RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia has begun Phase 3 of its reopening plan. For the first time when announcing reopening phases, Gov. Ralph Northam said Richmond and Northern Virginia would enter Phase 3 at the same time as the rest of the state.
Under Phase 3, groups of up to 250 can gather together, and capacity restrictions on restaurants and nonessential businesses will be lifted. Zoos, museums and outdoor venues can also reopen at 50% capacity, with a max capacity of 1,000 people. Gyms and swimming pools can operate at 75% capacity. Child care facilities can reopen while overnight summer camps must stay closed.
At all locations, social distancing requirements are still in place and masks are still recommended in public.
Northam also announced that $246 million in funding, mainly from the CARES Act would be provided to the state's long-term care facilities to address staffing shortages, PPE and testing needs.
Here are the latest developments on the coronavirus cases in the Commonwealth of Virginia:
- Phase 3 of reopening underway across Virginia
- All Virginia schools remain closed for the remainder of the school year
- Resident aged 65+ asked to self-quarantine
Phase 3 Guidelines Laid Out
While there isn't a hard date set for when Phase 3 of reopening will happen for the commonwealth, Northam announced on Thursday that the date wouldn't be before June 26.
Under Phase 3, social gatherings could have up to 250 people with no limits on the capacity for restaurants and non-essential retail. Social distancing would still be required in those indoor dining spaces and childcare facilities would be allowed to open.
Gyms and pools would be able to open up at 75% capacity, and personal grooming areas like salons would reopen with mandatory social distancing in place.
Other businesses like entertainment venues and zoos would be allowed to reopen at 50% capacity with a maximum allowance of 1,000 people and summer camps would remain closed.
Virginia began Phase 1 of reopening back on May 15 after seeing a decline in the rate of hospitalizations. Richmond and Northern Virginia entered Phase 2 just last week on June 12,
"While our data is good, and restrictions may ease, the virus has not gone anywhere," Northam said Thursday. "We are adapting our lives around it, but it has not changed."
Face Mask Order for Virginia
Northam announced Tuesday a statewide mandate requiring people to wear a face mask in public spaces where social distancing cannot be guaranteed at all times.
The rule applies in all retail stores, all personal care and grooming establishments, and “all places where people congregate.” Masks need to be worn at restaurants except while one is eating.
Children age 9 and younger do not need to wear masks, though the governor recommended them for children age 3 and older. There also are exceptions while exercising and for anyone who has a health condition that prohibits wearing a mask.
Virginia's Reopen Plan: May 15
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said May 15 is when the commonwealth can begin to move into phase one of its reopening plan after seeing a decline in the rate of hospitalizations.
Phase 1 will see "a lot of similarities to what we have already begun to enact," Northam said on May 8.
Previously, Northam's office signed Executive Order 61 and presented a detailed framework for the first phase of the "Forward Virginia" plan to safely and gradually ease public health restrictions while containing the spread of COVID-19.
Retail stores will be able up to 50% of its capacity, and restaurants and breweries are still allowed to have curbside and takeout. If they already have a required permit, breweries and restaurants are allowed to serve on outdoor seating at 50% of their capacity.
Phase 1 of reopening the commonwealth will also ease beach restrictions, allowing for fishing and exercise. Tent camping and RVs in state parks will slowly be allowed, as long as people are adhering to the 10 person group limit.
According to Northam, Phase 1 will last a minimum of two weeks but may last longer depending on what data shows. The commonwealth will use health metrics and guidance to see when to specifically move into Phase 2.
Some health operations like dental offices, veterinarian practices, and elective surgeries resumed operations May 1.
"We will get back to work by greatly increasing our testing, then tracing the contacts of people who test positive, and isolating these individuals," Northam said.
Dr. Karen Remley, the head of Virginia’s testing task force, said testing will now expand from health care workers and hospitalized people, to people with chronic disease, pregnant women, and those who are underinsured.
Virginia is currently able to test 2,600 people per day, but Northam said the figure will need to move to 10,000 tests per day to allow a large-scale reopening of the state’s economy.
Northam announced a three-phase reopening plan titled the "Forward Virginia Blueprint." But he notably announced only specific tenets of Phase 1 and said a workgroup of government, health, and business leaders would decide on how the later steps are developed.
"As we go forward, we will fill in the details of the phase one blueprint and develop plans for phases two and three," Northam said.
Northam also issued a request to President Donald Trump for the federal government to continue funding the assistance coming from the Virginia National Guard.
When elaborating on the regional process of opening back up certain parts of the commonwealth, Northam said he is working alongside D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan in paying particular attention to the number of cases and concerns that the leaders may have with the reopening timing
Northam's Recovery Plan
Benchmarks Before Virginia Moves to Phase One
- Downward trend: Percentage of positive coronavirus tests over 14 days
- Downward trend: Hospitalizations over 14 days
- Increased testing and tracing
- Enough hospital beds & intensive care capacity
- Increasing & sustainable supply of PPE
Virginia’s Phase One
- Some businesses re-open with strict safety restrictions
- Continued social distancing
- No social gatherings of more than 10 individuals
- Continued teleworking
- Face coverings recommended in public
*Note: Phase 1 could last 2-4 weeks or longer
Virginia's Phase Two
- Stay-at-home for vulnerable populations
- No social gatherings of more than 50 people
- Continued social distancing
- Face coverings recommended in public
- Further easing business limitations
*Note: Phase 2 could last 2-4 weeks or longer
Virginia's Phase Three
- Safer at home for vulnerable populations
- Remove ban on social gatherings
- Remove capacity limits on establishments
- Continue heightened cleaning and disinfection
- Possible other measures
*Note: Phase 3 could be 10-12 weeks away, or more
Virginia's PPE Stockpile
Gov. Ralph Northam began Friday's briefing by talking about Virginia’s stockpile and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE).
Northam said hospitals have adequate PPE, and since this started, the commonwealth has distributed 793,675 N95 masks, 1.3 million surgical masks, 3 million gloves, 285,031 gowns, 427,425 face shields, 24,359 hand sanitizer containers.
Northam said the Department of General Services is also on this task. The commonwealth is working with Amazon to ensure healthcare providers get purchasing priority.
Meanwhile, FEMA is shipping directly to nursing homes.
Additionally, Fairfax County Park Authority announced it would begin a phased-in reopening of community parks, with all 427 parks reopened in time for Memorial Day weekend.
Testing To Ramp Up
Hospitals have scaled up tests. Private labs have prioritized hospital tests to reduce the backlog and to allow the hospitals to know how to best utilize PPE when addressing patients who may not require it.
States have been competing with one another for reagents and swabs due to the lack of federal coordination on supplies, Northam said. A testing workgroup has been formulated to address those concerns.
The workgroup is headed up by health officials, representatives from hospitals, long-term care facilities, private labs and others who will coordinate together to address the following items as Virginia moves into the summer and fall months:
- Expand testing sites and criteria for those needing tests.
- Testing volume and timeliness, to include quicker turn-around times instead of the seven to nine-day turnaround times.
- Address factors that limit testing, like lack of swabs, testing reagents, items to help transport testing, etc.
Doctors were relying on clinical diagnoses, but the improved testing capabilities should help address these issues, Northam explained.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also sending assistance to states, including Virginia, to help with testing. This includes allowing state labs to act with FDA powers to approve tests, Northam said.
Virginia Beach Reopens
Gov. Ralph Northam announced he would reopen public beaches in Virginia Beach starting May 22.
Under the governor’s previous order, beaches could only be used for exercise, but under the new one beaches in Virginia Beach can be used for sunbathing, swimming, and fishing.
Northam is not however authorizing large groups gathering on the beach, team sports, or drinking. He warned during his Monday briefing if people did not follow social distancing guidelines once they were reopened, he would close them again.
VHD: Expands Data
The Virginia Department of Health is also expanding data on the number of cases, hospitalizations, deaths by district, age, and/or race, officials said on April 20.
"We’ve been improving race and ethnicity data – down to about 3 percent missing data as death certificate come in," said Dr. Norman Oliver, Deputy Commissioner for Population Health for the Virginia Department of Health.
"We need to see 14 days of decreasing numbers before we can ease restrictions. We haven’t seen that yet," Northam said.
Physician assistants and nurse practitioners, who were erroneously not included in Northam’s original order to team COVID-19 patients, are now included in a revised order that gives them expanded power to treat patients, Northam said.
He reminded the public that models predict the peak of Virginia to happen later this week and the hope is number to come down after.
Medical Professional License Restrictions Relaxed
Northam has signed an executive order relaxing the restrictions for medical professional to practice in the commonwealth of Virginia.
“While we are seeing promising signs in our ongoing fight against COVID-19, we must continue to prepare for all scenarios, and that includes making sure we have to the necessary staff to confront a potential medical surge,” said Governor Northam. “This pandemic is placing extraordinary demands on our doctors, nurses, and nurse practitioners, and these policies will enable us to expand our health care workforce so more trained medical professionals can step in and help.”
The commonwealth projects they will need up to 30,000 additional health care workers. The order expands telehealth opportunities and adds physician offices and other health care facilities to the previously signed executive order allowing those with out of state licenses practice in-state care.
It also allows Virginia-licensed nurse practitioners with two or more years of clinical experience to practice without a collaborative agreement. It provides additional flexibility to hospitals in the supervision of interns, residents, and fellows, and allows hospitals to use fourth year medical students in the provision of care.
Gov. Northam calls for more volunteers
Gov. Northam announced details to collaborate with the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps. to recruit medical and non-medical volunteers in the fight against COVID-19. It is estimated up to 30,000 volunteers are needed to provide support for the expected surge in hospitals and long-term care facilities throughout the Commonwealth.
The Office of the Governor and the MRC are working with colleges and universities to reach out to students, especially those enrolled in health and medical degree programs. The administration is also reaching out to individuals who have recently filed for unemployment benefits and have relevant experience, and is coordinating with hospitals, health systems, and professional associations to help recruit their community members.
“As a doctor and a veteran, I know how vital it is to have the necessary personnel on the front lines,” Northam said. “The success of our COVID-19 crisis response depends on our ability to mobilize a dedicated healthcare workforce, and we are counting on Virginians to lend a hand and help us battle this virus. This is an opportunity to do good for our Commonwealth and save lives.”
About 14,000 people have already signed up with the MRC. For more information, visit vamrc.org.
Northam added that the Department of education and 120 teachers, administrators and school specialists are working to address the social, emotional and educational needs of the students, and to help close achievement gaps.
Education for students in kindergarten through 12th grade continues in a way to protect public health, Northam said. Teachers continue to host virtual classes through June 30 through Virtual Virginia program. Northam extended his appreciation to educators.
Northam said he and top state and education officials are aware of the inequities in public education and they are working to address those.
For students who don’t have internet access, content can be loaded onto devices and used offline for schoolwork. Also, four television stations launched the Virginia TV Classroom on April 13 with teacher-led classroom instruction.
Personal Protective Equipment
Northam advised all Virginians to wear a mask when they have to leave their homes for an essential trip to help curb the spread of the virus.
Hospitals have had several days in a row where no PPE shortages were reported.
Help for the Homeless
Gov. Northam said hotel vouchers are being provided for the commonwealth’s homeless population. Northam's staffer added that 500 hotels with over 37,000 rooms available answered the call to house the 1,500 homeless Virginians in need.
He said FEMA is assisting with food, cleaning supplies and medical attention for homeless Virginians.
Additional Care Sites
Northam said, after working with the Army Corps of Engineers to find alternative sites for care, a set of final recommendations have been approved.
Three locations have received final approval, Northam said, and construction is expected to be ready in time for the Commonwealth’s surge, which is expected in May.
Northam identified the three locations as:
- The Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, Va. with 315 acute, 510 non-acute beds.
- Hampton Roads Convention Center in Hampton, Va. with 360 acute, 580 non-acute beds.
- Greater Richmond Convention Center in Richmond, Va. with 432 acute, 758 non-acute beds.
So far, contracts on these locations have been completed. Designs and construction are in progress. The Dulles site is expected the site to be ready in six weeks, helping to free up beds in hospitals, Northam said.
The June 9 primary was moved back two weeks to June 23, which Northam said he has the authority to do as governor.
On April 10, Gov. Northam said an additional 600 dollars a week for unemployment assistance to those who previously didn't qualify will be set up. Virginians will still have to fill out state unemployment to get the relief. Northam said that almost 75,000 people in the commonwealth have been previously denied assistance and that this effort is aimed to help.
More Virginians are also eligible for the Medicaid program, allowing them to receive health care, Northam said.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, there is a significant impact on Virginia’s current and upcoming fiscal budget, which begins on July 1.
Northam said while stimulus finds are going to help, they are working to address significant concerns with PPE, hospital and residents' needs.
"We have to rearrange our priorities now," Northam said.
Reduce spending, eliminating discretion spending, upcoming budget cuts and funding for new initiatives will be suspended to sure up gaps and reduce budget deficits, Northam said.
Nursing Home Outbreaks
Officials on April 13 said they learned of a weekend outbreak at long-term facility, which was not identified. A local health department reached out to commonwealth officials. The University of Virginia offered testing kits and capacity to help, local health coalition for PPE, but staffing remains an issue, including there.
All residents at the Westminster Canterbury Richmond Retirement Community - Independent Living Facility have been tested after 16 people died and another 92 tested positive for COVID-19. Northam said working with the Department of Health of all the residents who were tested 53 of those who tested positive had no symptoms.
"This demonstrates how critically important it is to stay home," Northam added. "We all have the responsibility to stay home and slow the spread of this virus."
On April 8, State Health Commissioner Dr. Oliver said that the state is increasing surveillance of nursing homes and broadened testing criteria so the state can test those sites more widely.
Northam noted in early April some people are not abiding by social distancing guidelines and with gatherings of more than 10 people in outdoor areas, and parties on the beaches. He is asking for the public’s cooperation.
"Do not gather in groups," Northam said.
Northam also encourages residents there to wear protective facial coverings -- like scarves or non-medical masks -- to reduce the risk of potentially contracting the virus while out in the public. A law on the books there against the very same action won't be enforced during the pandemic, Northam assured.
A 'New Normal'
Northam said the coronavirus outbreak has led to a "new normal" that is likely to last months, not weeks, as we have not yet seen a peak in COVID-19 cases.
On March 27, he announced that he and other governors have requested President Donald Trump to create a federal testing site for workers in the DMV regions, citing that 360,000 live in the area.
Northam said for the foreseeable future, media briefings are at 2 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday each week unless the need arises to have them more frequently.
"This is not a holiday. This is not a vacation. Please stay home," Northam said.
Northam ordered all public schools to close through the end of the academic school year after he previously ordered a two-week school closure.
Additionally, Northam announced that until April 27, non-essential businesses must close.
Restaurants can continue to provide carry out, delivery and drive-through services.
Essential businesses like grocery stores, pharmacies, and banks remain open with social distancing practices in place.
Northam urged residents to abide by CDC guidelines, continue to practice social distancing and wash their hands regularly.
"If you don't abide by our guidelines, you are not only putting yourself at risk, you are putting others at risk. I encourage all Virginians to abide by our guidelines," Northam said.
Dr. Laurie Forlano, Deputy Commissioner for Public Health in Virginia said on March 28 the state prioritizing health care workers for testing, as well as testing in areas where there have been clusters of cases.
Northam said the state asked prosecutors and judges to "highly consider" options other than facility incarceration, such as electronic home monitoring.
The Virginia Department of Corrections also suspended in-person visitation at state facilities as well as transfers and intake from local and regional jails.
Beyond working with correctional facilities and jails, Northam announced that the commonwealth is working on extending attendance flexibility measures for child care centers and schools so they can be adequately refunded.
On March 18, Northam said the commonwealth was working with hospitals and federal agencies in preparation for further coronavirus impact. During that announcement, Northam said that Virginia has roughly 2,000 ICU hospital beds ready and that the commonwealth is working with six other health care coalitions to provide additional supplies and ventilators.
For May elections, Virginia voters are highly encouraged to fill out absentee ballots in an effort to protect voter health. The deadline to request an absentee ballot was April 28 and voters must check off box 2A to list why they are requesting absentee.
Motor vehicle offices are closed to the public during the State of Emergency, Northam explained.
The governor encourages residents to help the elderly and those in need at this time. Meanwhile, people over 65 years old are being asked to self-quarantine and stay home for their safety, Northam said.
Northam also addressed discrimination and misinformation against the Asian American community amid coronavirus concerns. The governor directed Virginians to find factual information on the outbreak on the VDH website or to call 1-877-ASK-VDH3.
What precautions should you take?
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Wear a mask if you have to make an essential trip outside
- Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
- Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol if soap and water are unavailable.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
Reasons to leave your home under stay-at-home order:
- Grocery store trips
- Medical visits or trips to the pharmacy
- Travel to your essential job
- Exercise such as walks, hikes or bike rides
Commonly reported symptoms of COVID-19 infection include:
- Shortness of breath
If you are sick or suspect you are infected, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends taking the followings steps:
- Stay home except to get medical care
- Avoid public areas, including work or school
- Avoid public transportation
- Separate yourself from other people and animals in your home
- Contact your doctor via telemedicine for more guidance
Check the status of the virus in your state with your state health department's websites by tapping below: