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Richmond Mayor Urges Caution as City Starts Reopening Friday

mayor levar stoney standing at a podium in city hall
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney warned residents at a press conference on Wednesday that the coronavirus pandemic is far from over. (FB Live)

The City of Richmond will enter Phase One of reopening on Friday after a two-week delay.

Mayor Levar Stoney urged residents and businesses to be cautious about the reopening process at a press conference on Wednesday. Stoney initially requested that Richmond be allowed to begin reopening with modifications, such as keeping restrictions in place on houses of worship and salons. That request was  denied by Governor Ralph Northam.

Instead, Stoney is urging businesses to take the additional voluntary measure of keeping a log of customers that could aid in contact tracing.

“We are in this together,” Stoney said. “If someone were to contract COVID-19, I think it’s good for the public to know who may have entered those establishments...but it’s all voluntary.”

Stoney also urged houses of worship to continue to opt for virtual services rather than in-person gatherings. Neither of these recommendations is mandatory.

Under Northam’s Phase One executive order, restaurants and other non-essential businesses can begin operating at 50 percent capacity. Salons and barbershops can also reopen on an appointment-only basis. 

Stoney pointed out, however, that just because the city is moving into Phase One does not mean the pandemic is over.

“This pandemic is not over by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “So I request you wear your masks, stay home if you can, and that you stay safe and strong.”

As Richmond begins reopening, ramped up community testing sites will continue. 

Dr. Danny Avula, who heads the Richmond and Henrico Health District, said these sites would have a particular focus on low-income neighborhoods and areas with large concentrations of people of color.

Avula said Latinos currently make up more than 30 percent of positive cases in the city, despite making up only 7 percent of the population.

“We’ve seen that a lot of our disease, a lot of our numbers here in the city, are really due to extensive spread in Spanish-speaking community,” Avula said. 

Avula encouraged anyone with flu-like symptoms to call the health department and make an appointment for testing.

Wearing face coverings will also be mandatory as shops and restaurants in Richmond reopen. Governor Northam announced on Tuesday that  masks will be required when entering a public building or business. 

Following that order, GRTC announced that face coverings will be mandatory for all bus riders.

GRTC spokeswoman Carrie Rose Pace said riders who don’t comply may be asked to exit the bus.

“However, GRTC is primarily focused on safety,” she said. “There have been violent attacks against bus operators across the country when there is enforcement. We aren’t looking for a fight.”

Pace says GRTC is hoping riders will choose to wear their masks not because it’s required, but to protect essential employees. They have ordered 20,000 masks that will be distributed to riders for free when they arrive. 

As of Wednesday morning, more than 1,100 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Richmond and 21 have died. 


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