Virginia reopens in “small step” Friday – except for Northern Virginia

Mike Still • May 14, 2020 at 9:00 AM

 RICHMOND — Virginians in most regions will get their first taste of eased COVID-19 emergency restrictions on Friday, as the first phase of Gov. Ralph Northam’s “Forward Virginia” plan goes into effect.

Northam on Wednesday said that data trends on new COVID-19 case rates, positive disease test results, hospitalization and available hospital beds and protective gear are good enough to go ahead Friday with allowing non-essential businesses to open up shop again.

“As a commonwealth, these metrics are trending in the right direction,” Northam said.

Northern Virginia, while showing some improvement, still has more than half of the daily new COVID-19 cases, Northam said. He signed an order on Tuesday delaying the reopening in four counties, five cities and four towns in Northern Virginia until midnight May 28.

“Phase one represents a small step,” Northam said. While non-essential retail businesses can reopen on Friday, he said, those businesses will only be allowed to have half their customer capacity inside at any one time. Places of worship will also be subject to the 50-percent capacity rule, and places of recreation and amusement along with gyms and fitness centers still cannot reopen.

Gyms and fitness businesses still can conduct outdoor fitness activities, Northam said. Restaurants, which have been limited to takeout and delivery business only, will be able to have outdoor dining subject to social distancing.

Bands on gatherings of more than 10 people will still be in place during phase one, Northam said, and the stay-at-home requirement of earlier emergency orders will be for people to know they are safer at home. Face coverings will still be “strongly encouraged” for the public, he said, and will be required for employees of restaurants and salons. Essential retail operations will have to provide masks for employees, he added.

Child care operations will still prioritize children of working families, Northam said. Employees still needing child care can call (877) KIDS TLC (543-7852) for information on child care in their areas.

Northam said state Department of Motor Vehicle centers will reopen on a limited basis starting Monday. For DMV patrons, that could mean even longer lines than they might have seen during normal DMV operations. Eleven DMV offices will open during “Forward Virginia’s” phase one, and the two closest centers for Southwest Virginia residents will be in Abingdon and Roanoke.

While those DMV centers will reopen, Northam said, they will only take customers by appointment for getting original driver’s licenses, original vehicle registrations and titles, disabled parking permits and vital records. Customers will have to wait outside the centers in their vehicles.

To find DMV center hours and to book an appointment, visit online: https://www.dmv.virginia.gov/general/#appointments.asp.

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