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Virginia reopening to begin May 15

Virginia Governor Ralph S. Northam extended the executive order that keeps non-essential businesses closed Monday while also establishing a timeline to gradually reopen Virginia’s businesses that have been shuttered as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Executive Order 53, which went into effect Tuesday, March 24, closed businesses such as barber shops, gyms and retail shops. The order also restricted restaurants to delivery and take-out services only. Northam extended the order to expire May 14 when he anticipates the state will move into the first phase of reopening non-essential businesses with some businesses reopening as part of Phase 1 Friday, May 15.

Three phases are anticipated over a total of 10 to 12 weeks before businesses return to normal operations.

“Even when we ease some restrictions we must continue to behave more cautiously than before,” Northam said. “We must not relax our vigilance or think that the risk has passed, especially for our most vulnerable populations such as the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions.”

Phase 1 will require continued social distancing, teleworking when possible and wearing masks to prevent the spread of infection. There will be guidelines for all businesses to enhance physical distancing, do more cleaning and disinfecting and promote workplace safety.

Restaurants will be able to partially reopen dining rooms with limited capacity and churches will be allowed to gather in person with guidelines for social distancing. Gyms will also be able to reopen with new safety measures including lowered capacity and more cleaning requirements. Barbers and beauty salons will also be able to reopen May 15 with safety guidelines in place.

Phase 1 is expected to last about three weeks.

Phase 2 continues to reduce health metrics continue to trend downward in positive coronavirus tests and hospitalizations. To move into Phase 3, Northam said the state is looking for no evidence of a rebound of the virus for a sustained period of time.

“The message today is that we will reopen Virginia next Friday,” Northam said of the May 15 re-opening.

The current Stay-at Home Order that expires June 10 will be adjusted to a safer at home suggestion instead of an order.

Northam said he is not considering opening rural areas of the state where fewer people have tested positive faster, saying keeping the state united and preventing people from traveling to other parts of the state for services is necessary.

“This has brought Virginians together,” Northam said. “What I worry about, if we do one region open rather than another, it has a tremendous potential for more division. The last thing we need in this state, the last thing we need in this country, right now, is division. So, for a number of reasons, I have made the decision to go into Phase 1, unless something drastically changes, next Friday. And we will do that together.”