RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is delaying northern Virginia’s reopening amid the coronavirus outbreak until at least May 29, two weeks after the rest of the state is expected to reopen.
Northam said Tuesday he’s signed an executive order extending mandated closures and restrictions on businesses in northern Virginia, a heavily populated area where regional officials have said they are not yet ready to reopen.
Northam ordered some nonessential businesses closed two months ago and his planned first phase of reopening for the rest of the state is set for Friday. Phase one will retain severe restrictions. Some retail businesses will reopen with limited capacity, but indoor gyms would remain closed, beaches would remain closed to sunbathers and restaurants would still be prohibited from indoor dine-in service.
“While the data show Virginia as a whole is are ready to slowly and deliberately ease some restrictions, it is too soon for northern Virginia,” Northam said.
About 70% of new cases in Virginia on any given day are from northern Virginia, Northam’s office said.
His order will apply to the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William and the the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas, and Manassas Park. That’s about 2.5 million people, or about 30% of the state’s population.
Th northern Virginia region shares a border with Washington, D.C. and Maryland, whose leaders have not given a specific date for reopening.
Many local elected officials praised Northam’s decision.
“Northern Virginia is a united front, we will continue to track the statistics because we all want to reopen our economy as soon as possible based on public safety and data,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said.
But there was dissent. In Loudoun County, three of the nine supervisors — two Republicans and a Democrat — opposed the delay, said Supervisor Caleb Kersner, a Republican.
“We have followed strict quarantine protocols for as long as possible. Now it is time to start carefully restoring our residents’ lives, and their livelihoods, to a semblance of normal,” Kershner said in a Facebook post.
Also Tuesday, Northam’s office said it was sending $650 million to local governments around the state as part of its first distribution of funds from a federal coronavirus aid package. The governor’s office said the money would be distributed to counties and cities around June 1 and would be allocated based on population.
Local governments can only spend the money on approved coronavirus-related expenses and the expenses have to be incurred by the end of the year.
The state received $1.3 billion in federal aid — Fairfax County separately received about $200 million — that can be used to help localities and Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne said the governor wanted to get half of the money to localities quickly.
Layne said the next round of funding won’t necessarily be based on population. He said the state will evaluate need and how localities have spent their share of the $650 million before making additional disbursements later this year.
“Part of that decision will be how they spend this,” he said.
Associated Press writer Matt Barakat contributed to this report.