By Stefanie Jackson – May 15 begins the first phase of Gov. Ralph Northam’s plan for Virginia to reopen for business.
“We are not flipping a light switch from closed to open. It’s more of a dimmer switch,” Northam said last Friday when he unveiled Phase One of the three-phase Forward Virginia plan, which will gradually ease restrictions that were put in place to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some businesses will reopen at reduced capacity and others will remain closed temporarily.
Salons and barber shops may open for business by appointment only, with strict social distancing and face coverings required.
Restaurants and breweries with outdoor seating may offer up to 50% of their outdoor seating capacity to guests. Restaurants may continue to offer delivery and carryout options.
Non-essential retail stores may offer up to 50% of their capacity to customers, up from the previous limit of 10 individuals allowed inside at once.
Churches and other places of worship may hold indoor services using up to 50% of their capacity. Drive-in services with 10-person limits may continue.
State parks may operate only during the day, with a 10-person limit. Overnight stays in RVs, tents, and cabins will be phased in gradually.
Overnight summer camps will remain closed.
Private campgrounds may open, with restrictions on the distance between campsites.
Beaches will remain open only for fishing and exercise.
Gyms and entertainment and amusement facilities will remain closed, but gyms may hold outdoor classes with limitations.
Childcare facilities will remain open for working families.
The 10-person limit for gatherings and social distancing guidelines will continue, as well as the recommendations to wear face masks in public and wash hands frequently.
The “stay at home” order will become a “safer at home” order – especially for those who are at risk due to age or underlying health conditions, Northam said.
“While there are a few more places to go, everyone should still only go there as needed, and otherwise stay home as much as possible,” he cautioned.
Working from home is still encouraged.
No business is required to reopen, but businesses that do not meet the Phase One guidelines must stay closed. The guidelines may be found at https://www.virginia.gov/
Northam advised Virginia workers, “If you feel your workplace is unsafe because it is not following the rules, please report that to our Department of Labor and Industry, also referred to as DOLI, and they will investigate it.”
Phase One could last at least two to four weeks, depending on data trends.
Northam confirmed that Virginia had seen a 14-day downward trend in the percentage of positive tests for the novel coronavirus, allowing Phase One of Forward Virginia to begin.
The total number of coronavirus cases is increasing, due in part to increased testing, he said.
About 1,500 people on the Eastern Shore were expected to be tested last weekend.
But the spread of the coronavirus has slowed, and it now takes 16 days for the number of cases to double, Northam said.
Contact tracing will also increase. Virginia has about 325 contact tracers, and there are plans to hire 1,000 more.
Virginia’s healthcare facilities now have a steady and sustainable supply of PPE (personal protective equipment), and no hospital has reported a shortage of supplies in several days, Northam said.
The governor emphasized that caution is still necessary. “This virus is still with us. It has not gone away. It has no cure and no vaccination to date, and we may be living with it for months or even years.”
“I don’t want people to let their guard down. When we move into this phase of easing restrictions, it will be even more important for people to behave cautiously.”
This story has been updated.