Northern Virginia health leaders: We’re not ready to reopen

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — Health directors in northern Virginia say the region is not yet ready to lift stay-at-home orders and other restrictions that the rest of the state is preparing to implement.

In a memo released Sunday, the health directors say the region is not meeting important benchmarks to reduce COVID-19 hospitalizations and employing contact tracers who could chart the progress of the coronavirus in the community. They say the data is unclear on other key metrics, like the rate of positive tests for the virus.

The region’s political leaders wrote a letter to Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Sunday accompanying the memo. They ask Northam to allow northern Virginia to move at a slower pace in easing restrictions.

“The transition to Phase 1 in Northern Virginia should occur when our region has achieved the threshold metrics,” the group wrote. It includes Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay, Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Ann Wheeler, Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall and Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson. All are Democrats, as is Northam.

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Northam said he plans to implement the first phase of reopening the economy on Friday, though restrictions will remain severe. The first phase will allow some retail businesses to reopen with limited capacity, and private gatherings of less than 10 will be permitted. Indoor gyms would remain closed, beaches would remain closed to sunbathers and restaurants would still be prohibited from indoor dine-in service, though.

Northam has gone back and forth as to whether some regions of the state would be allowed to open earlier than others, but his most recent comments suggest that he would allow northern Virginia to exempt itself from Phase 1 if it didn’t feel it was ready.

On Sunday, Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said Northam is pleased to see the region speaking with one voice and that he asked them to send such a letter “to demonstrate unity across the diverse Northern Virginia region, which is critical to a continued successful mitigation strategy.”

Northern Virginia accounts for about a fourth of the state’s population but roughly half of the state’s coronavirus cases.

The health directors, in their letter, say the region has met none of the metrics needed to show a sustained decline in cases or a preparedness to ease restrictions. They say that while hospitals have secured sufficient personal protective equipment, private physicians and long-term care facilities have not.

And they say they need more data from the state health department to determine whether the percentage of positive cases has decreased over the last 14 days.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up within weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and death.

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