Gov. Northam delays Phase 1 of reopening for Richmond and Accomack County

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RICHMOND, Va. (WHSV/WWBT) — Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has officially delayed the start of Phase 1 of Virginia's reopening plan for two more localities after formal requests from local leaders.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam at a May 6 briefing on COVID-19

On Thursday evening, just hours before the official start of Phase 1 at 12:01 a.m. on May 15, Gov. Northam approved requests from both the City of Richmond and Accomack County for their start of Phase 1 to be delayed by two weeks, like the governor approved earlier this week for Northern Virginia/

Northam's approval of the requests from Richmond and Accomack County means that each of those localities will enter Phase 1 of reopening, with some businesses able to reopen, no earlier than 12:01 a.m. on Friday, May 29.

(You can find the Accomack County request here and the Richmond request here).

The Accomack County Board of Supervisors voted Wednesday evening to request a two-week delay in entering Phase One, and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney held a press conference Thursday afternoon to formally request a similar delay.

Stoney said he “cannot justify risking the health and safety of the residents of the great city of Richmond by moving forward with Phase One” on Friday.

While Governor Ralph Northam has said that most of Virginia is ready to enter Phase 1 of reopening on May 14, Mayor Stoney said Richmond is not.

On Wednesday, at the governor's most recent COVID-19 briefing, a reporter asked Northam if any local governments, aside from those in northern Virginia, had requested a delay.

Northam said he had only heard from northern Virginia leadership at that point, but that his administration was open to requests from other regional leaders if they wanted to delay their reopening. However, he said they would need to go through the same process northern Virginia leaders did, with a formal request.

And on Wednesday evening and Thursday, Accomack County and Richmond did – with very little time left before the start of Virginia's reopening plan on Friday.

“To be clear – I want to reopen our city. However, we should only take that step when there are adequate protections for our most vulnerable communities,” Mayor Levar Stoney said in a letter to Governor Northam.

“As I have said previously, Virginia’s Phase One guidelines represent a floor, not a ceiling,” said Governor Northam. “I have encouraged local leaders to request exemptions when appropriate, and I am pleased to grant the delays for both Accomack County and the City of Richmond.”

The city of Richmond has 611 total cases of COVID-19, according to the most recent COVID-19 statistics from the Virginia Department of Health, but city leaders believe there are more among people who couldn't get tested.

That's been a big concern for city officials. Mayor Stoney has been vocal about needing more testing before the city starts reopening.

"Until we can establish percent positivity over time and use the same metrics as the state, we cannot effectively monitor whether we should continue to move forward with the various phases of reopening, or if we need to reassess,” Mayor Levar Stoney said, asking for more Richmond-specific data.

Phase 1 allows some non-essential businesses, including restaurants, places of worship, and non-essential retail stores, to begin operating with restrictions in place.

You can find a rundown of the plan for Phase 1 here.

With the governor's approval of their requests, Richmond and Accomack County businesses will have to continue to follow Phase 0 guidance, not able to enter Phase 1 for two weeks. Counties surrounding Richmond, however, will be able to enter Phase 1 as planned.

In the Shenandoah Valley, the city of Harrisonburg, which is about a quarter of the size of Richmond, has more confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 615 as of May 14. Rockingham County has 381 cases. However, the Central Shenandoah Health District has conducted 4,381 total tests, compared to 3,922 in Richmond. The Shenandoah Valley will be moving forward with Phase 1 reopening plans along with most of the state.

Republican House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert issued the following statement regarding Governor Northam's decisions on extensions for Richmond and Accomack County:

"In a matter of hours, and just hours before businesses were set to reopen, Governor Northam has once again changed his mind and allowed individual localities to remain shut down, rather than requiring the regional approach he required after initially refusing requests for the same.

"This shocking level of inconsistency inspires no confidence in the Governor’s ability to lead our Commonwealth in its hour of need.”