Virginia, including the Northern Virginia region, will enter the next phase of reopenings on Wednesday, July 1, Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday.
Phase Three of easing restrictions that were designed to slow the spread of COVID-19 will allow swimming pools to open for recreation, movie theaters to open at limited capacity, and retailers and restaurants to open at full capacity. Social gatherings of up to 250 people will be allowed. Also in Phase Three, schools can reopen for in-person instruction with physical distancing guidelines in place.
In announcing the move, Northam emphasized that residents are still "safer at home," must wear masks when indoors at public places and follow physical distancing guidelines. Teleworking is also still encouraged when possible.
"Everyone should take this pandemic very seriously," he added. "Be cautious and take the necessary steps to protect yourself and the people around you."
He cited Virginia's recent trends, which slow that the number of new cases has remained relatively low for nearly the past two weeks, and that the percentage of positive test results has also continued to decline.
"Statewide, our data continues to look good," Northam said. “This is because Virginians, you, have followed the guidelines of social distancing, hand-washing and use of facial protection, and we encourage you to continue doing that.”
Northam ordered statewide business closures in late March as the pandemic began. Most of Virginia entered Phase One of the state's reopening plan on May 15, but Northern Virginia was delayed because of its high number of cases and hospitalizations and high percentage of positive test results. The region entered Phase One two weeks later, on May 29.
All of Virginia except the city of Richmond and Northern Virginia moved to Phase Two on June 5. That allowed restaurants to resume indoor dining at 50% capacity, gyms to reopen at 30% capacity, and gatherings of up to 50 people. Northern Virginia entered Phase Two on June 12.
P. David Tarter, mayor of the city of Falls Church and chair of the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, which has coordinated the region's response, told InsideNoVa he expects the region to move into Phase Three on July 1.
"We have been experiencing a steady decline in new cases due to the vigilance and cooperation of the public," Tarter said. "Nevertheless, we will continue to monitor the healthcare situation to quickly make changes if they are required. Our first priority still, and always will be, the health of all of the members of our communities."
Northam said that unless he receives requests from the regions to the contrary, Northern Virginia and the city of Richmond would move into Phase Three with the rest of the state on July 1. "Until I hear differently, they will be moving forward."
Northam did not say how long the state would be in Phase Three, nor has he provided any details of what subsequent phases of reopening might look like.
He noted that the state is closely watching the surges in cases that have occurred in other states that have reopened faster than Virginia and will be prepared to enact more restrictions if necessary.
“This virus is still out here; it’s still very contagious," Northam said. "If we become complacent and don’t continue to follow these guidelines, then the possibilities are there that we would have to go back. I don’t want to do that, and I don’t think anybody would want to do that.“