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Northam: Localities may choose to keep stricter limits during Virginia reopening

Mike Still • May 7, 2020 at 9:00 AM

RICHMOND — Localities may opt to keep stronger restrictions in place as Virginia moves toward a possible mid-May reopening of businesses.

Governor Ralph Northam raised that possibility on Wednesday during his regular press conference on the status of the COVID-19 emergency. Saying he was aware that various localities are being affected in different ways by the pandemic, Northam said areas like Northern Virginia that have seen larger numbers of disease cases may want to slow their own reopenings to avoid COVID-19 flare-ups.

Northam said he would allow that, calling the guidelines for phase one of his “Forward Virginia Blueprint” reopening plan a “floor” which localities might choose to restrict some provisions.

Under phase one — of which Northam said he will release more details on Friday — social gatherings of more than 10 people would still be prohibited and social distancing still encouraged. Teleworking for state employees would continue and people would still be advised to wear face coverings in public. Businesses and religious activity in churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship would see restrictions eased.

Guidelines for reopening businesses under phase one would include physical distancing inside, enhanced cleaning and disinfection procedures and enhanced workplace safety for employees.

Northam said the state’s progress in meeting federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reopening guidelines looked promising. State health officials are seeing a steady or downward trend in positive COVID-19 test results, he said, while the availability of hospital beds, ventilators and personal protective equipment supplies remain stable. Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients are also at stable levels, he added.

The ability to test people, track people exposed to COVID-19-infected persons and to quarantine infected people also are critical to reopening businesses, Northam said. He cited the experience with two poultry processing plants in the Eastern Shore’s Accomack County, where state and CDC personnel are working with plant management to control outbreaks in those plants.

Part of the Eastern Shore control effort means having personnel to test people, and Northam said National Guard personnel will be working in the Eastern Shore to conduct community-wide testing in coming days. National Guard Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Timothy Williams said 570 Guard troops are helping with the Accomack testing as well as testing at nursing homes across the state.

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