Northern Virginia Says They’re Not Ready to Reopen. Here’s How Northam Is Dealing With it.

The governor says the new administration is helping speed distribution of the vaccine.

By Elle Meyers

May 11, 2020

Gov. Ralph Northam said he has yet to determine how long local governments in Northern Virginia will be allowed to delay lifting coronavirus restrictions at a press conference Monday. Last week, Northam announced that if current trends continue, the commonwealth will begin the first phase of reopening on May 15.

The governor also said he would be open to certain regions, like Northern Virginia, reopening more slowly than the rest of the state, due to the concentration of coronavirus cases in the area. Leaders from Northern Virginia counties and the city of Alexandria wrote to the governor over the weekend explaining that the region isn’t ready to reopen just yet.

In the governor’s first phase of reopening, some retail businesses will be allowed to open with limitations, restaurants and breweries can serve people outside up to 50% capacity, and gyms will be allowed to hold small outdoor classes. The state will still be subject to other restrictions, however, people are still expected to wear face masks, limit gatherings to ten people or less, and continue teleworking. 

During the press conference Northam acknowledged that Virginia is a diverse state, and noted that there is a big difference in coronavirus case loads between more populated areas in the Northern part of the state and more rural areas. 

“Northern Virginia consistently has a significant portion of our cases statewide,” Northam said. “In the past 24 hours, for example, Northern Virginia reported more than 700 cases while the rest of Virginia reported fewer than 300.”

He went on to explain that although numbers are improving in Northern Virginia, other parts of the state are seeing more promising trends. 

“So how long will Northern Virginia delay going into phase one? That’s really to be determined,” Northam said. “That’s to allow us time to follow the trends, to follow the percent positivity, to follow hospitalizations which are a little bit higher in Northern Virginia than they are in other parts of Virginia.”

Northam explained that his office will work closely with regions that decide to delay entering phase one and commended the leadership from local officials to work together on the issue. 

“This is about the health and well-being of Virginians,” Northam said, “I couldn’t ask for a better relationship with Northern Virginia leaders, they’ve chosen to be part of the solution and as soon as they feel comfortable and we feel comfortable collectively moving to phase one we’ll certainly do that.”

In previous discussions, Northam has expressed reservations about reopening the state in a county-by-county fashion for fear of people traveling from a coronavirus hotspot to a less affected area. He explained that despite that concern it made sense to allow Northern Virginia to reopen more slowly and coordinate with neighbors like D.C. and Maryland. 

“One of the things that has gone into the decision making process for Northern Virginia is the relationship with Maryland and Washington D.C.,” he said. “If you look at these statistics, the data, the number of cases, the percent positives, the whole area is so dense that we’re all sharing the same challenges. So there was a lot that went into the decision making but one factor was the ability to work with our neighbors.”

Northam also encouraged residents to not travel around the state if they are living in an area with a high case rate.

“I would encourage individuals if they are in areas where there’s a higher prevalence of cases to really be cognizant of the things we know that work for everybody and that’s to stay home, wash your hands and maintain social distancing,” he said. “While we’re not restricting residents from traveling elsewhere [in the state] we would certainly encourage everyone to maintain the same guidelines that we’ve been talking about all along.”

Northam announced that further information about how the state will reopen, with Northern Virginia trailing other less populated areas, will be provided at a briefing on Wednesday. 

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