Ralph Northam, Virginia’s Democratic governor, on Friday said once the percent of positive tests for COVID-19 and hospitalizations drop for 14 consecutive days, the state can begin Phase One of reopening.
That time has not yet come, and Northam’s original lockdown is set to run until at least June 10.
“We cannot and will not lift restrictions like one turns on a light switch,” Northam said, who added that under Phase One, some businesses would have to remain closed. “Easing too much too soon could jeopardize public health and consumer confidence.”
But Norman Oliver, Northam’s state health commissioner, said that Phase One restrictions will likely remain in effect until an effective treatment or a vaccine are widely available. Immunologists and researchers say a vaccine could still be 18 months away.
“I, personally, think Phase One will be a two-year affair. There are a lot of people working on this, and I hope they prove me wrong, but I don’t see it happening in less than two years,” Oliver said.
Phase One will keep some businesses closed, while others reopen under “strict safety restrictions,” state officials said Friday. Phase One will also involve “continued social distancing, continued teleworking [and] face coverings recommended in public,” according to an outline of the plan made public Friday.
Said the Richmond Times-Dispatch:
Northam said on Friday that building out the details of Phase One will involve state health officials, local government officials, representatives of the business community and faith leaders. On Friday, Northam announced a business taskforce made up of business owners and leaders that will help guide plans for reopening businesses under the pandemic.
Northam said the plans will include overarching rules for all businesses, and specific guidance for different industries, like restaurants and barbershops.
Moving towards recovering, Virginia officials said, will also include boosting COVID-19 testing in the state, as well as contact tracing — the identification of anyone who has come into contact with a positive COVID-19 case.
“In addition to forcing some businesses to remain closed, Phase One would also impose continued restrictions on the general public. Face coverings would still be recommended in public places and employers would be encouraged to continue to allow those workers who could do so to work remotely,” the Daily Caller reported.
In late March, Northam announced that “all public and private in person gatherings of 10 or more individuals are prohibited” in the state of Virginia, including all religious institutions.
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