Gov. Ralph Northam announced at a press conference Monday afternoon that Virginia will likely begin phase one of the state’s reopening on Friday, May 15, provided the state continues to see a downward trend in COVID-19 health impacts.
Northam said the administration is extending Executive Order 53, which restricted certain businesses and banned gatherings of more than 10 people, through May 14, giving the administration an additional seven days to determine if the state is ready to enter phase one. The order had been set to expire on Friday, May 8.
Northam emphasized that the administration “wants to see a downward trend in the percent of cases that are hospitalized over 14 days.”
During phase one, the state will begin easing some restrictions on Virginia businesses and faith communities while other restrictions remain in place. The ban on gatherings of more than 10 people will remain in place, as will the state’s current teleworking and social distancing guidelines.
Northam said phase one will allow restaurants, retail, fitness, personal care, grooming and entertainment businesses to reopen, provided they follow state guidelines -- including maintaining physical distancing and enhancing workplace safety and cleaning practices.
Northam said businesses will have to establish policies to keep coworkers and customers physically separated and will operate at a lower capacity. Businesses must have clear signs to communicate the rules. Northam said it may mean wearing face coverings at work.
Northam said routine cleaning and disinfection of hard surfaces would also be required to protect workers, and workplaces would be required to set schedules that allow for short breaks so workers can wash their hands frequently.
The new rules mean “you can go out to eat again, but restaurants will use less of their seating so they can spread people out more. Employees will wear face coverings and they'll do more cleaning,” Northam said.
“We anticipate phase one could last about three weeks, consistent with CDC guidelines,” Northam said.
Northam said phase two would also last about three weeks, provided the state’s health data continues to support it. Phase two will ease the restriction on gatherings to 50 or more people and continue the stay-at-home order only for vulnerable populations. It will also further ease restrictions on businesses while keeping teleworking and social distancing guidelines in place.
“In phase two we'll continue to ease restrictions if we see our numbers trend downward,” Northam said.
To move to phase three, Northam said, “we're looking for no evidence of rebound for a sustained period of time.”
Northam said Virginia’s current restrictions and stay-at-home order had effectively “flattened the curve” of COVID-19 and that hospitals had not been overwhelmed by sick patients. The state has also made progress in securing more personal protective equipment and expanded its testing capabilities, Northam said.
Additionally, Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver said the Virginia Department of Health plans to ramp up the state’s contact tracing “over the next week or two,” by deploying around 1,000 people to work as contact tracers in the Commonwealth, a key component of the state’s strategy to reopen.
But even as the state has seen progress in its COVID-19 response, Northam continued to urge caution.
“I want to make it very clear. This virus is still here. It has not gone away, and it will not go away until we have a vaccination. That may be hopefully at the end of this year or another year or two,” Northam said.
Even as the state moves toward easing some restrictions, Northam said, “we must continue to behave more cautiously than before. We must not relax.”