Gov. Northam officially delays Phase 1 for Northern Virginia

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RICHMOND, Va. (WHSV) — On Tuesday, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam officially delayed the start of Phase 1 of his 'Forward Virginia' reopening plan for the region of Northern Virginia. The rest of the commonwealth will continue as planned into Phase 1 this Friday, so long as current data trends continue.

Graphic courtesy: Virginia Department of Health

Northam signed Executive Order 62, which gives specific localities in northern Virginia the ability to keep current COVID-19 business restrictions in place for longer than in the rest of the commonwealth.

Based on current data trends for cases in Virginia, as well as hospital capacity and PPE supplies, the governor has said Virginia as a whole will be able to start Phase 1 of reopening this coming Friday, May 15.

But in his briefing on Monday, Gov. Northam and his coronavirus task force went into great detail about how, while the rest of Virginia has the data trends to enter Phase 1, northern Virginia does not.

From Sunday to Monday, just under 1,000 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Virginia. Of those, more than 700 were in northern Virginia, which makes up around 40% of the Virginia population, and the rest of the state accounted for under 300.

As the rest of Virginia has fallen to around a 10% rate of people who are tested receiving positive results, northern Virginia has about a 25% rate. In the region, COVID-19 patients also make up a significantly higher percentage of hospital beds filled than in the rest of the state.

Due to those metrics for the region, county and city leaders in northern Virginia sent a formal letter to the governor over the weekend requesting a delayed start to reopening, and Northam said his staff agreed to grant the request as a "responsible, data-driven, health-focused approach."

The executive order signed by Northam on Tuesday allows northern Virginia to delay entering Phase 1 until midnight on Thursday, May 28, to give the region more time to meet metrics like the rest of the commonwealth. They'll start Phase 1 on May 29, according to the current plan.

Governor Northam and State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA also issued Order of Public Health Emergency Number Four along with the executive order, to make the move official.

“As I have said, it’s important that the Commonwealth as a whole can meet key health metrics before moving into Phase One,” said Governor Northam. “The Phase One policies are a floor, not a ceiling. While the data show Virginia as a whole is are ready to slowly and deliberately ease some restrictions, it is too soon for Northern Virginia. I support the request from localities in this region to delay implementation of Phase One to protect public health.”

Executive Order 62 specifically applies to: the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William; the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas, and Manassas Park; and the towns of Dumfries, Herndon, Leesburg, and Vienna (Northern Virginia Region).

Each of those localities can remain in Phase Zero, as requested by local leaders.

On any given day, 70 percent of Virginia's positive cases are attributable to the Northern Virginia region.

When asked on Monday how slowing down the region's reopening fits with his previous statements that regional reopening plans could be problematic with people traveling from hot spots to areas with fewer cases, Gov. Northam said he is strongly encouraging anyone in northern Virginia to stay at home and stick with the CDC guidelines and other restrictions that he says have worked so far.

While his administration does not have a specific plan to stop people from traveling from northern Virginia to other areas with open businesses, he said coordination with Maryland and D.C., which share the most traffic with the region, should help address some of that.

He also expressed that he thinks the continued restrictions being implemented as part of Phase 1, including required masks and PPE in salons and non-essential retail stores, should help reduce any potential impact from people traveling from northern Virginia if they choose to do so regardless of recommendations.