Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Wednesday some parts of the state may keep coronavirus-related restrictions in place longer than the rest of the state.
The governor said areas of the state hard hit by the virus, like Northern Virginia and the Eastern Shore, may extend bans on certain business openings and public gatherings that are expected to expire May 15.
“If local governments, based on the situation in their own localities, feel that they need to maintain additional restrictions on gatherings or business operations, we will allow that and we will work with the localities,” Northam said.
He added that he's been in regular contact with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser about how and when to reopen areas in and around the nation’s capital.
“We realize that the greater Washington area is an area that we need to pay particular attention to,” Northam said.
Hogan said Wednesday that he’s hopeful the state can start the first phase of its reopening plan, including allowing some small businesses to resume operations, next week. Bowser said Wednesday that she does not have a specific date for the District to start reopening.
The state's population-dense Washington suburbs have some of the highest infection rates in the state, as does the Eastern Shore, where officials are particularly concerned about the spread of coronavirus at large poultry processing plants.
"We continue to be concerned about cases in the poultry plants," Northam said. "Our health department is working with the CDC team as we speak. The two companies are conducting large-scale testing for plant workers, and we should get those results in a few days. The health department is going to be testing in the Eastern Shore community as well."
Northam said he plans to have a conference call with Northern Virginia elected officials Thursday to see what their “comfort level” is with reopening, but he will retain the final say in the types of restrictions local governments can and cannot impose.
Northam announced earlier this week that he expects Virginia to begin the first phase of reopening businesses on May 15, when an executive order mandating certain types of nonessential businesses closures expires.
"A few weeks ago, I said we needed two weeks of declining numbers to move forward with phase one that is based on CDC guidelines," Northam said. "We are seeing that, and I hope we will be able to enter phase one next Friday, the 15th of May, but we will continue to closely monitor the data to make that decision as we do with all of our decisions."
Northam said they are seeing the percent of positive tests remain steady or trend downward. Testing has increased. Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 are stable. The capacity of hospital beds and ventilators also remains stable. And no hospitals have reported difficulties in getting personal protective equipment in the past few days.
Northam said the state also plans to hire more than 1,000 contact tracers.
The governor, a Democrat, has come under increasing pressure from Republican lawmakers and others to reopen the state as some other southern states have done.
On Wednesday, dozens of cars drove around the Capitol honking their horns in protest. Republican Sen. Amanda Chase, who is running for governor, organized the event. Chase “feels like it's not fair or just that the governor can pick what businesses can be open and what businesses cannot be open,” said her advisor, Philip Search.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and be life-threatening.
Associated Press writer Brian Witte contributed to this report from Annapolis, Maryland.
Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.
The Virginia Department of Health includes probable cases in its county-level data. For the state total NBC Washington is only including confirmed cases.