RICHMOND — Gov. Ralph Northam on Friday outlined aspects of the initial phase of his plan to reopen Virginia’s economy.
Phase I?of “Forward Virginia” will go into effect May 15, and it will lift an order than has kept non-essential businesses in the state closed since March 23.
The governor said his administration decided to slowly reopen the state’s economy in phases after seeing a downward trend in the percentage of positive COVID-19 cases in the state.
Shortages of personal-protective equipment have also been addressed and hospitals across the state have adequate bed capacity. Testing for COVID-19 has also intensified.
When Phase I of Northam’s reopening plan goes into effect May 15, a statewide “stay-at-home” order will become a “safer-at- home” order.
“While there will be a few more places to go, people should only go as needed. Everyone should stay at home,” Northam said.
Under Phase I of the plan, non-essential businesses such as restaurants and salons can reopen with limited capacity, but entertainment and fitness facilities will remain closed.
• Non-essential retail: 50 percent permitted capacity. Employees required to wear a mask.
• Restaurant and beverage servicesL Takeout and delivery. Only if you have a permit for outside seating can you have limited outdoor dining at 50 percent capacity. Table spacing and employees wear masks.
• Salons: By appointment only and strict guidelines at 50 percent occupancy. Client and worker must wear face masks. Limits to services that can be done with mask. No lip waxing or beard trims.
• Entertainment: Bowling alleys, theaters, etc. remain closed.
• Fitness: Indoor gyms remain closed. Limited outdoor exercise to 10 participants, 10 feet of distance and sharing guidelines for equipment.
• Places of worship: 50 percent capacity. Drive-in and online still encouraged.
• Beaches: Continue to have a 10-person limit for fishing and exercise.
Social gatherings of 10 or more are still banned and teleworking from home should be used whenever possible. Face masks are still recommended while in public.
“In many ways, it will look like what we are already doing,” the governor said.
He reiterated that Phase I will be viewed as a “floor, not a ceiling,” meaning that localities with high numbers of COVID-19 cases will have the flexibility to impose stricter guidelines.
“This virus is still with us and it has not gone away. There is no vaccine or a cure … we may be living with it for months or for years,” Northam said.
Northam expects Phase I of his reopening plan to remain in effect for two weeks or more. If COVID-19 data continues to improve, the state will move to Phase II of the three-phase plan.
‘We are watching the numbers very closely. We are following CDC guidelines,” Northam said.
On Friday, the Virginia Department of Health reported 23,342 confirmed cases of COVID-19, an increase of 772 from Thursday. The number of deaths from the disease stood at 812, up 43 from Thursday.
Northam said the number of confirmed cases continues to rise in part due to expanded testing throughout the state.
Alleghany Highlands Task Force
The Highlands COVID-19 Task Force last met Tuesday, April 28, for a ninth time through its usual conference call efforts.
Topics covered during the meeting centered on plans underway with each member organization on needs, small business and community assistance efforts and plans for continuity of operations.
Due to the relatively unchanged updates from member organizations and their efforts, the task force came to a consensus to put the weekly meetings on hold at this time.
Each task force member organization is keeping a placeholder on their calendar for the weekly Tuesday meeting should the need arise. The agreed upon plan is that by the close of business each Monday a decision will be made on convening the task force, based on communicated need of members.
The local and regional Virginia Department of Health offices and the Regional Virginia Department of Emergency Management, continue to provide guidance and assistance to the local governments through regularly scheduled local, regional and state-wide calls.
“The Alleghany Highlands COVID-19 Task Force would like to thank everyone for their continued efforts to help slow the spread of the virus here in the Highlands, so that our local health providers are able to care and treat those in need,” said Covington City Manager Krystal Onaitis, a member of the task force. “As of today, the case count in the Highlands remains low compared to the rest of the state and other areas within our Health District.
“Regrettably there has been a total of total of seven positive cases now from our area,”Onaitis added. “The city of Covington had its first formally documented case reported May 6.”
To view and understand the case count in the area, visit the local VDH’s COVID-19 resource page at: https://www.alleghenycounty.us/Health-Department/Resources/COVID-19/COVID-19.aspx .
“We encourage to every one of all ages, to follow CDC and VDH guidelines to the lower the risk of spreading COVID-19,”?Onaitis said.
– Wear a mask or cloth face covering when you are not able to social distance from others when out or at work.
– Stay home when you are sick.
– Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
– Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
– Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
– Clean and disinfect frequently-touched objects and surfaces.
– If you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, call your doctor or the regional VDH office for guidance 412-687-ACHD (2243).
“We remain #HighlandsStrong and we are all in this together as the Highlands,” Onaitis said. “Working together is how the Highlands will recover from this pandemic, the economic downturn and its socio-economic impacts.
For more information on COVID-19, the following online resources are recommended, CDC website: https://www.cdc.gov/ or the VDH website: http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/. For those without internet, VDH has a regional hotline 1-855-949-8378, as well as a state hotline, 1-877-ASK-VDH3.
Additional information on the Highlands COVID-19 Task Force can be found at: https://covington.va.us/highlands-covid-19-task-force/.
The Virginian Review has been serving Covington, Clifton Forge, Alleghany County and Bath County since 1914.