Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has signed an executive order that allows Northern Virginia to delay reopening as the region grapples with an elevated number of coronavirus cases.
Northern Virginia can wait until at least May 29 to reopen, the governor announced Tuesday morning. Northam expects the rest of the state to be able to gradually reopen this Friday, May 15, two weeks earlier.
"We’re really focusing on data rather than dates,” Northam said Wednesday.
"While the data show Virginia as a whole is ready to slowly and deliberately ease some restrictions, it is too soon for Northern Virginia," he said in a statement. "I support the request from localities in this region to delay implementation of Phase One to protect public health.”
Executive Order 62 allows the following areas to remain closed, as officials there requested: Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties; the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas and Manassas Park; and the towns of Dumfries, Herndon, Leesburg and Vienna. The region has about 2.5 million residents, or about 30% of the state's population.
"We all want to reopen the economy as quickly as we can, but we want to do it as safely as we can,” Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson said Wednesday.
The executive order extends the restrictions already in place. Restaurant service is limited to takeout and delivery. Theaters, gyms and salons will be closed. Essential businesses including grocery stores and pharmacies can remain open.
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Northern Virginia has been hit hard the the virus. In the past 24 hours, the region reported over 700 cases. The remainder of the state reported about 270. On average, about 70% of cases in the entire state occur in Northern Virginia, the governor’s office said.
Northam said Northern Virginia could reopen even later than May 29, depending on how many people are sickened, hospitalized and killed by the virus.
The Virginia Department of Health includes probable cases in its county-level data. For the state total NBC Washington is only including confirmed cases.
Local elected officials praised Northam's decision.
“Northern Virginia is a united front, we will continue to track the statistics because we all want to reopen our economy as soon as possible based on public safety and data,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said.
Local leaders said in a joint letter on Sunday that the region is not meeting important benchmarks to reduce COVID-19 hospitalizations.
“The transition to Phase 1 in Northern Virginia should occur when our region has achieved the threshold metrics,” the group wrote.
The governor said Monday that he was working with leaders on a plan to delay reopening the region.
Northam ordered some businesses closed two months ago and his planned first phase of reopening will retain severe restrictions. Some retail businesses will reopen with limited capacity. Indoor gyms would remain closed, beaches would remain closed to sunbathers and restaurants would still be prohibited from indoor dine-in service.
Also Tuesday, Northam's office said it was sending $650 million to local governments around the state as part of its first distribution of funds from a federal coronavirus aid package. The governor's office said the money would be distributed to counties and cities around June 1 and would be allocated based on population.
Local governments can only spend the money on approved coronavirus-related expenses and the expenses have to be incurred by the end of the year.
The state received $1.3 billion in federal aid — Fairfax County separately received about $200 million — that can be used to help localities and Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne said the governor wanted to get half of the money to localities quickly.
Layne said the state will evaluate need and how localities have spent their share of the $650 million before making additional disbursements later this year.
“Part of that decision will be how they spend this,” he said.
Stay with NBC Washington for more details on this developing story.