While the rest of the commonwealth may be easing restrictions, localities north of the Chopawamsic Creek, to include Prince William County, will remain under a stay-at-home order.
That means non-essential businesses like churches, spas, barbershops, and entertainment venues like bowling alleys will remain closed. In Stafford County and points south, Virginia residents will begin the first phase of the governor’s plan to reopen the economy, called “safer at home.”
Today, Gov. Northam announced that his plan to reopen the state would not be implemented in most parts of Northern Virginia for two additional weeks due to the high rates of the new coronavirus cases in the region. The announcement comes after Northam on Friday, May 8, announced that he would allow all establishments across the state to reopen Friday, May 15 — one week later than had been initially announced.
Compared to the rest of state, Northern Virginia has a 25% positivity rate on tests for the new coronavirus, while the rest of the state only has a 10% rate, according to data released by the governor’s office. Additionally, cases of the new coronavirus take up a significantly larger portion of Northern Virginia’s hospitalizations compared to those in the rest of the state, according to the aforementioned data.
“While the data shows Virginia as a whole is ready to slowly and deliberately ease restrictions, it is too soon for Northern Virginia,” said Northam.
Northam requested that the jurisdictions wishing to remain in ‘Phase Zero’ send him an official request to do so, and as of this morning, the localities remaining in ‘Phase Zero’ are Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas Park, Dumfries, Herndon, Vienna, Leesburg, and Manassas.
This delayed reopening comes in part from a letter sent to Gov. Northam on May 10 by the Board of Supervisors Chairs of the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, and the mayor of Alexandria, urging Northam to keep the stay-at-home order in place for this region.
The letter emphasized that NOVA had not met the regional threshold metrics for reopening (a downward trend of positive tests and hospitalizations over a period of 14 days, enough hospital beds and intensive care capacity, an increasing and sustainable supply of PPE, and increased testing and tracing).
“We eagerly wish to rebuild our economy and help our residents recover. 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,” stated the letter.
Multiple elected leaders at the state level support the delayed reopening, citing it as in the best interest of Northern Virginian’s health.
“We must improve health factors before moving towards widespread openings of our economy,” said State Senator George Barker (D-36, Fairfax, Prince William).
“I agree with local leaders that the Northern Virginia area is not ready to safely reopen for business under Governor Northam’s broad Phase 1 plan. I commend them for their leadership and commitment to public safety,” said Delegate Elizbeth Guzmán (D-31, Dale City, Fauquier County).
“I agree with the assessment that NOVA is not ready to reopen to the same degree in terms of the Phase One reopening. The most dangerous thing we could do is accelerate a reopening plan when we’re not containing the spread of the virus like we should be,” said Delegate Danica Roem (D-13, Gainesville, Manassas Park).
Not all local leaders in the region agreed with the sentiment. Manassas City Council member Ian Lovejoy said he feels like his jurisdiction, which is landlocked inside Prince William County, is being dragged along for a ride.
“Sometimes regionalization is good. Sometimes it’s bad. The Governor has always said localities have the power to extend restrictions as they see fit. There’s no need to ask the Governor to make this a mandate as a region,” said Lovejoy. “Let Manassas City confer with our business and health leaders and make our own informed decision.”
Meanwhile, Stafford County will begin reopening its economy on Friday, the county announced today.
The county will be ‘revising its building closures to the public’ and ‘reopening most government facilities and offices’ on May 15, in accordance with the Governor’s plan. The building reopenings will come with safety protocols, which will ‘adhere to the 10-person guidance for gatherings.’ Temperature checks will be taken at the entrance to each county office and face coverings are recommended, but will not be provided in any way by the county.
Stafford County, compared to localities such as Prince William and Alexandria, is only showing a positive case rate of 257 out of 100,000, according to the Northern Virginia Region Dashboard. Prince William County is showing 690 out of 100,000 and Alexandria is showing 778 cases out of 100,000.
“As we reopen to the public, it will be in a way that puts the safety of the public and staff at the number one priority. This decision is based on Stafford’s COVID-19 data trends and is guiding the way we plan to open to the public,” said Stafford County Administrator Tom Foley.
As far as local governments view regions in Virginia, Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William counties are located in Planning District 8, while Stafford, Spotsylvania, King George, and Caroline counties are located in Planning District 16. There is a total of 21 planning districts across the state, all with the goal of bringing regional leaders together to take solve region-specific problems.