Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced on Tuesday that northern Virginia can begin to reopen under the state’s “Forward Virginia Phase One” guidelines starting on Friday.
Northern Virginia, including Loudoun County, will join most of the rest of the commonwealth in gradually restarting the economy, something that started in other parts of the state May 15.
Under the "Phase One” guidelines, retail establishments may operate at 50 percent capacity, and restaurant and beverage establishments may offer outdoor dining at 50 percent occupancy.
Personal grooming services may operate with one patron per service provider, fitness centers may offer outdoor exercise services, and campgrounds may begin taking reservations for short-term stays under the “Phase One” guidelines.
Drive-in services may continue at places of worship, and services may be held inside at 50 percent capacity.
Loudoun County Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) said she was pleased with the announcement.
“I am extremely happy and extremely relieved that northern Virginia can join the rest of Virginia in moving to ‘Phase One’ and that the governor extensively accepted the recommendation of [northern Virginia] health directors after they assessed the data," Randall said.
Elected officials in the region have been at odds over the governor’s delay in recent weeks. Northam ordered the northern Virginia delay through May 28 earlier this month. The governor’s decision was supported by local government and health leaders who requested the region’s reopening be delayed. Regional health directors believed the COVID-19 data -- including hospitalizations and case counts -- did not show it was safe reopen.
Some disagreed with the regional assessment, however. Three county supervisors said the information the governor received "confusingly aggregated” Loudoun’s data with that of the other localities, including Fairfax, Prince William and Arlington counties and the City of Alexandria.
As part of his Forward Virginia plan to reopen, Northam said he wanted to see two weeks of declining positive coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, enough hospital bed and intensive care capacity, the proper amount of personal protective equipment at health care facilities and testing capabilities ramped up.
On Sunday, health experts told chief elected officials that northern Virginia has met most of the criteria needed to move into the first phase of the commonwealth’s reopening plan.
They determined that the region has met four of the six threshold metrics needed to transition to reopening. Those include having enough hospital beds and intensive care capacity and having a downward trend of positive tests and hospitalizations over a period of 14 days.
The region still has not met two important metrics. It does not have an increasing and sustainable supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), and it has not sufficiently increased testing and tracing to meet the established regional threshold.
Catoctin Supervisor Caleb Kershner (R) said he’s glad Loudoun will be entering the first phase and hopes the county will soon be able to move into the second phase.
“I do believe that we should absolutely open to ‘Phase Two’ when the rest of Virginia opens,” Kershner, whose district spans the northern Leesburg, Lucketts and Waterford areas, said. "We're doing significantly better than we were and will continue to improve.”
Kershner said he believes people understand the importance of social distancing. He said the sooner Loudouners can move to the second phase, the sooner people can start to contribute to local businesses so that “we can get our northern Virginia economy going again.”
“I think we have to trust people to follow certain protection mechanisms, and I think they will,” Kershner said. “We are at the point where we have to trust individuals to follow good practices. We have it under control, our health system is not overwhelmed, and that was the whole point of the shutdown.”
At Tuesday's briefing, Northam said he expects the commonwealth will remain in the first phase until at least early June. He said his staff will review the data before making a decision to enter phase two.
The governor also ordered all Virginians to wear face masks in indoor public places beginning Friday, and he directed the Department of Labor and Industry to develop emergency temporary standards to prevent workplace exposure to COVID-19.
The governor is planning to provide more details on northern Virginia's reopening on Wednesday.
Looking ahead to Friday, Randall said the goal for Loudoun is to remain open and never close again.
“The goal is not just to move into 'Phase One,' the goal is to remain open and walk through the phases and never have to close again,” Randall said. “What we want to do is make sure that we are helping our businesses prepare, and we are messaging our citizens that the businesses are ready to accept them back. It's not enough to just open the business. We have to also make sure that that customers are ready to come back.”
The number of local coronavirus cases on Tuesday jumped by 139 to 2,186. No new COVID-19-related deaths have been reported in Loudoun since Saturday. 52 people have died as a result of the virus.