Northern Virginia prepares for cautious reopening

The Neiman Marcus store is seen at Tysons Galleria, a luxury retail shopping center, in McLean, Va., a suburb of Washington, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Monday, May 11, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Looking for more information? Get the latest on D.C. and Maryland’s reopening plans.

Preparations are underway in Northern Virginia to begin the first phase of loosening coronavirus restrictions Friday, which would allow the region to join much of the rest of the state that began a Phase One reopening May 15.

Elected leaders in the cities, towns and counties of the region had asked the Gov. Ralph Northam for a delay in lifting some of the restrictions, but now the region is planning a cautious reopening.

“We’re in a much better place than we were two weeks ago … while we’re entering Phase One, we are a long, long way still from normal, and we cannot let our guard down,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said.

Significant public restrictions would remain under a Phase One reopening, including limits on gatherings.

While restaurants and gyms would be allowed to reopen, dining and exercising would be restricted to outdoor spaces, where the coronavirus is less of a threat to spread than it is in closed, indoor spaces.

At its Thursday meeting, the Fairfax County board is scheduled to consider an emergency 60-day ordinance that would help some county businesses capitalize on loosening restrictions this weekend.

“It literally gives wineries, breweries, distilleries, restaurants an ability to increase their outdoor seating capacity,” McKay said.

The ordinance would allow some parking lot spaces and other areas of commercial centers to be used safely for outdoor seating.

“We’re also going to be allowing outdoor fitness opportunities for some of our private gyms and other facilities; and so those things are going to require us to put in place an emergency ordinance,” McKay said.

McKay also expressed strong support for the governor’s order for face coverings inside public places.

“Every additional person that wears a mask when they’re out and about potentially is preventing spread,” McKay said. “I think it’s a step in the direction … I hope enough people do the right thing to protect our neighbors and help us advance our economy.”

Arlington County on Tuesday also approved temporary outdoor seating areas for local restaurants, ensuring they can reopen safely while following social distancing guidelines.

Before the pandemic, restaurants would have needed to go through a lengthy permit approval process that could take months, but the board changed that temporarily, allowing for a rapid approval process for restaurants to form seating areas along sidewalks or in parking lots.

With the change, restaurants will not need to pay a fee to apply for the permit.

“We’ll educate our businesses to try to make sure they’re keeping their 6 feet for social distancing,” said county police Capt. Mike Rowling.

If restaurants want to serve alcohol in an outdoor space, they would need to apply for a separate permit from the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority.

County leaders said they would create a public map of restaurants that have been approved for outdoor seating so people in the county can easily see where they can go if they want to dine outside.

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.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

Dick Uliano

Whether anchoring the news inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center or reporting from the scene in Maryland, Virginia or the District, Dick Uliano is always looking for the stories that really impact people's lives.

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