Northern Virginia will enter Phase Two of business reopenings on Friday, Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday, as he also outlined plans for a phased reopening of schools in the fall.
The move into Phase Two of easing restrictions designed to stem the spread of COVID-19 means restaurants may begin offering indoor dining at 50% capacity, gyms may reopen at 30% capacity, and gatherings of up to 50 people are allowed. Other areas of Virginia except the city of Richmond moved into Phase Two last Friday.
Northern Virginia and the city of Richmond will join the rest of the state moving into Phase…
In announcing the plan for Virginia public and private schools, Northam emphasized that schools will reopen in some form this fall and will be required to provide instruction on new content. The phases for reopening schools will align with the overall phases of the state's reopening.
"All Virginia schools will open for students next year, but the school experience will look very different," Northam said.
For areas of the state that are in Phase Two, which will include Northern Virginia as of this Friday, once approved by the state, schools may have in-person summer camp activities in their buildings and may provide in-person instruction for pupils in pre-kindergarten through third grade, students with disabilities and English-language learners. Physical distancing guidelines still must be followed.
When an area of the state enters Phase Three, schools in that area may offer in-person instruction for all students, but physical distancing requirements must be enforced. Dr. James F. Lane, the state's superintendent of instruction, said that means desks and workstations must be at least 6 feet apart, which will probably require schools to adopt staggered schedules and to provide a hybrid of in-person and remote learning.
School buses must also provide physical distancing of 6 feet between students, with an exception for siblings, although Lane said school systems can develop other mitigation measures.
In addition, staff members must wear face coverings when physical distancing can't be maintained, and students, especially older students, will also be encouraged to wear masks. All staff members and students will be subject to daily health screenings, and mixing groups of students will be discouraged.
Remote learning and work-at-home options must be available for any students and staff members who have health concerns.
All public school systems and private schools must submit detailed plans to the Virginia Department of Education before entering Phase Two or Phase Three of the reopenings. The plans must include specifics on how the school systems will meet Virginia Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control guidelines for cleaning and infection control. The state Department of Education has prepared a 126-page guide for school systems, which will also be available on its website.
The plans plan must also include strategies to address learning lost due to spring 2020 school closures and plans for fully remote instruction should public health conditions require it, the education department said.
Virginia schools were closed for the academic year on March 23. Many local school systems offered new content during the remainder of the year through virtual learning, but generally students' work was not graded or grades were not included when calculating final grades for the year.
Northam did not provide a timeline for when areas of the state would move into Phase Three of reopenings but said it would be at least two weeks after entering Phase Two. When he originally announced the phased reopenings in early May, Northam said that in order to move into Phase Three a region must see no rebound in cases of coronavirus for a sustained period of time.
The state education department said additional guidance will be provided for a "new normal" beyond Phase Three.
Northam and Lane emphasized that school systems are not required to move into the different phases and can reopen more slowly.
"The phases provide maximum flexibility at any given time," Lane said.
Lane said school systems may have to think creatively about issues such as how to use space and how to accommodate teachers who have young children who may not not be in school all day or every day.
Also during the news conference, Northam's chief of staff, Clark Mercer, provided guidelines on how youth sports can be conducted in Phase Two. Essentially, training activities and games can be held if participants are subject only to "incidental" or "accidental" contact. Activities that involve "intentional" contact, such as tackle football or a karate match, are not allowed.
Mercer noted the guidelines mean teams and athletes can resume some training, such as individual drills, or a football quarterback throwing passes to a receiver, and events like baseball games can be held. Athletes should not share equipment, however, and both indoor venues and outdoor fields are subject to capacity restrictions of 30% indoors and 50% outdoors, or 50 people, whichever is smaller.
Mercer said it is too early to tell whether high school football will be allowed this fall.
Northam emphasized that the continued easing of restrictions is possible only because the state's metrics around coronavirus have improved. "We’re able to do what we’re doing because of you as Virginians who have listened to our guidelines, who have cooperated. While I know you have made sacrifices, together all of you have been part of he solution.”
Guidance issued June 9, 2020, by the Virginia Department of Education for the phased reopening of public schools.