Phase one of Gov. Ralph Northam’s statewide plan to lift emergency restrictions put in place during the pandemic is set to begin Friday, May 15 – including in Fauquier County -- but the restrictions will remain in place in some Northern Virginia localities after elected officials requested the governor take a regional approach to lifting COVID-19 restrictions.
On Saturday, local officials from 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 formally requested that Executive Order 55 be amended remain in effect in those jurisdictions longer than in the rest of the state.
On Tuesday, Northam signed Executive Order 61, which approved that request. The new order means restrictions will remain unchanged in those localities for an additional two weeks, through Thursday, May 28.
In a May 9 letter to Northam, elected officials in five of Virginia’s most populous localities – the city of Alexandria and the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun – laid out their argument for keeping restrictions in place for some Northern Virginia localities.
“While it is certainly useful to examine statewide metrics as we gauge the success of current public health policies,” the letter said, “we feel strongly that any changes to current policies be guided by what is occurring in our region.”
The letter said the leaders support Northam’s “Forward Virginia” reopening plan in general but argues that Northern Virginia is not yet ready to move with the rest of the state.
“We eagerly wish to rebuild our economy and help our residents recover,” wrote Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson, who signed the letter along with the chairs of boards of supervisors of Prince William, Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun counties.
“It is only through our regional achievement of these milestones that we will be positioned to avoid a more damaging return to business closures later in the summer.”
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 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
Phase one 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 one, the ban on gatherings of more than 10 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.
According to the governor’s office, phase one could last two to four weeks, or longer.