Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has formally delayed the Phase 1 reopening of the economy in northern Virginia, including Loudoun County.
The rest of the commonwealth is still slated to gradually reopen Friday, but northern Virginia's data has been pushed to May 29 at the earliest.
Northam’s plan to reopen was designed as metrics started to show promise amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
However, local government and health leaders from the northern Virginia region on Sunday expressed concerns with the governor’s reopening plan in a memo and urged him to delay implementation of Phase One.
On Tuesday, Northam signed the delay executive order that remains in effect until 11:59 p.m., May 28, updated unless rescinded.
“As I have said, it’s important that the commonwealth as a whole can meet key health metrics before moving into Phase One,” Northam said in a prepared statement. “The Phase One policies are a floor, not a ceiling. While the data show Virginia as a whole is ready to slowly and deliberately ease some restrictions, it is too soon for northern Virginia. I support the request from localities in this region to delay implementation of Phase One to protect public health.”
In Phase 1, nonessential retail businesses and places of worship can operate at 50 percent 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 be open by appointment only and will only be able to operate if both employees and customers wear masks.
Local leaders said the so-called Forward Virginia plan requires the following metrics to be met before the first phase of reopening can occur statewide: a downward trend of positive test results for a period of 14 days; a downward trend of hospitalizations for a period of 14 days; sufficient hospital beds and intensive care capacity; increasing and sustainable supply of personal protective equipment such as masks, respirators, gloves and gowns; and increased testing and tracing.
According to an analysis by the region’s public health directors, all five metrics for northern Virginia are either unmet or cannot be determined based on currently available data.
Data also showed that northern Virginia is substantially higher than the rest of the commonwealth in percentage of positive tests for COVID-19, Northam highlighted on Monday.
The region has about a 25 percent positivity rate, while the rest of the commonwealth is closer to 10 percent. In the last 24 hours, northern Virginia has reported over 700 cases, while the rest of the Commonwealth reported approximately 270. On any given day, 70 percent of the Commonwealth’s positive cases are attributable to the Northern Virginia Region.
In Loudoun, three of the nine county supervisors disagreed with sending the memo to the governor, citing economic concerns for their constituents and districts' businesses.
For those areas with more prevalence of the coronavirus that don’t go into Phase One, Northam urged them not to travel.
“While we are not restricting them from traveling elsewhere, we are certainly encouraging them to maintain the same guidelines that we’ve been talking about all along,” Northam said.
Friday’s reopening is tentative contingent on the metrics. Northam “suspects” making an announcement about reopening on Wednesday.