Gov. Ralph Northam today outlined a very narrow relaxation of business restrictions as the commonwealth prepares to take the first steps to phase out the COVID-19 related shutdown.
Salons and barbershops will be permitted to reopen, but customers will be admitted only on an appointment basis. Restaurants—and it appears breweries and wineries—may welcome back customers, but only for outdoor service and at 50 percent of their patio capacity with six-foot distancing enforced. Worship centers also can return to indoor services, but only at 50 percent of their capacity. Fitness centers resume operations, but only with outdoor programs.
Barring any reversal in the stabilizing trend of coronavirus cases, the new rules will take effect next Friday, May 15.
Northam said the phase one rules will remain in place for at least two weeks, until May 29. After that, state leaders will consider other changes, including indoor dinning at restaurants.
He also said the state rules are the floor. Northam said local leaders—specifically pointing to Northern Virginia—may choose to hold to stricter requirements.
In Northern Virginia, those local leaders have also urged Northam to keep them in the loop as the state moves toward a cautious reopening.
In Loudoun, there are 1,070 coronavirus cases reported, with 29 deaths.
Loudoun County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large), joined by Fairfax County Chairman Jeff McKay and Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Ann B. Wheeler, sent a letter to Northam May 5 asking for a coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and requesting a discussion with him before reopening begins and weekly meetings of their staff members.
“[W]e write to you today to communicate our strong desire to be both briefed and consulted as your administration makes decisions about the reopening of the Commonwealth,” the letter reads. “As you know, our communities are unique, and our needs remain great. Overcoming this pandemic will require even closer communication and a clear understanding of what our localities face currently and in the future; we can bring that perspective.”
The letter proposes that staff members discuss topics including testing capacity, the acquisition of personal protective equipment, racial disparities, and the method of distributing CARES Act funds.
“This is not an attempt to slow our progress,” the letter says. “Rather, a recognition of the need for greater collaboration between state and local governments.”
Randall said they had a fruitful conversation with Northam and his cabinet Friday morning.
“What we said was, we’d like to have an ongoing conversation, we’d like it not just be one-way information to us,” Randall said. “… So even if he doesn’t so much as consult with us, if they would let us know their thinking and why that decision was made.”
Members of the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, which includes mayors and board chairs in the region, have also held three teleconference discussions with Northam, in addition to convening twice a week to coordinate their efforts and share information and best practices.
“We are grateful to the governor for working closely with our regional elected officials to coordinate our response to this health crisis,” said Falls Church Mayor and Northern Virginia Regional Commission Chairman P. David Tarter. “We appreciate the strong partnership with the Commonwealth as we work together to protect the citizens of Northern Virginia and the state.”
The governor said the blanket business restrictions and stay-at-home order were critical steps at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We had one blunt tool—shut everything down,” he said during his Friday afternoon public briefing, adding the action permitted government and medical industry leaders time to build up their toolboxes. Now, hospital capacities are stable and personal protective equipment is more readily available.
But Northam said the coronavirus concerns likely will remain for years ahead. “This virus is still with us. It has not gone away. There is no cure and no vaccine,” he said.