Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said in a news conference Friday that at least one model indicated that the number of daily COVID-19 cases may have peaked, though continued testing and safety precautions were needed before the state could consider implementing plans to reopen.
Northam laid out a rough road map of how the process of reopening Virginia may look. The plan, called the “Forward Virginia Blueprint,” is a phased effort to reopen the state slowly and methodically so as not to cause a spike in cases of the new coronavirus.
“We will get back to work by greatly increasing our testing, then tracing the contacts of people who test positive and isolating these individuals, not everyone in Virginia,” Northam said during the briefing, which was delayed due to broadcasting issues. “That is the key to moving forward.”
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According to the governor, Virginia has not yet met the criteria for entering the first phase of the plan, though he did reveal some details about what that phase would like for the commonwealth.
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Phase One will include the reopening of some nonessential businesses with strict safety regulations in place in order to protect the public; continued teleworking; continued social distancing; and a recommendation to wear face masks when in public.
In order to reach the first phase of the blueprint, Northam said that the following criteria had to be met:
- A downward trend of the percentage of positive cases over 14 days
- A downward trend of hospitalizations over 14 days
- Increased testing and contact tracing
- Enough hospital beds and intensive care capacity
- An increased and sustainable supply of personal protective equipment.
In order to get feedback directly from businesses, Northam has assembled a work group that represents a wide swath of industries in Virginia. These businesses will offer their direct feedback about how reopening their respective industries works in practice, so that adjustments can be made to policies that prove ineffective or unrealistic.
Northam said that his administration was looking at May 8 as the earliest possible day for Virginia to enter into Phase One of the recovery plan, but stressed that was a rough estimate and a solid date could not be given.
In-depth details for Phase One, along with an outline of Phases Two and Three, will be rolled out as the commonwealth moves toward entering the first phase, Northam said.
“I am as eager as anyone to move into the time when we can ease some of these restrictions,” Northam said. “But we must do so in a safe manner, one that seeks to avoid causing a spike in cases or a surge our hospitals cannot handle. As I’ve said before, we cannot and will not lift restrictions the way you turn on a light switch.”
Karen Remley, who is one of the leaders of the Virginia coronavirus task force, said that while testing capacity has increased in the last several days — over 4,000 COVID-19 tests were administered between Thursday and Friday — the height of the commonwealth’s testing plans aim to have 10,000 people tested per day, including people who have not shown any symptoms.
Northam said that he would like the reopening of Virginia to be consistent, meaning restrictions would be eased across the commonwealth all at once, instead of allowing communities with lower rates of infection to reopen before others.
Also on Friday, Northam invoked his statutory authority to postpone the May general and special elections in the commonwealth from May 5 to May 19. The June primary elections were also shifted back from June 9 to June 23.
“Virginians should never have to choose between casting a ballot and risking their health,” Northam said. “I am grateful to the House of Delegates for taking action to move our upcoming elections, but unfortunately, the Senate failed to make the same commonsense decision.”
Earlier this month, Northam had recommended moving the May elections to November.
“While we strongly encourage every Virginian who can vote by mail to do so, we will also take every necessary step to conduct these elections in a way that ensures in-person voting is done safely and responsibly.”
Only voters who were eligible to vote in the May 5 election will be able to vote on the postponed date, and no new candidates will be on the ballot as a result of the delay.
Northam is encouraging all Virginians to vote by mail if possible.
$250K added to Loudoun Co.’s COVID-19 Business Interruption Fund
Elsewhere in the commonwealth, Loudoun County is taking more steps to try and help businesses in the area impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Loudoun’s Economic Development Authority unanimously approved an additional $250,000 in grant funding to the county’s COVID-19 Business Interruption Fund. The county’s Board of Supervisors approved $1.15 million in initial funding earlier this week.
Interested applicants can only apply online; they’re encouraged to fill out the test form to make sure submissions can be received. Find FAQs here.
The application for the fund goes live at noon on Wednesday, April 29.
“There is nothing more important than helping our community and the businesses they work for during the crisis,” authority Chairman Mark Madigan said in the release. “People need help immediately, and the EDA is 100% in support of the board’s work to help our business community.”