Northam expects to further relax restrictions next week
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday that he plans to further relax restrictions on businesses and public gatherings next week, saying trends related to cases of COVID-19, hospitalizations and other key health metrics were moving in the right direction.
Northam said at a news conference that he’s “planning” for the state to enter Phase 3 of reopening July 1.
Under Phase 3, restaurants and nonessential retail stores would no longer have to limit indoor capacity to 50% of what their space can hold but would still have to keep customers 6 feet (2 meters) apart.
Gyms could go from 30% capacity to 75%, and social gatherings of up to 250 people would be allowed. Outdoor swimming pools could operate with fewer restrictions at 75% their normal capacity.
Recreation and entertainment venues at may operate at 50% occupancy, or a maximum of 1,000 people, whereas certain “high-contact” entertainment venues remain closed in Phase 2.
Northam, who is a doctor, said Virginians are still “safer at home,” especially if they are elderly or have underlying conditions that make them more vulnerable to the new coronavirus.
“I want to reiterate that everyone should continue to take this pandemic very seriously. Cases are on the rise in many other states. ... I do not want to see that happen in our Commonwealth,” he said.
Social distancing and teleworking are still recommended whenever possible, and the requirement that individuals wear face coverings in indoor public settings will continue, Northam said.
The governor said he expected northern Virginia and Richmond to move into Phase 3 with the rest of the state. Those areas had previously requested and been granted delays in other stages of reopening, but Northam said they had not made such a request this time.
The Virginia Department of Health on Tuesday reported nearly 59,000 total cases of COVID-19, with just over 5,900 total hospitalizations and 1,645 deaths.
In explaining his decision to move forward with reopening, Northam said the state’s percent of positive tests was declining and cited a falling number of people hospitalized with positive or pending cases of COVID-19. He also said Virginia’s testing, contact tracing and supply of personal protective equipment were adequate, and that hospitals have sufficient bed capacity.
Also Tuesday, Northam addressed ongoing protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis that have focused on police reform and other issues of racial equity.
Northam said while the hundreds of demonstrations across the state had been overwhelmingly peaceful, it had become clear that Richmond, where 12 people were arrested on charges of unlawful assembly the night before, needs a “different path forward.”
“After three weeks, it is no longer clear what the goals are or a path to achieve them,” Northam said. “Clearly Richmond needs a different path forward. These nightly conflicts cannot continue indefinitely.”