Northam delays Phase I of COVID-19 recovery for Northern Virginia

Mannequin heads wear masks in the window of a small boutique advertising availability of masks, gloves and other pandemic necessities in Arlington, Virginia, on April 27, 2020. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam made it official on Tuesday: Much of Northern Virginia will delay the easing of public-health restrictions for two weeks.

In a statement Tuesday, Northam’s office said Executive Order 62 will let Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties; the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas and Manassas Park; and the towns of Dumfries, Herndon, Leesburg and Vienna (Northern Virginia Region) to remain in what’s called Phase Zero until one minute before midnight on the night of Thursday, May 28.

The rest of Virginia will enter the new phase on Friday.

The move came after Northam pointed out at a briefing Monday the differences between the case loads of Northern Virginia and the rest of the state. Northern Virginia leaders are “just as anxious as the rest of us … to ease these restrictions,” he had said. “But they’re not there yet.”

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In Tuesday’s statement, Northam said, “While the data show Virginia as a whole is ready to slowly and deliberately ease some restrictions, it is too soon for Northern Virginia. I support the request from localities in this region to delay implementation of Phase One to protect public health.”

Phase I of Northam’s Forward Virginia plan requires the following metrics be met before the first phase of reopening can occur statewide:

  • A downward trend of positive test results over a period of 14 days
  • A downward trend of hospitalizations over a period of 14 days
  • Sufficient hospital beds and intensive care capacity
  • Increasing a sustainable supply of personal protective equipment such as masks, respirators, gloves and gowns
  • Increased testing and contact tracing.

On any given day, Northam said, about 70% of Virginia’s cases come from the Northern Virginia area. He added that while the rest of Virginia was showing that about 10% of COVID-19 tests were coming back positive, Northern Virginia was at about 25%.

Northam has said repeatedly that Phase I regulations represent “a floor, not a ceiling” — a minimum, not a maximum — and that localities could ask to keep more regulations in place than other areas have. On Sunday, a group of leaders from Northern Virginia did just that.

Phase I will allow businesses, places of worship and restaurants to open at 50% capacity (restaurants being limited to outdoor seating) and other changes.

Northam’s office has made a graphic depicting most of the major restrictions that are in effect now, and how they will change once Phase I begins:

The public health restrictions in Virginia, and how they will change during Phase I. Click to expand. (Courtesy Gov. Ralph Northam’s office)

Northam’s office has also issued guidance for specific business sectors on what Phase I means to them.

You can read the full executive order on Northam’s website.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

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