Arlington and Northern Virginia are expected to begin a phased reopening on Friday.
“That’s the plan,” Gov. Ralph Northam said of the partial reopening during a Tuesday afternoon press conference. The region will be joining much of the rest of the state, which started its “Phase 1” reopening on May 15.
The first phase of the reopening will see non-essential businesses — salons, barber shops, restaurants, gyms, etc. — reopen with additional cleaning, safety precautions and social distancing. Among Virginia’s Phase 1 guidelines are:
- “Retail establishments may operate at 50% capacity”
- “Restaurant and beverage establishments may offer outdoor dining at 50% occupancy”
- “Personal grooming services may operate with one patron per service provider”
- “Fitness centers may offer outdoor exercise services”
In a letter to Northam sent over the holiday weekend, Northern Virginia leaders wrote that four key health metrics were pointing in a positive direction, making a reopening possible. Northam said today that statewide numbers were likewise looking good, though he emphasized that the coronavirus is continuing to infect people, making it necessary to continue taking steps to mitigate the spread.
“The virus is clearly still here, but the numbers are trending in the right direction,” Northam said.
The governor announced Tuesday that masks will be made mandatory in indoor public spaces, including businesses, starting Friday. The state’s mask requirement will have some exceptions, including for eating, children under 10, and those with health conditions that prevent them from wearing a mask.
“Science shows us that the virus spreads less easily when wearing a face covering,” Northam said. “I’m asking people to do the right thing, to respect one another.”
Enforcement of the mask requirement will done by the Virginia Dept. of Health, not police, the governor said.
“This is not a criminal matter… it won’t be enforced by law enforcement,” he said. Northam’s chief of staff said having police enforce the mask requirement could cause “tremendous equity issues,” adding that the governor is hoping that a special session of the General Assembly over the summer could approve a civil fine for noncompliance.
The state health department will have the ability to take action against “grossly negligent actors” — businesses that refuse to enforce the requirement. First would come a warning, then the state health department could seek a court order to rescind the business license.
Northam said the universal wearing of masks protects everyone, including workers, who “are especially vulnerable.” A mask could be something as simple as a bandana or “a piece of cloth and some rubber bands,” the governor said.
Arlington County is planning to distribute free masks in the coming weeks.
The efficacy of wearing masks was discussed by Virginia Hospital Center emergency room chief Mike Silverman, in a public Facebook post on Friday.
“We follow the CDC guidelines at work with masking both parties (provider/RN and patients when they can) and we’ve had a remarkably low rate of staff getting sick. Masks work… and work better when everyone is wearing them,” Silverman write. “Be smart. Social distance. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. And stay inside and away from others if you’re sick.”