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Governor Grants Richmond Exemption From Friday Reopening

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney presenting his budget to City Council back in February.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney presenting his budget to City Council back in February. (Roberto Roldan/VPM)

UPDATE 5:45 p.m.: Governor Ralph Northam approved Mayor Levar Stoney’s request to delay reopening the city on Friday. Northam said in a press release that the city, along with Accomack County, will not begin reopening until at least May 29. 

Original Story:

While most of Virginia is set to begin easing social distancing restrictions on Friday, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney is formally requesting the city be allowed to delay its reopening. 

Stoney announced his decision at a press conference on Thursday, citing new data his office received from state health officials. That data shows that the percentage of coronavirus tests coming back positive, known as percent positivity, has been upward in Richmond even as it’s trending downward statewide. 

Stoney said the city-level data he’s received makes him skeptical that Richmond should reopen with the rest of the state.

“I cannot justify risking the health and safety of the residents of the great City of Richmond by moving forward with Phase One,” he said.

Percent positivity has become a key metric for state officials in determining whether Virginia is ready to reopen. 

Dr. Danny Avula, who heads the Richmond and Henrico Health District, said the percentage of tests returning positive results is one indicator of the level of coronavirus within a community.

“The more you test, the more you’re going to find,” Avula said. “But percent positivity tells you the total number positives in terms of the total number of tests that you’ve given. By having an increased positivity rate, you’re getting the sense that there is actually more disease circulating in a community.”

Stoney also cited data on the disproportionate effect the virus has had on Black and Latino communities as a reason to remain closed. As of Thursday, 16 out of 18 coronavirus deaths in the city have been African Americans. And while Latinos make up only around 7 percent of Richmond’s population, they currently account for 23 percent of positive cases. 

“Richmond is blacker and browner in demographics than most Virginia localities,” Stoney said. “The Legislative Black Caucus in the General Assembly spoke to the disparate effect that reopening will have on communities of color, and I stand here today in full agreement with them.”

Stoney said he sent a letter to Gov. Ralph Northam requesting a delay similar to what has been granted to localities in Northern Virginia. Those localities plan to keep the ‘stay-at-home’ order in place and non-essential businesses shut down. Restaurants will continue to operate on delivery and take-out only.

Richmond’s surrounding counties will not be joining the city in delaying their reopening. Elected leaders in Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico also sent a letter to Northam saying that while they respect Richmond’s decision, they are prepared to move into phase one on Friday.