Virus Outbreak Washington Suburbs

A massage shop in Falls Church, Va., is closed Monday, May 11, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

(The Center Square) – At their request, localities in northern Virginia will not reopen Friday when the rest of the state enters into the first phase of easing restrictions put in place as a response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Ralph Northam issued an executive order Tuesday that allows Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William counties; the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas and Manassas Park; and the towns of Dumfries, Herndon, Leesburg, and Vienna to delay entering phase one until May 28. The localities comprise the Northern Virginia Region.

“As I have said, it’s important that the commonwealth as a whole can meet key health metrics before moving into phase one,” Northam said in a statement. “The phase one policies are a floor, not a ceiling. While the data show Virginia as a whole is ready to slowly and deliberately ease some restrictions, it is too soon for northern Virginia. I support the request from localities in this region to delay implementation of phase one to protect public health.”

Among the metrics Northam said he is using to make reopening decisions is percentage of positive tests. The Virginia Department of Health website reported Monday's seven-day moving average for percentage of positive tests was 15 percent statewide. On April 28, that average statewide was 20 percent.

The governor's office said northern Virginia's percentage of positive tests is "substantially" higher than the rest of the state. The governor's office said the Northern Virginia Region has about a 25 percent positivity rate, and the rest of the state is closer to 10 percent.

In the past 24 hours, the Northern Virginia Region reported more than 700 COVID-19 cases, and the rest of the state reported about 270, the governor's office said.

Republicans have been critical of the speed at which Northam has decided to reopen the state.

“We have called for a regional approach to reopening for weeks, and it seems we are being held up due to northern Virginia,” Delegate Terry Kilgore, R-Scott, said before Northam's decision to allow the delay in northern Virginia. “While northern Virginia has its concerns with reopening, the ‘rest of Virginia,’ as the governor and his chief of staff referred to us, are willing and able to safely begin that process.”

In phase one, retail establishments will be allowed to operate at 50 percent occupancy, restaurants can offer outdoor dining at 50 percent occupancy, personal grooming services are allowed one patron per service provider, and fitness centers can offer outdoor exercise services.

Entertainment and public amusement venues must remain closed, and beaches can be used only for exercise and fishing.

Regional Editor

Jason Schaumburg is an award-winning, veteran editor who has been a journalist for more than 20 years. He spent a decade as the top editor in three northern Illinois newsrooms for Shaw Media and Pioneer Press.