Northam says businesses could begin reopening as soon as May 15
Governor extends executive order closing nonessential businesses until May 14
Restaurants, salons, retail stores, gyms and other recreational businesses will likely begin reopening on May 15, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Monday. Unless “something drastically changes,” the governor said he expects to start reopening Virginia businesses in a phased approach at the end of next week.
Northam also extended Executive Order 53 restrictions on nonessential businesses through midnight May 14, a week beyond the previously announced expiration date.
“The message here is that we will reopen Virginia next Friday,” Northam said.
The announcement comes as some business owners and state officials have called on the governor to reopen the economy, or at least certain areas of the state — noting that less-populated regions are not affected as deeply by the virus as Northern Virginia, Central Virginia and Eastern Virginia have been, and that Southwest Virginia is suffering from Tennessee’s reopening last week.
But Northam said Monday “the overwhelming advice” from two dozen business owners and officials on his business task force was to reopen the entire state instead of gradually by region. If he took a regional approach, the governor added, people may travel from “hot spots” and bring the virus to the Southwest and Roanoke regions. He also said that opening by region would be “picking winners and losers” and create division within the state.
The governor said Phase One of the reopening — which would limit social gatherings to no more than 10 people, encourage continued social distancing and teleworking, wearing face coverings at some workplaces, continue increased cleaning and disinfection, and additional guidelines for certain businesses — is expected to last about three weeks, as long as the number of COVID-19 cases continue to go down.
Northam said the state will hire about 1,000 people as contact tracers, who will investigate the spread of the virus from known patients as part of the effort to keep numbers contained once restrictions are loosened.
If all goes as planned, Phase Two would start June 5, with groups of 50 people being allowed to gather and further restrictions on businesses eased. Vulnerable people would still be encouraged to stay at home during this period, and all Virginians would be asked to continue social distancing and teleworking, and wear face coverings where needed.
Around mid- to late July, the state would likely enter Phase Three — when there has been “no evidence of rebound for a sustained period of time,” the governor said. Phase Three would remove bans on social gatherings and all capacity limits on gatherings, while keeping in place heightened cleaning and disinfection and “possible other measures.”
The Virginia Department of Health provided more information about COVID-19 test results Monday, showing that as more people have been tested, the percentage of positive tests has curved downward, starting around April 20. If the percentage of positive tests and the number of people hospitalized continue to trend downward in the commonwealth, Northam said, he expects to be able to gradually reopen the state. As of Monday, more than 120,000 COVID-19 tests have been conducted in Virginia.
The governor added, however, that he is still “concerned” about outbreaks in the state’s poultry plants, with 260 positive cases in two Eastern Shore facilities, as well as a smaller increase in positive tests at Shenandoah Valley poultry plants. He said the CDC and poultry companies, along with VDH, are providing more testing and taking other actions to ensure workers’ safety.
“We flattened the curve, and our hospitals have not been overwhelmed,” Northam said. “Now we can start to move into a new phase of our response. This virus is still here. It has not gone away, and it will not go away until there is a vaccine … perhaps by the end of the year or another year.”