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Phase One Reopening Confirmed for May 15

screenshot of video
(Screenshot: VPM News)

*EDITOR'S NOTE: Full video is now available.

This Friday, Virginia will enter phase one of its reopening from the COVID-19 pandemic. The date was first proposed during Gov. Ralph Northam’s May 4 briefing, pending a projected downward trend in coronavirus cases, an increase in testing, and adequate hospital capacity to handle a possible surge of new cases.

“We’re getting there, and that is one reason why I feel comfortable in allowing phase one to begin this Friday for most of our commonwealth,” Northam said during today’s briefing.

Per a request from elected officials in Northern Virginia, that region will delay entering phase one until at least May 29. On previous occasions, the governor said he was planning to change restrictions on a statewide basis to maintain consistency, but Falls Church Mayor David Tarter thanked him for adopting a regional approach.

“One size does not fit all when it comes to the complex work of saving lives and livelihood,” Tarter said, echoing similar comments from other leaders in Northern Virginia who spoke during the briefing via teleconference.

African American community leaders have asked Northam to delay phase one citing racially disproportionate health outcomes, and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney has expressed reservations about reopening the city, but the governor did not address those concerns today.

Some Department of Motor Vehicle offices will open as part of phase one, Northam said, although none in Northern Virginia. “We'll start with 11 DMV centers in seven of eight regions,” he said. ”At this time, these open centers will focus only on services that require someone to come to DMV in person,” like obtaining an original driver’s license or original vehicle registration.

Daycares will be open and prioritizing children whose parents are working. Northam said parents seeking daycare should call Child Care Aware of Virginia at 1-866-KIDS-TLC to find open centers.

Even as Virginia begins to reopen, though, Northam said it’s not safe to return to our old lives. “I again want to remind all Virginians this virus has not gone away, and everyone needs to act accordingly,” he said. Masks, social distancing, and staying home will remain important, even as we slowly reopen the state. “We cannot act as if things are back to normal because they are clearly not.”

In addition to testing and hospital capacity utilization, the state is also looking at contact tracing. Specifically, they’re trying to employ 1,300 contact tracers, or 15 per 100,000 population, a figure they received from a roadmap published by researchers at Harvard University. Dr. Norm Oliver, the Virginia state health commissioner, said they were getting closer to that number.

“We are processing currently about 3,000 applications,” Oliver said, in addition to supervisors and others who would augment the existing workforce of over 600 tracers.