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Governor outlines plans for Phase III

Though Virginia will not move to Phase III of its reopening plan this week, Gov. Ralph Northam laid the groundwork for it during a Thursday news conference, saying the state’s COVID-19 data continues to trend in a positive direction.

As part of Phase III, limits on the number of people in stores, restaurants and bars would end, and social gatherings would be allowed to increase from 50 to 250 people.

Pools and gyms will be allowed to open to 75 percent of their capacity, and pools can allow free swim. Museums, zoos and other outdoor entertainment venues would be allowed to open at 50 percent capacity. Overnight summer camps will remain closed in Phase III, and teleworking will still be strongly encouraged.

Child care facilities will be allowed to fully reopen, and businesses offering personal grooming can open with physical distancing and don’t have to solely operate on an appointment-only basis.

The earliest the state would begin Phase III would be June 26.

“We’re going to be cautious and careful and watch the data a little while longer before moving forward,” Northam said.

The governor, who held his briefing in Northern Virginia to highlight a disproportionate amount of COVID-19 cases among the state’s Latino population, said he has been in touch with governors in other states, and has been carefully monitoring the increases in COVID-19 cases in states such as Texas and Florida.

However, in Virginia, the seven-day percentage of positive tests is 7.2 percent, according to the Virginia Department of Health, while in the Western Tidewater Health District, that percentage is just 3.2 percent. Across the district, 705 people tested positive for COVID-19 out of the 9,503 tested, and 46 people have died.

There are 3,882 available hospital beds, according to the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, while 7,493 people with COVID-19 have been hospitalized and discharged and just 19 percent of ventilators are in use at hospitals across the state.

Currently, 598 people are currently hospitalized across the state with confirmed positive cases of COVID-19, while another 259 are hospitalized while they await pending COVID-19 test results, according to VHHA, with 241 people hospitalized in intensive care and 129 people on a ventilator. Hospitals currently have adequate supplies of personal protective equipment, the association’s data stated.

Northam cautioned people to continue to practice social distancing, wear face masks and wash hands frequently. Those who are high-risk or experience COVID-19 symptoms should still stay home, he said, and, just because a business is allowed to reopen or expand its capacity according to the state guidelines, they do not have to do that.

While Latinos make up about 10 percent of the state’s population, they make up 45.3 percent of positive COVID-19 cases and 35 percent of hospitalizations for which the state health department has demographic data.

“While our data is good and our restrictions may ease, the virus has not gone anywhere,” Northam said.