Northam announced details Thursday of what Phase Three of the Forward Virginia reopening plan will look like, and he said during Tuesday’s regular COVID-19 status update press conference that the state’s health metrics continued to be favorable.
While the daily new case rate has trended downward across Virginia in recent weeks, Northam credited a continuing drop in the rate of positive COVID-19 test results along with increased testing capacity and adequate hospital bed space and personal protective equipment stocks with helping make Phase Three possible.
Northam said that, despite the state’s improving pandemic situation, he was concerned with growing new case rates in several other states.
“I don’t want to see that in our commonwealth,” Northam said.
Under the Phase Three reopening, “Safer at Home” recommendations for people with underlying health conditions or weakened immune systems will remain in place, while requirements for wearing face coverings in indoor public spaces will remain in place.
The limit on public gatherings will rise from the current Phase Two’s 50 to 250 people, with social distancing guidelines remaining in effect along with increased sanitizing of high-contact surfaces and workplace safety measures to protect workers. The cap on numbers of people allowed in non-essential businesses and food-and-drink establishments will be lifted July 1, but restaurants will still have to maintain six-foot separation between tables, indoor and outside.
Gyms and fitness centers will be able to operate at 75% occupancy with physical distancing still required. Swimming pools will also be able to operate at 75% capacity
Recreation and entertainment venues will be able to operate at 50% occupancy, or a maximum of 1,000 people, including movie theaters. More details on phase three reopening guidelines can be found at www.governor.virginia.gov/media/governorvirginiagov/governor-of-virginia/pdf/Virginia-Forward-Phase-Three-Guidelines.pdf.
The Richmond and Northern Virginia areas had been delayed in reopening businesses and public spaces under the Phase Two plan, but Northam said it appeared that Phase Three will become effective in all parts of the state July 1.
Northam said that failure of people and businesses to follow state and federal COVID-19 safety guidelines could lead to stepbacks in reopening if infection and hospitalization rates rise again.
Northam also addressed ongoing protests in the Richmond area, almost a month after the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. He said Virginia has seen 482 demonstrations in that period, with several focused on the Monument Avenue statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond.
While the protests have helped focus attention on racism and racial disparities in Virginia, Northam said several nighttime protests in Richmond have involved violence between protesters and city and Virginia State Police.
“These nightly conflicts cannot continue indefinitely,” Northam said, adding that he wants to hear what specific concerns that group of protesters has. He acknowledged that a legal challenge to his order to remove the Lee statue from its state-owned traffic circle island has delayed those plans and led to his decision to close the monument to public access.
While some protesters may claim the decision to close the Lee statue to public access is an anti-free speech action, Northam said attempts to pull down the 12-ton statue pose a danger to demonstrators and the public.
“I’m confident the Lee monument will be taken down,” Northam said.