Northam looks ahead to reopening Virginia
Governor discusses future steps for easing restrictions
UPDATED, SATURDAY APRIL 25: Gov. Ralph Northam’s office and Virginia Department of Health told the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Saturday that Phase One of Northam’s “Forward Virginia” blueprint for easing statewide COVID-19 restrictions will not last two years. The newspaper had reported Friday that Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said he believed the phase could last as long as it takes to develop an effective COVID-19 treatment or vaccine, which would take about two years. However a Virginia Department of Health spokesperson said Saturday that Oliver was only referring to the time it would take to develop a vaccine, and that while “some level of social distancing” would need to continue until then, the state does not think the first phase will take two years. “Phase One will not last for two years,” the governor’s office told the Times-Dispatch. “We need to keep working together to beat this disease — not spread fear and misinformation.”
FRIDAY, APRIL 24: During a news conference Friday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam unveiled the first phase of his “Forward Virginia” blueprint for reopening businesses and easing COVID-19 restrictions within the commonwealth.
“I am as eager as anyone to move into the time when we can ease some of these restrictions, but we must do so in a safe manner, one that seeks to avoid causing a spike in cases or a surge our hospitals cannot handle,” said Northam, who said he could not yet give a specific date for implementation. “As I’ve said before, we cannot and will not lift restrictions the way you turn on a light switch. We will do it responsibly and deliberately and it has to be grounded in data. We will move forward but in way that prioritizes public health and creates confidence. Easing too much too soon could jeopardize public health and consumer confidence. One step forward and two steps back is no way to move ahead. We will need everyone to continue taking actions to keep themselves and others safe. … None of us is in this alone.”
The first phase will include:
- Some businesses opening under strict safety restrictions
- Continued social distancing
- Continued teleworking
- Face coverings recommended in public
Beginning to lift restrictions, the governor said, will depend on the number of positive COVID-19 tests as well as the number of people hospitalized from the disease declining for 14 days straight, a trend that has not yet occurred. The state also needs to ensure hospitals have adequate capacity to deal with any surge in cases and that the state has an increasing and sustainable supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline medical workers and first responders. The process will also include ramping up testing and tracing capacity to identify new cases and quarantine infected individuals.
There are currently about 2,600 COVID-19 tests being conducted statewide each day, but testing also needs to reach 10,000 tests per day before businesses can begin reopening and restrictions can be lifted, Northam said, cautioning that phase one of reopening Virginia “will still have heightened restrictions,” such as continuing social distancing and teleworking.
Northam said he is soliciting input on future phases of the reopening process from a variety of business and government leaders, including local government officials and representatives from a variety of businesses, as well as hospitals and health care systems.
The governor has tapped an advisory group of business leaders from across Virginia to form the state’s COVID-19 Business Task Force, which will provide input and advice as Northam eventually moves to ease restrictions put in place during the pandemic.
“These are Virginians who are thinking every day about how to protect the health of their staff and the communities in which they operate,” Northam said of the task force members in a statement released Friday. “They understand that our public health and business interests are aligned — we must take measures that both ensure the safety and confidence of consumers and prevent the spread of disease. Their input will continue to be critical as we plan a safe, consistent, successful path forward.”
Members of Virginia’s COVID-19 Business Task Force include:
- Chad Ballard, Cherrystone Campground, Cape Charles
- Katy Brown, Barter Theatre, Abingdon
- Josh Chapman, Black Narrows Brewing, Chincoteague
- Jenny Crittenden, Gloucester Main Street Preservation Trust, Gloucester
- Patrick Crute, Virginia Alliance of YMCAs
- Christy Coleman, Jamestown Yorktown Foundation, Williamsburg
- David Foster, High Point Barber Shop, Richmond
- Angelyn Glasgow, Nu Image Salon, Blackstone
- George Hodson, Veritas Vineyard, Afton
- Lester Johnson, Mama J’s Restaurant, Richmond
- Franky Marchand, Volvo, Pulaski
- Owen Matthews, Kings Dominion, Doswell
- Bill Meyer, Meyer Fitness, Norfolk
- Brian Moore, Amazon.com Inc., Arlington/Alexandria
- Brooke Mueller, Walmart
- Jon Norton, Great American Restaurants, Arlington/Fairfax
- Alex Nyerges, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
- Chris Ray, Center of the Universe Brewing, Ashland
- Dee Suarez-Diaz, ReNuew Wellness Spa LLC, Manassas
- Warren Thompson, Thompson Hospitality, Reston
- Bruce Thompson, Gold Key PHR, Virginia Beach
- Laura Todd, Institute of Advanced Medical Aesthetics, Ashland
- Terri Vander Vennet, Hampton Coliseum, Hampton
State government representatives participating in the task force include representatives from the Virginia Department of Health, the Virginia Tourism Corp., as well as representatives from the state secretaries of Commerce and Trade, and Health and Human Resources as well as Chief Workforce Adviser Dr. Megan Healy and Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer Dr. Janice Underwood.