Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam listens as he prepares to speak to a group of volunteers to distribute supplies at health equity community event Tuesday May 12, 2020, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) Nothing Changes for Northam
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam listens as he prepares to speak to a group of volunteers to distribute supplies at health equity community event Tuesday May 12, 2020, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Gov. Ralph Northam was joined by Northern Virginia leaders online at a press conference Wednesday, where they emphasized that data on coronavirus cases and hospitalizations will guide any reopening decision.

Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chair Jeff McKay said Northern Virginia’s close proximity to D.C and Maryland really makes it a distinct region. 

“Folks travel from all those jurisdictions and cross jurisdictional boundaries every single day by the thousands making our region very cohesive,” he said. “So we have to consider how we can deal with the District and Maryland to make sure that we protect the safety of our entire community.”

Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said that given the region’s current case load, it’s important that Northern Virginia “maintain our current operating status until phase one criteria laid out by the governor are met.”

“We’re really emphasizing and focusing on data rather than dates,” Northam said. “That really is something that we will continue to do moving forward.”

Northern Virginia needs to see a downward trend of positive test results, a continued downward trend of hospitalizations over two weeks. Health officials also will be monitoring hospital capacity in the area and the available supply of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers. 

Northam also reiterated an announcement from earlier this week that the commonwealth will be distributing $650 million in federal financial aid from the CARES Act to local governments. The funding will help smaller governments pay for the cost of responding to the pandemic.

“One of our priorities for that money will be paying for the increased testing and contact tracing that we will need. Moving forward our Department of Health is working to hire many more contact tracers for each region,” Northam said. 

Tracing the contacts of people who have been diagnosed with the coronavirus is key to locating hot spots and suppressing further outbreaks. It’s also an important goal to meet for the state to continue reopening different areas of normal life. 

“VDH is working with several staffing companies to help speed up this process and has received more than 3,000 resumes,” Northam said. 

The first phase of the recovery is expected to last at least two to three weeks before moving on to the next phases as health officials determine if key metrics are still trending favorably. Northam is expected to hold another press conference on Friday to provide updates on the state’s progress. 

“If we continue to work together as a commonwealth we will come out of this strong,” Northam said in closing. “That is my goal and that’s what I’m committed to doing as governor.”