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Governor announces conditional, phased reopening plan

Gov. Ralph Northam on Monday announced a conditional, three-phased plan to ease restrictions on businesses and gatherings beginning, potentially, as soon as May 15.

Until then, Northam will extend the key parts of his executive order — which was set to expire Friday — limiting gatherings to 10 or fewer people and restricting business operations.

However, he said it is contingent on a decrease in positive COVID-19 cases, an increase in testing, steady hospital capacity and hospitals and medical facilities have the necessary supplies of personal protective equipment.

“We are not entering phase one today, or this week,” Northam said. “I expect we may be able to enter it next week.”

He said it is because of people adhering to social distancing guidelines and adhering to the restrictions in place that the state can begin a phased-in reopening process, which will include easing restrictions on businesses and churches. He said everything state residents have done have helped to make a difference.

“All of our efforts have slowed our spread, but not cured the disease,” Northam said in a briefing Monday. “Even when we ease some restrictions, we must continue to behave more cautiously than ever before.”

Northam said the data currently supports entering phase one by next Friday, noting the decline in daily positive COVID-19 cases relative to the total tests given last week. He said hospitalizations are also well below the state’s emergency capacity, while few hospitals report PPE shortages.

The first phase of the plan would continue with social distancing, remote working and banning social gatherings of more than 10 people, while recommending that people continue to wear face coverings in public. He said it would allow for people to get haircuts by appointment, eat in at restaurants with fewer seats, allow more retail outlets to open and give fitness facilities the ability to open with lower capacities.

Northam said more guidelines for businesses would be made public in the next week.

Phase I would last two to four weeks, as would phases two and three, depending on whether the health data supports it. In phase one, there would be continued physical distancing, enhanced cleaning and disinfection and enhanced worker safety recommendations.

Phase II would continue to urge vulnerable populations to stay home while increasing the limit for social gatherings to no more than 50 people, with continued social distancing and teleworking. It would further ease up on business operations while still recommending face coverings in public.

Northam said Phase III, which includes a recommendation for vulnerable populations to stay at home, would lift the ban on all social gatherings and remove capacity limits in businesses and other establishments. However, he said Phase III could be between 10 and 12 weeks away.

The stay-at-home directive currently in place would transition to a “safer-at-home” approach.

The governor said he did not favor a regional approach to reopening the state, saying that approach would be akin to “picking winners and losers,” and that it would allow those from hotspots to travel and potentially spread the virus to areas without as many restrictions.

The state department of health has 19,492 reported cases of COVID-19, with 111,441 unique people tested and 684 deaths.

In the Western Tidewater Health District, there have been 439 positive COVID-19 cases, including 190 in Suffolk, 127 in Southampton County, 99 in Isle of Wight County and 23 in Franklin. Of the 18 people in the health district to have died from COVID-19, 14 of those have been in Suffolk.