Virus Outbreak Virginia

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam gestures during a news conference Monday, May 4, 2020, at the Capitol in Richmond, Va.

(The Center Square) – The soonest Virginia could enter into phase three of reopening is June 26, Gov. Ralph Northam said Thursday, but he declined to set any date in stone.

“While the statewide numbers are trending in a positive direction, we need to continue to evaluate the data,” Northam said.

During phase three, Virginia will end the capacity restrictions on nonessential retail, restaurants and beverage services, but still will maintain social distancing and face mask requirements. Gyms and fitness centers will be allowed to operate at 75 percent capacity.

Entertainment venues that otherwise had been closed, such as museums and zoos, will be allowed to open at 50 percent capacity, and swimming pools will be allowed to open at 75 percent capacity, all with social distancing requirements in place.

Social gathering capacity will increase to 250 people during phase three, and day care services can open, but overnight summer camps will have to stay closed. Personal grooming services, such as hair salons, can remain open with social distancing.

Even when the state enters into phase three, Northam said people still need to be careful when in public. He said people should be mindful of where they have to go and where they need to go. If businesses don’t feel comfortable reopening or they cannot meet the necessary requirements, the governor said they can remain closed.

Virginia has continued to see a downward trend in the percentage of positive tests per tests given, which has been one of the primary factors for the commonwealth to move forward with reopening the state economy. On Sunday, the seven-day moving average was 7.2 percent, which was lower than the previous week: 8.8 percent June 7. Data for more recent days are not yet available.

The commonwealth also has seen a significant drop in the number of COVID-19 patients in the hospital. On Wednesday, the total was 938 hospitalizations, which was down from 1,155 hospitalizations June 10. A week before that, June 3, the number of hospitalizations was 1,311. The seven-day average Tuesday was 965.1. It was 1,189.3 the week before.

As of Thursday, no hospitals were reporting difficulty attaining personal protective equipment, and the state’s hospital bed capacity was well above the number of total beds occupied. Northam said his administration is in almost daily contact with hospitals to discuss capacity and equipment needs.

“While our data is good and our restrictions may ease, the virus has not gone anywhere,” Northam said. “We are adapting our lives around it, but it has not changed. So we must be even more cautious when we go out in public. We all need to continue to use the same common sense that you have used throughout this pandemic. Stay physically apart from other people, wear face coverings and wash your hands frequently. We know that these things work.”

Republicans have criticized Northam for pushing off the start date of phase three. House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, said in a statement the governor was abandoning his own criteria.

"When Governor Northam laid out the criteria for reopening Virginia's economy, he said the process would be led by science, data, and testing,” Gilbert said. “Yet after two additional weeks of falling case numbers and a continual drop in the percentage positive of tests, Governor Northam called an audible ... and said Phase 3 could not begin this week.”

During Thursday's news conference, Northam also discussed Virginia’s outreach effort to Latinos, a group that has been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. He said the state has begun providing free COVID-19 tests in communities with Latino populations and that undocumented people are encouraged to come and no one will be checking papers.

Staff Reporter

Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and West Virginia for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon.