Virginia’s governor says he expects to be able to gradually reopen the state’s economy starting Friday, May 15 as state officials track downward trends in coronavirus data.
With many restrictions, restaurants, bars and non-essential retail stores will be able to ramp up their operations as long as the data continues to suggest it will be safe.
Gov. Ralph Northam said “I anticipate and hope” that the previously announced May 15 date will stand.
“I want to reassure Virginians, we are not opening the flood gates here,” he said at a news conference Friday afternoon. “When the time is right, we will turn a dimmer switch up just a notch.”
Northam announced the following details on what can happen under Phase 1:
Restaurant and beverage businesses can operate with outdoor seating at 50% capacity, if they have permits for outdoor seating. The tables must be spaced apart and employees must wear masks. Takeout and delivery will still be allowed.
Non-essential retail stores will be able to operate at 50% occupancy. Employees will be required to wear masks.
Bowling alleys and theaters must remain closed.
Indoor gyms must remain closed. Organized outdoor exercise will be limited to 10 participants who are 10 feet from each other.
Places of worship can operate at 50% capacity. Drive-in and online services are encouraged.
Beaches will continue to have a 10-person limit for fishing and exercise.
Salons can operate by appointment only and with 50% occupancy. Clients and workers must wear face masks. No services can be done during which a mask cannot be worn, for example, beard trims and lip waxing.
Phase 1 of reopening will be in place for at least two weeks. "Science, data and safety" will drive the decision-making.
Northam said he knows that some areas, including Northern Virginia, may opt to keep tighter restrictions on businesses for longer. That is OK and the restrictions are “a floor, not a ceiling,” the governor said.
The data right now still concerns many of Northern Virginia’s elected leaders. Forty percent of the state’s COVID-19 cases are in the region. Alexandria’s mayor and others told the governor this week that a May 15 opening may be premature.
Northam said Northern Virginia’s counties and cities would have to act together if they do plan to hold off on Phase 1 for now.
The Arlington County Board released a statement Friday that said in part, "Arlington is working closely with the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, which comprises other localities in the region, to coordinate with the Governor’s office to determine the safest path forward, with an extended timeframe for entering Phase One.
"Arlington County’s top priority is to ensure the safety of the entire community; and we believe we must meet the criteria for entering Phase One. At this point, based on the data for our region as well as Arlington specifically, the most responsible path forward is maintaining our current operating status until these criteria are met."
Some business owners in Northern Virginia also said it was too soon to reopen as people continued to get infected with the virus.
If you feel your workplace is not safe, contact the state, Northam said.
If the state saw a surge in virus cases, it’s possible that some restrictions would need to go back into place.
Stay with NBC Washington for more details on this developing story.