UPDATE: Gov. Ralph Northam outlined exactly what will reopen and what won’t at a press conference on May 8th. See the details here.
Gov. Ralph Northam said Virginia could start easing coronavirus restrictions as early as next week.
Northam, who was speaking at a press conference Monday, said he was also extending his order requiring all non-essential businesses to close another week, from May 8th to May 15th.
“Now we can start to move into a new phase of our response,” he announced, “but at the same time I want to make it very clear that the virus is still here. It has not gone away and it will not go away until we have a vaccination.”
Northam explained that even as the state begins to ease restrictions, residents will need to be more cautious than they were before the onset of the pandemic.
“To be clear we are not entering phase one today, nor this week based on the data. I expect that we may be able to enter it as soon as next week,” he said.
In phase one, gatherings of more than 10 people will still be prohibited, face coverings like masks will still be required and teleworking should still be considered the norm. Businesses that are allowed to open will need to follow guidelines for increased cleaning and disinfecting along with physical distancing between inside stores.
Northam announced that the state will provide additional written guidelines for different industries to guide them in this first phase of reopening.
“Here’s the bottom line,” Northam said, “you’ll be able to get your haircut, but you’ll need an appointment and you’ll need new safety measures in the salon. It means you can go out to eat again, but restaurants will use less of their seating so people can spread out, more employees will wear face coverings and they’ll do more cleaning.”
In phase one more retail businesses will also be able to open, but they will have to operate at a lower capacity, Northam explained. Gyms will be allowed to reopen but with fewer people inside and with requirements for cleaning.
“We will [also] accommodate the needs of churches and houses of worship together in person, but social distancing still matters, even at church,” Northam said.
According to Northam’s office, the first phase for the state could last three weeks or more to stay consistent with CDC guidelines. The following phases would also last about three weeks assuming that coronavirus cases remain under control.
“We will continue to ease restrictions if we see our numbers trend downward,” Northam said. Officials want to see a downward trend on a couple of factors, like the number of new cases and the number of hospitalizations. Keeping the state open will also depend on hospital capacity and the supply of personal protective equipment along with detailed contact tracing and thorough coronavirus testing.
“I will extend Executive Order 53 which restricted certain businesses and banned gatherings of more than 10 people through next Thursday night, May 14. We will adjust the current Stay-at-Home order, emphasizing a Safer-at-Home,” Northam said.
Gov. Northam wrapped up the briefing by thanking residents who have followed state guidelines and helped to flatten the curve.
“Everyone in Virginia made sacrifices but everything you have done has truly made a difference,” Northam said. “We flattened the curve and our hospitals have not been overwhelmed. I am keenly aware that it has come with tremendous cost.”