As Virginia lifts more COVID-19 restrictions July 1, schools will be able to reopen, but with physical distancing requirements that could limit classroom time to twice a week as students head back in August and September.

But state officials said Thursday that they are developing plans beyond next week’s Phase Three reopening, with an eye on getting students back in school.

“We know that full-time, in-person instruction is critically important for our students,” said Clark Mercer, chief of staff to Gov. Ralph Northam. “We also recognize it’s important for parents getting back to work.”

Since mid-May, the state has moved through the first two phases and Mercer noted during the governor’s COVID-19 press conference that Phase Three will likely be a matter of weeks.

“As Virginia’s numbers continue to trend positively, we have moved through these reopening phases expeditiously. But the phased guidance we issued did not include guidance beyond Phase Three,” Mercer said. “Those discussions are underway with our education and public health experts. The guidance beyond Phase Three will include a path to getting every student in school every day and increasing opportunities for athletics and activities while remaining vigilant about the health of our students and staff.”

Both Mercer and Northam stressed that the next steps will be based on the state’s success with the number of cases, hospitalizations and testing related to the coronavirus.

“You have helped by staying home, washing your hands and wearing face coverings,” Northam said during the press conference. “We all need to keep doing all of these things…especially as we ease restrictions in Phase Three.”

The governor noted that restrictions in Phase Three continue to put a burden on businesses and communities, but pointed to rising cases of COVID-19 in other states.

“These decisions are tough,” Northam said. “People have had to make a lot of sacrifices. If we look at the reality of what is going on, we’ve got to be very careful moving forward.”

Also Thursday, Northam announced that he would be ending his routine press conferences that began in the earliest days of the pandemic as daily events and had recently been cut to twice a week. Going forward, Northam said he’ll hold informal briefings as needed. 

The governor also announced $50 million in rent and mortgage assistance for Virginians impacted by the pandemic. More details are expected to be released Monday. 

A ban on evictions in the state ends Sunday, June 28, and the governor said thousands of renters could face eviction. He suggested that circuit court chief judges could extend eviction moratoriums on a local level.

The state is also providing assistance with energy bills through the Department of Social Services.

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