RICHMOND, Va. — Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said that he wants to see a “slow and steady” approach to the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions and beginning phase one of the reopening process.
“I'm stating in the City of Richmond, we will take a slow approach to reopening. That is the approach I think is prudent because of public health,” said Stoney.
Stoney was speaking Thursday at a news conference where he and Richmond and Henrico County Health Director Dr. Danny Avula updated the city’s efforts to combat the virus and prepare for the eventual reopening.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has said the earliest such a reopening could begin is on May 15. On Friday, Northam said he would unveil the state’s guidelines and restrictions for phase one of the reopening process, but added that it would be considered the “ground floor” and localities could request to implement tougher restrictions.
“Obviously, we are going to review whatever order that comes down from the Governor,” said Stoney. “Once we've reviewed, we will make a decision at that time.”
Stoney said when the time comes he will consult with other localities about what additional steps or restrictions they are considering, but said he would prioritize Richmond and those who live in the city limits.
“Now, you know the difficulty about going at these sorts of things alone, because not only does the virus doesn't respect boundaries, but, you know, as a community, we do things together. Right? There are folks who live in Henrico who work in the city or folks who who live in the city who work in Henrico and vice versa,” added Stoney. “People will be moving around and, so, my, as I stated earlier, my request to all leaders at every level is to move about this in a very cautious way.”
Stoney said he wants data to dictate the approach to reopening, not gut feelings.
"I believe before we enter any phase of reopening, we have to have more robust testing. We have to see a drop in hospitalizations, as well. We have to ensure that we have the capability to follow through with contact tracing,” added Stoney.
At Thursday news conference city officials updated what they have been doing regarding increased testing and contact tracing.
For testing, they have announce three additional locations for the mobile COVID-19 test sites in underserved communities in the city and Henrico County.
The test sites will be at the following dates and locations:
- Monday, May 11: Community Supermarket
- Tuesday, May 12: Southwood Apartment Complex
- Thursday, May 14: Eastern Henrico Recreation Center
Officials have held six of these mobile sites in Richmond and Henrico since the pandemic started and Avula said they have tested nearly 450 people.
"As we've stated in weeks past, if you are under resourced or uninsured this testing is free,” said Stoney. “Also, for those who are experiencing symptoms that are maybe related to COVID-19 we continue to urge and encourage you to show up these free testing sites. As has been stated in the past, we've seen a disparity in the numbers. We know that our communities, our black and brown, African American and Latino communities have made up a disproportionate amount of positive cases and also those who have died because of this disease.”
If you have any questions about the test sites or think you qualify for a test, you are asked to call the city’s hotline at 804-205-3501.
Avula also said they have beefed up the health department’s contact tracing team.
“This week alone we've trained 70 new Medical Reserve Corps volunteers to do contact tracing and they will start next week in actually doing that work alongside with our committed staff,” added Avula. “The State continues to take steps forward and their plans to to hire approximately 1000 contact tracers across the Commonwealth.”
Avula made a call for a wide variety of people to either volunteer or apply to get hired for contact tracing, adding it is important to have representation from underrepresented communities.
“My encouragement and plea to residents of our community, across the city and the county, is that as the state moves to start hiring individuals to aid in contact tracing, that those of you who are from different cultures or speak different languages are going to be particularly helpful in doing some of that effective investigative work,” said Avula.
Most patients with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms. However, in a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can lead to more severe illness, including death, particularly among those who are older or those who have chronic medical conditions.
COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.
Virginia health officials urged the following precautions:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.Stay home when you are sick.
- Avoid contact with sick people.Avoid non-essential travel.