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Virginia's Phase One COVID-19 Reopening Explained

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SLIDESHOW: Use the arrow keys to see details of the phase one reopening Gov. Northam proposes for Virginia.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article had incorrect restrictions for businesses in 'phase one' of reopening. They will be permitted to operate at 50% capacity - currently they are limited to 10 people. The article has been corrected.

Gov. Ralph Northam gave further details onthe gradual process for reopening the state today, saying it was “turning a dimmer switch up” instead of “flipping a light switch.”

“In many ways, it will look like what we've been doing,” Northam said as he outlined phase one. Telework and face covering recommendations remain in place, as does a ban on social gatherings of more than 10 people.

Churches, non-essential retail, and services like hairdressing will be able to operate again, albeit with restrictions. Places of worship can only have 50% occupancy, leaving every other pew vacant, and hairdressers will offer appointment-only services with mandatory face coverings. Retail outlets will be permitted to operate at 50% occupancy.

For many businesses though, much will not change in phase one. Restaurants and breweries will still be limited to take out unless they have pre existing outdoor dining, which can only operate at half capacity. Gyms will only be allowed to offer classes outside, and entertainment businesses like bowling alleys must remain closed.

Although if cases remain relatively flat, Northam says we could move to phase two in as little as two weeks. “When we enter phase one, we expect it will last a minimum of two weeks, and it may last longer, depending on what the data shows,” he said.

Answering a reporter, Dr. Karen Remley, who helps lead a testing taskforce, said the state has capacity for 10,000 tests a day, but needs to do a better job getting the message out to people that testing is available. The other part of reopening they’re still working on is contact tracing - state officials have said they are seeking 1,000 people. Right now, Northam said the state had about 325.

Northam also said worker protections were a concern, and that no business should reopen if it couldn’t do so safely: “I want to assure those workers, we are doing everything we can to protect them.” He encouraged workers who think their workplace is unsafe to contact state officials and file a complaint.

While numbers seem to be trending in the right direction overall, Northam said he didn’t want people to think he was “opening the floodgates,” and said that the state should move forward cautiously. “I don’t want people to let their guard down,” Northam said. “When we move into this phase of easing restrictions, it will be even more important for people to behave cautiously. Especially our most vulnerable populations - the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions.”

The governor highlighted hospital capacity and medical supplies as two factors he was following. Although hospital utilization doesn’t appear to be trending downward, Northam said there was enough capacity to handle a surge in cases, and that every hospital in Virginia has enough protective equipment. He also announced a major shipment of gear from overseas, and said it was being loaded into trucks for delivery to the commonwealth even as he spoke.

Northam said it wasn’t safe to resume “normal” life, but, “We know that there are things we cannot put off. Medical care is one of those things.” He was joined by Dr. Clifford Deal, president of the Medical Society of Virginia, who said coronavirus risk was minimal at healthcare providers.

“Your hospitals and doctors offices are safe,” Deal said.

Reporters asked Northam if he wasn’t moving too fast - and what he would do if cases surged. The governor said he was trying to move slowly, because it would be hard to reverse course if they went too fast, and said the business owners in his task force are in support. “What I've heard from a lot of them is, ‘Please please please take this slowly, because if you allow us to reopen and go back to close to where we were before and we have to reverse direction, we are at risk of going out of business and never recovering.’” 

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