Gov. Ralph Northam has issued an executive order allowing localities in Northern Virginia to delay entering phase 1 of the state's reopening process until midnight on Thursday, May 28, to allow the region more time to meet the health metrics.
The new order, Executive Order 62, will allow the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William, and the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas, Manassas Park, as well as the Towns of Dumfries, Herndon, Leesburg, and Vienna to remain in “phase zero,” for an additional two weeks.
“While the data show Virginia as a whole is are ready to slowly and deliberately ease some restrictions, it is too soon for Northern Virginia," Northam said in Tuesday press release.
Phase 1 of reopening will allow the rest of the state to reopen non-essential retail, restaurants and hair salons with strict limitations. During phase 1, the ban on gatherings of 10 or more people will stay in place, and gyms and entertainment venues will remain closed. Restaurants will be allowed sit-down dining only outdoors and at 50% capacity.
Local leaders in those Northern Virginia locales requested that phase 1 be delayed in the region over the weekend.
The percentage of positive tests for COVID-19 in Northern Virginia remains substantially higher than the rest of the commonwealth. According to the press release, the Northern Virginia Region has about a 25% positivity rate, while the rest of the Commonwealth is closer to 10%.
On any given day, 70% of the Commonwealth’s positive COVID-19 cases are attributable to the Northern Virginia Region, Northam said.
Original Story, Monday, May 11: As Northern Virginia leaders push for a delayed phase 1 reopening, Gov. Ralph Northam said Monday he is open to the region moving more slowly. But so far, details about what a delayed opening will look like are scant.
“We feel that we're at a place where we can safely go into phase 1 in most areas of Virginia. Northern Virginia is an exception,” Northam said at a press conference Monday afternoon.
Initially, Northam had resisted a regional approach to reopening, but he appeared to soften his stance last week. Northam reiterated Monday that phase 1 is “a floor, but not a ceiling” for reopening, adding that no region can move faster to ease restrictions, but some could move slower.
“It's important that the commonwealth as a whole can meet the metrics that we've laid out before moving into phase 1, but I also recognize that we live in a diverse commonwealth and different regions face different challenges,” Northam said.
Northam added that in order to implement a delayed reopening, Northern Virginia localities would have to be uniform in their approach “rather than having restrictions piecemeal across towns or counties.”
Some local officials from Northern Virginia are expected to join the administration for a press briefing on Wednesday, May 13, “to explain how this will work,” Northam said.
Phase 1 of the state’s reopening is slated to begin on Friday, May 15, and will allow non-essential retail businesses, hair salons and restaurants to open with very strict limitations. During phase 1, the ban on gatherings of 10 or more people will stay in place, and gyms and entertainment venues will remain closed. Restaurants will be allowed sit-down dining only outdoors and at 50% capacity.
Local leaders of Virginia’s five most populous Northern Virginia localities -- Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, Arlington and Alexandria -- sent a letter to Northam Sunday requesting a delayed reopening until the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the region begin to subside.
Northern Virginia accounts for over half of all the COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the commonwealth, and those numbers have continued to rise in recent days.
Health district directors from all five localities said the region has not yet met, or was “unable to assess,” the key metrics for reopening outlined in Northam’s “Forward Virginia” plan. In order to reopen, the plan requires:
- A downward trend of positive tests relative to tests over a period of 14 days
- A downward trend of hospitalizations over a period of 14 days
- Enough hospital beds and intensive care capacity
- Increasing and sustainable supply of personal protective equipment
- Increased testing and contact tracing
Health district directors concluded that hospitalizations in the region had not fallen over a period of 14 days, that the region does not have an increasing and sustainable supply of PPE in outpatient facilities and does not have adequate contact-tracing capacity.
“Based on our assessment, we do not believe that the Northern Virginia region has met the criteria for moving into phase 1 at this time,” the health district directors wrote.
It is not yet clear how long phase 1 of reopening will be delayed in Northern Virginia, but Northam said it would likely happen when the region meets the metrics outlined by the administration.
Northam’s Chief of Staff Clark Mercer said there are currently enough contact tracers needed to reopen all but Northern Virginia, where more than one-third of the state’s population resides.
“Where we're going to have to really ramp up some of our contact tracing is where we have a preponderance of positive tests, which is in Northern Virginia,” Mercer said. “It stands to reason that if they are delayed by a week or two weeks or several weeks, then we do have a bit of a cushion to get the tracers in Northern Virginia and ready when they are ready to enter phase 1.”
Virginia is preparing to hire 1,000 contact tracers who will help track down and notify close contacts of COVID-19 patients. Northam said contact tracing, in combination with ramped up testing, are the key to reopening the state.
The administration is aiming to test 10,000 Virginians every day. Northam said the Virginia Department of Health reported about 9,800 tests in one day, the closest it’s come to its 10,000-test goal. But those results haven’t yet been posted to the VDH COVID-19 dashboard.
While it’s still unclear whether Northern Virginia will join the rest of the state in reopening, Northam ended the press conference with a word of caution about COVID-19 as the much of the state prepares to enter phase 1.
“As a physician, I have never seen any pathogen that that acts like this. That is as contagious as this is,” Northam said. “Until there's a cure for the virus, until there's a vaccination, we have to be cognizant. We have to be vigilant … that it's out there.”
Reach Daniel Berti at firstname.lastname@example.org