NoVa officials say region’s not ready to reopen
Officials say region hasn't met criteria to enter Northam's Phase One reopening
Northern Virginia elected officials — as well as local health department directors — have asked Gov. Ralph Northam to wait on allowing local businesses to reopen until the hard-hit region’s COVID-19 cases have shown a continuous decline, along with meeting other metrics.
“Based on our assessment, we do not believe that the Northern Virginia region has met the criteria for moving into Phase One,” directors of health districts and departments in the region wrote in a Saturday memo to local officials and the state health commissioner. The memo was included in the officials’ letter to the governor sent Sunday.
Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties and the city of Alexandria account for about half of the state’s COVID-19 cases and deaths, according to Virginia Department of Health statistics. On Monday, 25,070 people statewide have confirmed or probable cases and 850 have died from complications connected with the coronavirus. The five Northern Virginia localities reported 12,309 cases and 416 deaths as of Monday’s VDH update.
Phase One of the governor’s Forward Virginia blueprint is expected to start statewide Friday, allowing some nonessential businesses to reopen on a limited basis, continuing to restrict most gathering to no more than 10 people in a confined space and, in some cases, requiring employees to wear masks and other protective gear. Northam said last week that localities will be allowed to add further restrictions to the state’s rules as deemed necessary.
The chairs of the county boards in Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William, as well as the mayor of Alexandria, asked Northam to wait to reopen Northern Virginia businesses until the following metrics are met:
• Downward trend of positive tests over a period of 14 days
• Downward trend of hospitalizations over a period of 14 days
• Enough hospital beds and intensive care capacity
• Increasing and sustainable supply of personal protective equipment (PPE)
• Increased testing and tracing
“While it is certainly useful to examine statewide metrics as we gauge the success of current public health policies, we feel strongly that any changes to current policies be guided by what is occurring in our region,” the letter says.
The health directors wrote in the memo that they are “unable to assess” the percentage of positive tests, available beds and increased testing, and growth in the amount of PPE supplies and a decrease in hospitalized patients are “unmet,” as is increased contract tracing in the region.
According to the memo, health directors have asked and not received information from VDH about Northern Virginia’s percentage of positive cases compared with total number of tests, including past data, to assess whether the percentage of positive tests is decreasing in their region. “As of May 4, the data shows that Northern Virginia is higher than the rest of Virginia,” the directors wrote, “27% for NOVA and 18% for all of Virginia. Without additional information, we cannot assess whether it has gone down over the past 14 days.”
The directors also say that they only have baseline data for the number of tests in the region and the number of critical care beds in the region “continue to decrease.” As for PPE availability, hospitals appear to have enough, the health directors write, but some medical care providers — including private practices, long-term care facilities and first responders — do not.
“It is only through our regional achievement of these milestones that we will be positioned to avoid a more damaging return to business closures later in the summer,” the elected officials write in their letter to the governor.