Arlington, VA

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Governor Northam has a duty as we move forward to balance this public health emergency with the substantial economic damage being done right now in order to promote the overall health of our Commonwealth. Getting to the other side of this crisis is a true test of leadership for the governor and the Democrats in charge of the General Assembly.

According to modeling, which admittedly has produced projections that regularly overstate the impact of COVID-19 in Virginia when compared to actual data, Virginia is just two days from peak resource use. Daily case increases have plateaued even with increased testing. More people have been discharged from the hospital than are currently being treated. There is no shortage of hospital beds or ventilator capacity. And Virginia’s share of national cases has remained constant. All of this means, what we have done is working in terms of slowing the spread of this coronavirus.

At this point, Governor Northam has not put forward his plan for how Virginia can reopen safely. In the absence of a plan from the governor thus far, here are some general guidelines they could follow:

Recognize Regional Realities. There are areas of the Commonwealth with few if any cases. Those areas can be reopened sooner and in a less restrictive way than the more urban and suburban areas which have seen a higher number of cases. One thing is certain, there are Virginians in rural and economically disadvantaged areas who can ill-afford for employers there to close permanently.

Public Health Response. What protocols can we put in place in areas with the worst outbreaks to do contact tracing or ramp up testing quickly if another surge in cases occurs?

Reasonable Temporary Regulations. Virginia businesses can implement common sense regulations for the next few months or even a year to keep workers safe. Split shifts. Closing common areas. Taking temperatures at the door. Rotating office employees with telework. Spacing in public spaces like movie theaters, mass transit, and restaurants when those can safely reopen.

Return of Restricted Health Care Services. Many medical procedures and tests were halted in the name of preparing for a surge in the need for hospital beds and personal protective equipment. It has delayed health care services to people who need them and put a tremendous financial strain on hospitals, clinics, physicians and even dental practices. It is time to determine how best to lift these restrictions.

Protect Vulnerable Populations. For example, the biggest outbreaks have been in long term care facilities. Restrictions can be put in place to recognize this threat.

Announce Benchmarks for a Return to Normal. The governor should announce what specific data points are necessary to achieve in order for us to move beyond temporary restrictions to the next stages of reopening. By doing so, he can also be held accountable for the progress.

Virginia can get past this crisis. We need Governor Northam to step up to the plate with the plan to help us do it.

Mark Kelly is a long-time Arlington resident, former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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