Much of Virginia to enter Phase Two reopening Friday
Northern Virginia and Richmond will remain at Phase One
Much of Virginia will enter Phase Two of Gov. Ralph Northam’s “Forward Virginia” reopening plan on Friday, with restaurants and gyms able to offer limited indoor service, the governor announced during his Tuesday news briefing.
Northern Virginia and Richmond will remain at Phase One, however, Northam said, adding, “We need more time to monitor their health metrics.” Accomack County, which has seen an outbreak of more than 900 cases, mostly among poultry plant workers, has yet to enter Phase One but will be permitted to enter Phase Two on Friday, the governor said.
Northam cautioned, however, that the pandemic is not over, saying, “We are still safer at home. We still strongly encourage teleworking and physical distancing, and face coverings are [still] required in indoor spaces. … Virginians have all sacrificed to help contain the spread of this disease, and we must remain vigilant as we take steps to slowly lift restrictions in our commonwealth.”
Phase Two of reopening in Virginia will add increased flexibility for restaurants, gyms, sports, and some entertainment venues, including:
- Gatherings of up to 50 people will be permitted.
- Restaurants can offer indoor service at 50% capacity
- Gyms and fitness centers can hold indoor classes and workouts at 30% capacity.
- Swimming pools can reopen with some restrictions.
- Entertainment venues such as museums, zoo and botanical gardens can reopen with some restrictions.
- Recreational sports will be allowed with physical distancing requirements and no sharing of sporting equipment.
Virginia had 46,239 confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases as of June 2, with 1,407 Virginians dying from the virus statewide since the pandemic began in early March.
Northam said he would provide more details about the Phase Two reopening plans during his Thursday news conference. The governor felt comfortable moving much of Virginia into Phase Two, he said, due to factors such as the fact that hospitals are no longer reporting shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), hospital bed capacity remains steady, COVID-19 testing is increasing and, except for Northern Virginia, the percentage of positive tests statewide is trending downward.
Northam spent most of his Tuesday news conference addressing the widespread protests against racism and police violence that have taken place in Richmond and other cities across Virginia and the United States over the last few days.
“Our country is in a moment of turmoil and we have to talk about it. We all saw those horrifying images of George Floyd, a black man begging for his life as a man in uniform took it from him. It was heartbreaking,” Northam said. “But that is not a new heartbreak for black Americans. Before George Floyd, there was Breonna Taylor, there was Ahmaud Arbery, and there is a long list of names before them of people killed because in America the color of their skin means they are treated differently.”
The governor cited actions that he and the new Democratic majority General Assembly had taken in recent months to address racism and inequities, ranging from eliminating the state’s Lee-Jackson Day holiday, expanding health care coverage, making it easier to vote and making criminal justice reforms such as raising the threshold for felony larceny and decriminalizing marijuana possession.
Northam said that his administration would be taking several actions to show their responsiveness to resolving systemic racial inequities, including holding virtual town halls and meeting with the board of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police to encourage law enforcement agencies to pursue more diversity in hiring and more positive community interactions. Northam also will be working with community leaders to organize a statewide day of prayer, healing and action. He also said he will ask the Virginia African American Advisory Board, which he established as a gubernatorial advisory board in March 2019, to continue its work auditing the Code of Virginia with a focus on seeking changes needed to address inequities in criminal justice and public safety.
House Republican Leader C. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, and Senate Republican Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr., R-James City, issued a joint statement Tuesday, excoriating Northam’s response to the civil unrest.
“Today, Gov. Northam faced the people of Virginia for the first time since four days of protests, looting and vandalism struck our cities. Hundreds of people were arrested after rioters did untold amounts of damage to homes, businesses, and public property. At the same time, otherwise peaceful protesters were tear-gassed for no reason. And the best our governor could come up with was a half-hearted hope that people would stop being violent,” the statement read. “This governor is so paralyzed by his own confusing past on racial issues that he is incapable of effective leadership at this critical moment. Virginians need leadership. They need someone who will hear their voices and take action, someone who will simultaneously step up to ensure their homes and businesses are protected. Today, Gov. Northam has shown himself unprepared and ill-equipped to do any of those things.”