Virginia could move on to the first phase of the state’s reopening by the end of next week, if current COVID-19 trends hold, Gov. Ralph Northam announced Monday.
Nonessential businesses required to close until May 8 will now remain shuttered until May 14, at which point Northam expects the state will be ready to kick off a phased reopening, he said.
“All of our efforts have slowed our spread, but not cured the disease. Even when we ease some restrictions, we must continue to behave more cautiously than before,” Northam said during a briefing with reporters.
“We are not entering phase one today, or this week. I expect we may be able to enter it next week.”
Northam and public health officials pointed to data showing a decline in the daily share of positive cases among total tests performed over the last week — data they said would be made available to the public Tuesday.
They also said hospitalizations for COVID-19 cases remain far below the state’s emergency capacity, while fewer hospitals report shortages of personal protective equipment.
On Monday, the Virginia Department of Health reported 821 new COVID-19 cases, increasing the state’s total to 19,492 cases.
The 19,492 cases include 18,640 confirmed cases and 852 probable cases. The agency also reported 24 new deaths on Monday, pushing the death toll of COVID-19 in Virginia to 684.
Phase one of the state’s reopening, which could last “two to four weeks, or longer,” according to the Northam administration, will still carry notable public restrictions.
Northam said the state will swap the current stay-at-home order for a more subdued message: “safer at home.”
At the same time, the state will limit social gatherings to 10 or fewer people. Social distancing will still be encouraged, as well as teleworking for nonessential employees. The state also will still recommend the use of masks in public.
Northam said businesses will be allowed to reopen, albeit with industry-specific restrictions that will be made public in the coming week.
“Here’s the bottom line: You’ll be able to get your hair cut, but you’ll need an appointment. And you’ll see new safety measures in the salon,” Northam said. “It means you can go out to eat again. But restaurants will use less of their seating, so to spread people out. Employees will wear face coverings.”
Urging “unity,” Northam said Monday that all businesses across the state will follow the same timeline and guidelines, straying from the regional approach that GOP leaders in the state have called for.
“We hope the Governor is serious about reopening next Friday. Virginians need a light at the end of this tunnel,” said House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, in a statement. “The Governor’s decision to use a ‘one size fits all’ approach is going to negatively impact certain parts of Virginia worse than others. The ‘potential for division’ the Governor mentioned is already a reality, as citizens across Virginia watch their livelihoods wither.”
Also Monday, the Northam administration said it was planning for the coming recovery phases.
Phase two, which could last two to four weeks, will carry a stay-at-home directive for vulnerable populations and will limit social gatherings to 50 or fewer people.
During that phase, the state will also encourage continued social distancing, teleworking and masks. Restrictions on businesses will ease further.
Phase three, which will start if COVID-19 cases do not rebound in Virginia, will carry a “safer at home” recommendation for vulnerable populations, but no bans on social gatherings for the broader public.