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Northam Plans Phase One Reopening for May 15

Screenshot of governor's briefing
Gov. Ralph Northam laid out several phases for reopening. (Screenshot: VPM News)

Gov. Ralph Northam announced today that the state could reopen on May 15, citing a downward trend of positive COVID-19 tests.

Still, he encouraged caution. “This virus is still here. It is not going away, and it will not go away until we have a vaccination,” Northam said. “So all of our efforts have slowed its spread, but they have not cured this disease.”

Northam said he’s extending Executive Order 53 through May 14, giving the state, consumers, and businesses an extra week to prepare. And although non-essential businesses will be permitted to reopen, he says guidelines and restrictions will remain throughout three phases of reopening.

“You'll still be safer at home, large gatherings are still a bad idea,” Northam said, defining the reopening process. “It means continued social distancing, teleworking, and face coverings. But it also means that we're moving forward.”

For businesses, Northam says phase one could last 2-4 weeks, while physical distancing, enhanced cleaning and disinfection and workplace safety rules are in place. Hair cuts will require appointments, and diners will be spaced farther apart in restaurants, while staff must wear face coverings. In response to a reporter, Northam said take-out cocktails will likely be permitted until restaurants are at full capacity.

In phase two, which he projects will last another 2-4 weeks, he’ll recommend stay-at-home for vulnerable populations, no social gatherings of more than 50, continued social distancing and telework, and more easing of restrictions on businesses.

Phase three, a broader reopening, will be possible when they see no signs of a coronavirus rebound, and contact tracing and testing are rapidly identifying and isolating cases. That will require filling 1,000 new contact tracing jobs, although it was unclear what qualifications would be required or how the state would quickly fill these positions.

Medical equipment is critical to these plans, Northam said, announcing that the first decontamination unit for protective equipment is up and running in Blacksburg. He said additional plants will come online in Richmond and Newport News this week, and with the three facilities, believes we’ll have enough protective equipment to keep healthcare workers safe.

The governor also gave an update on vulnerable populations in correctional facilities and meat packing plants. He said the Centers for Disease Control are continuing to work with meat packing plants, which have seen a rise in cases, on testing and safety efforts.

In correctional facilities, the National Guard is conducting testing of incarcerated people. Northam said, "They tested 1,310 inmates at Sussex [II State] Prison just yesterday.”

Northam also brought up Dr. Lorna Breen, an E.R. doctor who died by suicide in her family home in Charlottesville, saying her death showed the need for more support for health care workers during this stressful time.

“We're going to work together and make sure that we have support systems here in Virginia for individuals like our first responders and our health care providers,” Northam said. “I think the perception is that, the doctor or the nurse, they're always strong and they don't let the stress get to them. But I will tell you that we're all human.”