Mayor Stoney

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney speaks about city's reluctance to 'reopen' along Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's timetable at the city hall in Richmond, Va. on Thursday, May 14, 2020.

Mayor Levar Stoney on Tuesday defended his request for a two-week exemption from the state’s Phase One reopening, saying his administration won’t ease COVID-19 restrictions until data indicates it’s safe to do so.

“It’s too premature to say what direction we’ll go in on May 29,” Stoney said at a news conference, referencing the date the city’s initial exemption expires.

Last Friday, most of Virginia began easing some restrictions on businesses and churches in place since March. On the eve of the reopening, Richmond received numbers from the state showing the city’s “percent positivity rate” was rising, signaling the virus was not receding. Stoney then requested, and Gov. Ralph Northam granted, an exception from entering Phase One through May 28. Accomack County and Northern Virginia requested and received similar delays.

The last-minute change of plans roiled some business owners who were eager to reopen and said the delay came without ample notice. Others said they supported keeping the restrictions in place for another two weeks for safety reasons, even if it hurt their bottom lines.

Stoney said a decision would have come sooner had the state shared data his administration requested sooner.

To date, COVID-19 has infected 811 people in the city, hospitalized 118 and killed 19, according to figures the Virginia Department of Health tracks. The city’s percent positivity rate was last reported Sunday at 23.6%, according to the department.

Stoney said the city would use the two-week exemption to hold more free testing events, distribute protective equipment to residents, and field requests from restaurants interested in establishing or expanding patio space when the city eventually eases restrictions.

“When we reopen — and we will reopen — it will be done safely, with all Richmonders in mind. It will be done equitably, and it will be rooted in the hard work of the next two weeks,” Stoney said at a news conference he called Tuesday morning at Diversity Thrift.

The remarks came as the Richmond Health District and partnering organizations prepared to hold a free testing event at the nonprofit’s headquarters on Sherwood Avenue. The health department has held nine of the free events over the last month, testing more than 900 people.

Two more free testing events are scheduled this week:

  • Tuckahoe Middle School, 9000 Three Chopt Road, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursday
  • East Lawn Shopping Center, 1810 Creighton Road, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday

Anyone interested in getting tested is asked to call (804) 205-3501.

mrobinson@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6734

Twitter: @__MarkRobinson

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