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Northam unveils reopening plan

The start of phase one is still at least two weeks away

Gov. Ralph Northam on Friday unveiled a “blueprint” for when Virginia can safely begin to ease public health restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to one influential model by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, Friday was expected to be the peak day for the daily death count in Virginia. Thursday was expected to be the peak day for resource use, such as hospital beds and ventilators.

The first indicator that Virginia is ready to reopen will be a 14-day downward trend in the number of confirmed cases as a percentage of overall tests and in reduced hospitalizations.

According to a presentation the governor gave during his Friday press conference, the daily case count continues to rise, but the growth rate is slowing. Cases were doubling every three days early in Virginia’s battle with the pandemic, but they now are doubling about every nine days. Hospitalization rates remain flat.

“We are not there yet, but we are moving in that direction,” Northam said.

In order to move to phase one, the state also must have enough hospital beds and intensive care capacity and an increasing and sustainable supply of personal protective equipment for health care providers.

In phase one, some businesses could re-open with strict safety restrictions. Continued social distancing and teleworking would be urged, with face coverings recommended in public.

“We must do so in a safe manner,” Northam said of the reopening. “We cannot and will not lift restrictions the way we turn on a light switch. One step forward and two steps back is no way to move ahead.”

Further increased testing would be needed to continue moving through the phases, peaking at 10,000 tests per day. As before, all infected people and their contacts would be urged to self-isolate throughout this period of increased testing.

The expanded testing plan includes hiring contact tracers to support local health departments in identifying these individuals.

“We will move forward, but in a way that prioritizes public health and builds public confidence,” Northam stated in a Friday press release. “Businesses know that customers will return only when they feel that it is safe to do so. Our blueprint for the path forward is data-driven and provides clear guidance, so Virginians will know what to expected and understand how we will decide when to lift certain public health restrictions.”

The state is developing two sets of guidance for businesses, one with broad recommendations and another with industry-specific recommendations for certain public-facing businesses.

Cases of COVID-19 edged up by six in the Western Tidewater Health District in Friday’s report from the Virginia Department of Health.

It came one day after the district’s biggest one-day spike in cases since the beginning of the pandemic — an increase of 64 cases that was almost entirely attributable to increased testing at Deerfield Correctional Center in Southampton County.

Suffolk now has a total of 138 cases, with 91 in Isle of Wight County, 75 in Southampton County and 15 in Franklin.

There are 41 patients hospitalized in the district, and there have been seven deaths in the district.

Statewide, the VDH reports 11,594 cases and 410 deaths.

The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association reports 912 patients hospitalized statewide who have tested positive for COVID-19, and 487 in the hospital whose test results are pending.

There are 379 in the two groups combined in ICUs, and 220 on ventilators. Only 22 percent of the state’s total ventilators are in use for COVID-19 and other patients.

In good news, the VHHA reports 1,672 patients with confirmed cases who have been hospitalized and then discharged.