Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam addressed the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic response and racial inequity amid protests outside the state Capitol.
Most of the state is ready to enter Phase Two of its reopening plan Friday, Northam said during a briefing Tuesday.
He also offered words of support for the African-American community and outlined four steps to improve racial inequity in the state.
Phase Two reopening
Though most of Virginia will move into Phase Two of the reopening plan Friday, Northam said Northern Virginia and Richmond will remain in the first phase, citing the fact that “they only moved into Phase I last Friday, and we need more time to monitor their health metrics.”
Accomack County, which had delayed reopening due to outbreaks in poultry plants, will move into Phase Two with the rest of the commonwealth also on Friday.
Here’s what Phase Two entails:
- Restaurants can have indoor seating at 50% capacity.
- Gyms and fitness centers can have indoor classes and workouts at 30% capacity.
- Museums, zoos and other outdoor venues can reopen with restrictions.
- Recreational sports are allowed with physical distancing requirements and no shared equipment.
- Pools can open with restrictions.
- Gatherings of up to 50 people are allowed, up from a limit of 10 people.
Virginians are still strongly encouraged to continue teleworking and follow social distancing measures. Face coverings remain required at indoor public establishments.
Northam said more details will be released Thursday.
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George Floyd protests
With hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Patrick Henry Building, Northam spent several minutes addressing the widespread protests in response to the death of George Floyd before ceding the floor to prominent voices of color in the state.
“My message to protesters here in Richmond and around Virginia is that I hear you. I’m here to work with you so that together, we can help build a place where no one fears for their life because of the color of their skin. I pledge to stand with you,” Northam said.
The Democratic governor, who did not directly address his own blackface scandal from last year, said, “Black oppression has always existed in this country, just in different forms,” adding that, “racism and discrimination aren’t locked in our past … they didn’t disappear. They evolved.”
Northam listed possible measures to amend social injustices, including Medicaid expansion, criminal justice reforms, decriminalizing marijuana and making Election Day a holiday so everyone has a chance to vote.
“I cannot imagine what it’s like to be an African-American person right now,” Northam said. “I cannot know the depth of your pain. But, what I can do is stand with you and I can support you. And, together, we’re going to turn this pain into action.”
Northam outlined how Virginia will pursue racial equity in education, health care and in access to other opportunities:
- Keep listening and learning, such as having virtual town halls to continue the conversation about criminal justice reform and public safety.
- Meet with the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police to work toward more diverse police staffs and better interactions with the community.
- Working with leaders on a statewide day of prayer, healing and action.
- Teaming with black leaders and the Virginia African American Advisory Board to examine racial inequity in state laws, and auditing the state’s code with a focus on criminal justice and public safety.
“These actions will not bring back lives that have been lost, but they are steps toward an America — and a Virginia — where this doesn’t happen. They are steps toward fixing the inequities embedded in our systems,” Northam said.
The governor then stepped aside to allow leaders from around the state to speak, some of whom are involved in his plan for creating more equity in Virginia, including state Del. Delores McQuinn, the Virginia NAACP’s Cynthia Hudson and Albemarle High School senior Naquel Perry.
“We must tell the full and the true story of the inequities that have resulted from over 400 years of discrimination,” said McQuinn. “Now is the time for us to deal with it, head on.”
Perry, a part of the Student Equity Advisory Team (SEAT), addressed fellow young people.
“We are the future,” he said. “Our voice needs to be heard and we need to come together now more than ever. We need everyone to make this thing bigger and to help us.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misspelled George Floyd’s name in one instance.