‘This virus is still with us’: Northam advises caution as Va. continues reopening process

FILE — Serdar Basegmez, owner of Greener Cleaner in the Del Ray area of Alexandria, Virginia, left, has coffee with Paul Tuttle and Dan Stirk at St. Elmos Coffee Pub on Friday, May 29, 2020. (Photo by Pete Marovich for The Washingotn Post)

Though Virginia is looking toward Phase Three of its reopening plan, residents should continue wearing masks and following CDC guidelines for limiting the spread of the novel coronavirus, Gov. Ralph Northam said.

“I cannot emphasize enough that this virus is still with us,” Northam said during a briefing Thursday.

Many states have seen a spike in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations since beginning their reopening efforts. Northam said Virginia has been lucky to not be among them as of yet.

By Friday, all of Virginia will have entered Phase Two of the governor’s reopening plan. Richmond and Northern Virginia had both delayed entering the second phase, but have since seen a drop in their metrics.


The number of new cases reported in the commonwealth has been trending downward since the beginning of June. The number of COVID-19-related deaths that are reported to the Virginia Department of Health has also been decreasing for several weeks, Northam said.

And the percentage of coronavirus tests that are coming back positive has also been trending downward for several weeks.

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Plans for higher education

Higher education campuses may begin to reopen in the fall, the governor said, but each institution must follow guidelines set by the Northam administration and submit a plan for safe reopening before they will be given approval to do so.

Northam said the guidelines for colleges and universities will look very similar to grade schools in Virginia, which he announced earlier this week.

Peter Blake, who heads the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, said that colleges and universities will likely face a “new normal” when they reopen in the fall.

Each institution — whether public or private — must present its own unique plan for reopening to the higher ed agency before they can reopen.

Though each plan will be unique, they must all address the following before they will be approved:

  • Re-population of the campus
  • Monitoring health conditions to detect an outbreak
  • Containment protocols if the virus is detected
  • Plans to shut down again should infections spike.

“As we look to Phases Two and Three and beyond, and as institutions begin to shift to in-person instruction and campus activities, expect a new normal,” Blake said.

“More courses will be taught in an online or hybrid manner, classes will be smaller, schedules will be staggered, residence life will be spread out, food service will be offered in nontraditional ways and large-scale events, such as performing arts and athletics, will be a new experience.”

Blake also said that Virginia’s higher education system needed to confront racial inequities going forward.

“What has happened recently is a manifestation of injustice and racism that has existed for too long,” Blake said. “It is time to confront these inequities in where we work and live.”

He added that the pandemic heightened existing inequities in education, as many minority communities did not have access to tools that would allow them to engage in distance learning.

“The digital divide is real and contributes to these learning gaps,” Blake said. “Expanding student access to devices and broadband is mission-critical — especially now.”

Arlington Co. moving into Phase Two

With Northern Virginia entering Phase Two on Friday, Arlington County offered more details about what that would look like locally.

Despite the further loosening of pandemic-related restrictions, social distancing is still expected, as is telework and the use of face coverings in indoor public settings.

Other Phase Two changes include:

  • The maximum number of people allowed in a social gathering goes up from 10 to 50 people.
  • Restaurants and bars can offer indoor dining at 50% occupancy, among other strict requirements.
  • Fitness centers may reopen indoor areas at 30% occupancy, and certain recreation and entertainment venues without shared equipment may reopen with restrictions.
  • Dog parks, basketball courts and volleyball courts also reopen on Friday for people who practice social distancing and follow guidelines. Get more information on the Parks website.
  • Arlington Public Library is offering more services starting June 15. Get more info from the Library website.

To get more information about the statewide Phase Two plan, visit the “Forward Virginia” website.

Number of total cases* in Virginia: 52,647 (+470)

COVID-19-related and probable deaths: 1,520 (+6)
Currently hospitalized, per VHHA: 1,069 (-86)
Recoveries**: 6,895 (+69)
Total number of tests^: 405,025 (+9,053)

*includes positive test results and probable cases

**Confirmed COVID-19 patients who were hospitalized and have since been discharged, according to the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association.

^includes diagnostic/PCR tests only

Zeke Hartner

Zeke Hartner is a digital writer/editor who has been with WTOP since 2017. He is a graduate of North Carolina State University’s Political Science program and an avid news junkie.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up