Three members of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors are urging the governor to amend his executive order to allow part of Loudoun to reopen as soon as possible amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most of Virginia will begin to reopen its economy on Friday after two months of having social distancing restrictions in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
On Tuesday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) accepted the request of local leaders in northern Virginia, including Loudoun County Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D), to delay the first phase of his reopening plan in the region until at least May 29.
On Wednesday, three supervisors at odds with Randall's viewpoint sent a letter to Northam requesting he allow the westernmost districts in Loudoun to reopen.
“What our residents need most right now is to be allowed to restart their jobs and their small businesses,” wrote Loudoun County supervisors Caleb Kershner (R-Catoctin), Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) and Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg).
The Leesburg, Catoctin and Blue Ridge districts are west of Route 15 and north of Goose Creek. The Catoctin and Blue Ridge Districts are largely rural, and the Leesburg District has a “high percentage of lower- and middle-income workers who have been without any income for two months and desperately need and want to go back to work,” the letter stated.
The districts encompass Loudoun’s seven incorporated towns: Hamilton, Hillsboro, Leesburg, Lovettsville, Middleburg, Purcellville and Round Hill.
Supervisors state that out of the county’s total of 1,283 coronavirus cases as of Wednesday, the selected area west of Route 15 and north of Goose Creek accounts for 378 (30%) cases.
Supervisors told the governor that the information he received from regional leaders "confusingly aggregated” Loudoun’s data with that of the other localities, including Fairfax, Prince William and Arlington counties and the City of Alexandria.
Supervisors also said that Loudoun is in a “stronger position” to handle the pandemic compared to the rest of northern Virginia. The letter goes on to state that Loudoun residents have been “diligently abiding” the quarantine rules and that the selected area has a more dispersed population.
As part of his “Forward Virginia” plan to reopen, Gov. 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.
He said on Wednesday that he was “comfortable” with reopening parts of the state on Friday, excluding northern Virginia until 11:59 p.m., May 28, unless rescinded.
“As we have said, robust testing is a critical piece of our plan to slowly ease restrictions in ‘Phase One,’” Northam said. “We are getting there and that is one reason why I feel comfortable in allowing ‘Phase One’ to begin this Friday for most of our commonwealth.”
The governor’s decision was backed by northern Virginia health directors, stating that based on their assessment of the governor’s metrics, the region “has not met the criteria for moving into ‘Phase 1’ at this time.”
State officials also said that northern Virginia is substantially higher than the rest of the commonwealth in percentage of positive tests for COVID-19. The region has about a 25% positivity rate, while the rest of the commonwealth is closer to 10%.
The three supervisors challenged the conclusion, as did state Del. Dave LaRock (R-33rd).
LaRock, who represents constituents in parts of western Loudoun, Clarke and Frederick counties, questioned Loudoun’s involvement in the regional letter. He said Loudoun has fewer deaths per capita than Virginia overall and the rest of the region. He also pointed to the incentive of “political power and money.”
LaRock said in his letter to the Times-Mirror, “Loudoun is doing far better than the rest of NOVA and Virginia. Message to Chair Randall, ‘Forget the politics and remember the people; reopen Loudoun without unnecessary delay.’”
Kershner, Umstattd and Buffington wrote they are also concerned with county projections that 25% of businesses in their districts may be lost due to the pandemic.
“Loudoun is in a strong position medically, and a dangerously fragile position economically,” the supervisors wrote. “Please let us start ‘Phase One’ now. It is time for us to start taking small, careful steps toward restarting our economy. We need to give our residents and local businesses a fighting chance to rescue their livelihoods.”
When the commonwealth opens, nonessential retail businesses and places of worship will be able to operate at 50% of their building’s occupancy rate — up from 10 people under the current rules. Restaurants and bars will only be allowed to serve customers in outdoor spaces, and employees at retail businesses and restaurants will have to wear masks.
Beauty parlors and barber shops will operate by appointment only and employees and customers at those places will also have to wear masks.
Following the governor’s order to delay northern Virginia reopening, state Sen. John Bell (D-13th) said he supported the decision. “Given the higher instances of COVID-19 coupled with the request of local officials, I believe delaying is the wise and safest choice,” he said.
Sen. Jennifer Boykso (D-33rd) added, “We've got to get this under control. And, even though we are 2.5 million residents in this region, we have 70% of the commonwealth’s cases. That’s astounding.”
Randall, who maintains Loudoun is not ready to reopen, said it was not lost on her how much small businesses are suffering.
After the announcement was made that northern Virginia was seeking a delay, Randall talked about making difficult decisions.
“These votes don't mean that if we vote one way you don’t care about businesses,” Randall said. “If you vote another way you don’t care about people's health. If you vote another way you don't care about the humanities. They don't mean any of that. They're all individual votes taken at times we're all struggling to do what is the right thing.”