Gov. Ralph Northam suggested Monday that Northern Virginia will see a delay in lifting strict restrictions on businesses across the region. The comments came after calls from local elected leaders and health officials over the weekend to wait for COVID-19 conditions to improve.
The rest of the state is expected to start lifting some restrictions on businesses, mainly stores and salons, as well as churches, beginning May 15. But NoVa leaders sent a joint letter to Northam on Sunday calling for a delay in the region due to the rising number of cases and concerns hospitals won’t be able to handle a surge after businesses reopen.
Northam pointed out that Northern Virginia is seeing a significant portion of the state's cases, a larger percent of positive tests and more hospitalized COVID-19 patients.
"We’ll continue to work with those officials on a slower Phase One," Northam said, noting there is no decision on how long the region will wait.
A regional delay would likely include communities from Prince William and Loudoun counties to the border with Washington, D.C.
The message Sunday to the governor from board chairs in Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William and the mayor of Alexandria stressed that “any changes to current policies be guided by what is occurring in our region.”
“We eagerly wish to rebuild our economy and help our residents recover,” the joint letter stated. “It is only through our regional achievement of these milestones that we will be positioned to avoid a more damaging return to business closures later in the summer.”
Northern Virginia accounted for more than 70% of new cases Monday. The area has more than half of the state’s total cases, despite having less than 40% of the state’s population.
The governor's decision will likely send new visitors to nearby communities that would follow state guidelines, including Warrenton, Fredericksburg and Stafford County.
Northern Virginia residents won't be restricted from traveling to other parts of the state, but Northam encouraged residents to follow guidelines, like staying at home whenever possible.
Phase One lets churches and non-essential stores open at 50% capacity — they're currently limited to no more than 10 guests. Salon and spas can open by appointment only.
Restaurants can open outdoor dining spaces at 50% capacity and gyms are allowed to offer limited outdoor classes.