coverings. Fitness centers and entertainment venues will remain closed but can offer outdoor classes with social distancing.
Northern Virginia remains a hotspot for the spread of COVID-19 in Virginia, even as the numbers have improved in recent weeks. While about one-third of Virginia residents live in Northern Virginia, the region accounts for about half of all cases, hospitalizations and deaths statewide.
Reach Daniel Berti at firstname.lastname@example.org