FILE - Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam

(The Center Square) – Restaurants, barbershops and other nonessential businesses could start reopening in Virginia on May 15 at a very limited capacity as long as the percent of COVID-19 tests coming back positive continues to trail downward.

During a news conference Friday, Gov. Ralph Northam outlined the limits he will put on businesses during phase one of reopening the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic. The limits are a minimum, and localities are allowed to impose stricter rules or maintain the same restrictions currently in place.

Northam said some communities, particularly in northern Virginia, may not be ready for phase one.

“When we enter phase one, we expect it will last a minimum of two weeks and it may last longer, depending on what the data shows,” Northam said.

Northam still is encouraging people to stay at home as much as possible and work from home if possible, especially if they are elderly or vulnerable. When in public, Northam is maintaining social distancing guidelines and encouraging people to wear face masks. He also is continuing strict sanitation guidelines.

Nonessential retail stores currently are limited to 10 customers at a time, but under phase one, this will increase to 50 percent capacity. Restaurants currently are prohibited from providing any indoor or outdoor seating, but phase one would allow 50 percent capacity for outdoor seating. Indoor seating still will be prohibited.

Barbershops and other businesses that provide personal grooming can open during this phase, but by appointment only. Social distancing and face coverings will be required.

“So the good news today is, if all this goes into effect a week from today, we can all get our hair cut by our barber or hairstylist,” Northam said.

Churches and other places of worship will be allowed to open at 50 percent capacity. Private campgrounds will be open, and state parks will be open for daytime use.

Businesses that cannot follow these guidelines must remain closed.

Gyms will still be closed in phase one, but they will be allowed to provide outdoor fitness options. Entertainment and recreation businesses will still stay closed during this phase and beaches will still be restricted to just exercise and fishing.

A 10-person limit for gatherings will remain in effect.

Virginia has 22,342 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 3,059 total hospitalizations and 812 deaths, according to the most-recent numbers from the state Department of Health.

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus. The disease has caused at least 77,925 deaths in the U.S., with more than 1.31 million confirmed cases in the country. COVID-19 symptoms appear within two to 14 days after exposure and include fever, cough, difficulty breathing, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell.

Staff Reporter

Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and Tennessee 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.