Virginia’s Plan to Gradually Reopen

Natalie, Kees

At Governor Northam’s briefing on May 4th, he announced that the state of Virginia would be entering “Phase 1” of the plan to reopen Virginia on Friday, May 15th. This caused a mixed reaction with Virginians– hope that there progress being made so we can resume our daily lives; fear that we are rushing to open places back up too soon (which would only cause things to get worse; confusion as to what entering “Phase 1” would entail. Questions increased when it was announced a few days later that Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Accomack County would be delayed in this reopening plan, creating a divide within the state where some areas are open and others are not.  The implementation of gradual phases are the start of a plan to reopen the country while adjusting to the constant threat of COVID-19.

Phase 1 itself is not so different from the social distancing that we are practicing now. Citizens will still be expected to stay home unless it is necessary to go out– public places will still have enhanced cleaning with increased safety measures for workers. The main change in phase 1 of the reopening plan is that businesses that were required to close their doors will be allowed to reopen them. This means that you can go to restaurants, gyms, and places of worship once again– although distancing procedures will still be in place. These procedures will be different for every building that opens, such as spaced-out seating in restaurants and plexiglass shields between a customer and a salon-worker.

While most of the state is set to begin phase 1 opening on Friday, the 15th of May, certain areas in the state have delayed their reopening until at least Friday, May 29th. These areas include Richmond and Accomack County, whose local leaders requested delays after concerns about the safety of their residents. Also to remain closed is the entirety of the Northern Virginia region, which has been severely impacted by the coronavirus. Although Northern Virginia comprises only 30% of Virginia’s total population, nearly 70% of Virginia’s reported coronavirus cases come from the area. While other closed regions have requested a delay because of local concerns, Governor Northam made the decision to delay Phase 1 in Northern Virginia, saying, “While the data show Virginia as a whole is ready to slowly and deliberately ease some restrictions, it is too soon for Northern Virginia.”

So what do the next phases look like? As of now, there’s not much information put out by Governor Northam about the specifics of the 2nd and 3rd phases, but he has said that restrictions will steadily loosen as each phase progresses. He also mentioned that while there will need to be a stable amount of PPE (personal protective equipment) supplies and a continuing downward trend of COVID-19 testing to enter into Phase 2, Phase 3 is set to start right after the end of Phase 2.

Although state governments have been free to make their own decisions regarding the reopening of their state without much federal government interference, many states have similar reopening plans consisting of different phases of progress. With the exception of Connecticut and Massachusetts (who haven’t started announcing plans for reopening yet) the other 48 states and the District of Columbia have started making similar changes in the hope to slowly regain a safe and normal daily routine. Like Virginia is planning to do in the future, states are beginning to allow certain non-essential businesses to open their doors again, with slightly altered precautions depending on the state guidelines. For example, businesses and houses of worship in Maryland may open again with 50% capacity, and (as of May 9th) the state has allowed for an increase in outdoor activities. Washington DC has extended its stay-at-home order until June 8th, saying that they have not seen a decrease in the number of COVID-19 cases in the nation’s capital.

Although times are confusing and panic is widespread, local and state governments are working on making progress to try to reopen to allow citizens a chance to resume life, to some extent, as it once was, while trying to ensure safety as well.