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 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)

Virginia is set to enter Phase 3 on Wednesday. Here’s what to expect.

By: Arianna Coghill

Virginia is expected to enter Phase 3 of the governor’s reopening plan on Wednesday, which means many of the restrictions on restaurants, gyms, and other businesses will be relaxed further. However, Gov. Ralph Northam warns Virginians to still practice caution.

“Everyone should continue to take this pandemic very seriously. Cases are on the rise in many other states,” Northam said in a press conference last week. “I do not want to see that happen in our commonwealth.”

Other states, like Florida and North Carolina, are seeing their COVID-19 cases reach an all-time high upon reopening. Several states, like Texas, have even had to revert back to earlier phases due to the rise in cases. Northam stated that if health officials see a spike in cases or other indicators of COVID-19 worsening, they may have to implement restrictions once again. 

“I don’t want to go there, but that’s the reality,” Northam said to Fox 5. 

“I think [the reopening] is too early,” Dr. Taison Bell, director of Medical ICU at the University of Virginia Medical Center, told Dogwood, responding to the news of Virginia entering Phase 3. “A lot of my colleagues agree.”

In particular, Bell warns that removing regulations like the 250-person limit on restaurants and retail stores may put people at a greater risk for contracting COVID-19. “In the context of what we’re seeing in states like Texas, California, Florida ,and Arizona, we’re entering a phase where we would have more liberal practices to what they have now,” said Bell.

“We feel as though it would be better to stay in Phase 2 and see where these trends are going both locally and nationally.” Bell added.

Some areas of Virginia have seen a recent increase in cases. While the state’s COVID cases remain less than half of its peak on average, Hampton Roads has seen its numbers go up in comparison to the rest of the commonwealth. Loudoun County health officials have also reported a spike in positive cases amongst teens and young adults. 

READ MORE: They Went To Myrtle Beach…And Brought Back COVID to Roanoke

The Virginia Health Department is encouraging people to keep washing their hands, wearing masks, and practicing social distancing. In an interview with WAVY, Chesapeake Health Department Director Nancy Welch explained the importance in taking precautions. 

“As we gradually reopen, we can’t forget about the exact protective measures that have done just what they are supposed to do: protect us,” Welch said. “A traffic light is something we have that we have all accepted in our country whereby we all don’t drive by our own free will.  We drive for the protection of everyone, and that’s why we have to wear masks, and social distance for the protection of everyone.”

Similarly, Dr. Bell’s biggest recommendations to Virginians during Phase 3 is “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” 

“My physician and nurse colleagues and other healthcare workers are going to stay home as much as we can. Limit our time outside. If we go to a restaurant, we’ll eat outside or prioritize take out,” said Bell. “I’m not going to behave any differently.” 

Here are some of the new changes expected to happen under Phase 3: 

  • Indoor restaurants and bars will be allowed to have guests at full capacity, as long parties remain six feet apart
  • Retail stores will also be allowed to have guests at full capacity, but guests are still required to remain six feet apart
  • Zoos and museums are allowed to be open at 50%
  • Outdoor entertainment, like amusement parks, will be limited to 1,000 people
  • Gyms, fitness centers and pools are allowed to open at 75% capacity
  • Hair salons are allowed to open but physical distancing is still required
  • Overnight summer camps will remain closed

For further details on Virginia’s Phase 3 guidelines, click here

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include a response from Virginia medical provider Dr. Taison Bell about what entering Phase 3 means to him and his colleagues.