Here’s what Phase 3 of re-opening will look like in Virginia

The final slide from a slideshow presetned by Governor Ralph Northam about Virginia'a Phase 3...
The final slide from a slideshow presetned by Governor Ralph Northam about Virginia'a Phase 3 plans on June 18, 2020 (WHSV)
Published: Jun. 19, 2020 at 4:50 PM EDT
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UPDATE: June 23

In Governor Ralph Northam’s latest COVID-19 press conference on Tuesday, June 23, the governor announced that Virginia will officially begin Phase 3 of his re-opening plan on Wednesday, July 1.

The governor said the commonwealth is able to move into the new reopening phase because each of Virginia’s tracked statistics, from hospital bed capacity to daily testing to percent positivity of tests to PPE supplies for hospitals, has been steadily improving throughout Phase 2.

So what exactly will Phase 3 look like compared to Phase 2? We have a rundown and links to even more information below.

On Thursday, June 18, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam outlined what Phase 3 will look like for Virginia’s reopening, announcing that it wouldn’t start until at least Friday, June 26.

That marks three weeks since most of Virginia began Phase 2 on June 5, followed by Richmond and northern Virginia joining a week later on June 12.

Phase 2 came three weeks after Phase 1, and every new reopening phase has begun on a Friday, starting each one with a weekend. But Phase 3 is set to line up with the start of a new month.

The governor also added on Tuesday, June 23, that in Phase 3, for the first time, Richmond and Northern Virginia will be scheduled to start the new phase along with the rest of the commonwealth.

But what exactly will Phase 3 mean for Virginia?

In Governor Northam’s press conference last Thursday, he presented a slideshow outlining the plan, but when watching the event on television or online, the slides could only be seen on a screen in the background, rather than taking up the full screen like in most of the past conferences.

That was due to the event being held in a separate location in Northern Virginia with a different streaming set-up than the normal one in Richmond.

The slides were shown clearly in his press conference on Tuesday, June 23, and you can access the full slideshow online here.

While Virginia’s COVID-19 metrics have been steadily improving, with daily case totals, hospitalizations, deaths, and percentage positivity all decreasing, Northam said last week that his administration needed more time to be able to further evaluate the data to officially move into Phase 3 after the initial two weeks of Phase 2. He set Friday, June 26, as the earliest time for Phase 3 before setting July 1 as the start on June 23.

To start, Gov. Northam said Phase 3 will still mean that Virginians should follow many of the same guidelines that have been recommended for Virginians throughout the pandemic, including:

• Virginia's 'Safer at Home' order asking people throughout the commonwealth to stay at home when possible, especially if vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19

• The commonwealth's recommendation for people to continue to telework if at all possible to reduce exposure to the virus

Executive Order 63, the face covering mandate, will stay in effect

• And physical distancing will still be required if at all possible for every form of business

Gov. Northam said Virginians need to remember that face coverings are "the right thing to do" to protect others around them.

However, Phase 3 comes with key changes to the current state of operations as well, including:

  • Virginia's 50-person limit on gatherings established in Phase 2 (that was an increase from the original 10-person limit) will expand to a 250-person limit
  • Non-essential retail establishments' 50% capacity limit will be lifted, but physical distancing still required
  • Restaurants' 50% indoor and outdoor capacity limit will be lifted, but physical distancing still required
  • Entertainment venues (including museums, zoos, aquariums, outdoor venues, movie theaters, etc.) will have their capacity limit raised to 50% with a maximum of 1,000 people in any space
  • Gyms and fitness centers will have their capacity limit raised from 30% to 75%
  • Beaches will continue to be open for recreation
  • Personal grooming services can open up, not just by appointment only, but will still need to follow all existing distancing requirements
  • Childcare services can reopen across Virginia, not just for working families any more
  • Overnight summer camps remain closed in Phase 3
  • Public pools - which were open just for exercise and swim instruction - will be allowed to open up to 75% capacity, with distancing requirements in place
  • Recreational sports are allowed to continue so long as physical distancing is possible; the limit on shared equipment is lifted so long as it can be sanitized

The following kinds of businesses are included under the category of “entertainment and public amusement venues” allowed to open at 50% capacity, so long as they can meet the state’s mandatory requirements on signage, physical distancing, disinfection, modified queue lines, distancing tools, and more laid out on Page 29 here:

Performing arts venues, concert venues, movie theaters, drive-in entertainment, sports venues, botanical gardens, zoos, fairs, carnivals, amusement parks, museums, aquariums, historic horse racing facilities, bowling alleys, skating rinks, arcades, amusement parks, trampoline parks, fairs, carnivals, arts and craft facilities, escape rooms, trampoline parks, public and private social clubs, and all other entertainment centers and places of public amusement.

“Our Phase Three guidelines will help Virginia families and businesses plan for what the next stage of easing public health restrictions will look like in our Commonwealth,” said Governor Northam. “While we may not have the same spike in infections that many states are seeing right now, Virginians need to remain cautious and do the things that we know reduce transmission: wear a face covering, maintain physical distance, and stay home if you are high-risk or experience COVID-19 symptoms. This virus is still with us, and we must continue to adapt our lives around it and ensure we are keeping our vulnerable communities safe.”

Facial coverings will still be required in all public indoor spaces and on public transportation, and Gov. Northam reminded Virginians that it's essential to not just wear them, but wear them properly.

He said he is proud of all Virginians who have shown responsibility for their neighbors by wearing masks.

You can find comprehensive guidelines for specific sectors of the economy here.

That document breaks down mandatory requirements and best practices for every type of businesses included in the Phase 3 guidelines, and beyond the ones listed in the overall guidelines. You can scroll through and find specific guidelines for all business types.

Moving forward

Northam emphasized that the commonwealth is not moving to Phase 3 yet, though health data remains positive, and said his team is also monitoring other states to consider what's happening with cases and surges around the country.

Northam said he's speaking with other governors around the U.S. weekly to compare and contrast strategies.

He also reminded people that, even once the commonwealth moves into Phase 3, "just because something is allowed doesn't mean it's required," effectively describing how businesses don't have to reopen if their staff does not feel comfortable doing so.

"Just because there are more places to go doesn't mean you have to go there," he also said, asking Virginians to keep considering wants vs. needs and continue being careful when in the public.

While saying restrictions may ease, Northam said the virus has not gone anywhere, and said it will be even more important in Phase 3 for people to be cautious when going out in public.

Keep using common sense, the governor said, staying physically apart, wearing facial coverings, and washing hands frequently – all CDC-recommended strategies.

What to know about preventing the virus

Most people don't suffer much from COVID-19, but it can cause severe illness in the elderly and people with existing health problems.

It spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Those droplets may land on objects and surfaces. Other people may contract the virus by touching those objects or surfaces and then touching their eyes, nose, or mouth.

The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can cause mild to more severe respiratory illness. In a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can cause death, particularly among those who are older or who have chronic medical conditions. Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.

To lower the risk of respiratory germ spread, including COVID-19, the Virginia Department of Health encourages the following effective behaviors:

• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.

• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

• Stay home when you are sick.

• Avoid contact with sick people.

• Avoid non-essential travel.

There is currently no vaccine to prevent or antiviral medication to treat COVID-19. The best way to avoid illness is preventing exposure, which is why governments around the world have implemented Stay at Home orders.

For the latest factual information on COVID-19, you’re encouraged to check both the Virginia Department of Health and the CDC.