RICHMOND, Va. -- Gov. Ralph Northam called the first phase of Virginia's reopening set to begin Friday a "small step forward," but warned Virginian's to remain on guard in the fight against the spread of the highly contagious novel coronavirus.
"I again want to remind all Virginians, this virus has not gone away," Northam warned. "And everyone needs to act accordingly: continue to stay six feet from others, wear face coverings, not just to protect yourself, but to protect other people. You will be safer at home unless you need to go out. Moving forward requires us all to act responsibly. We cannot act as if things are back to normal, because they are clearly not."
The one exception to that May 15 reopening is Northern Virginia, as Northam approved that region’s request to delay implementation of phase one until May 29.
"Our health metrics show that the majority of Virginia's positive cases are in the Northern Virginia region," Northam said. "And while that region's percentage of positive test is trending downward, it still has a higher percent of positive cases and people hospitalized with a positive or pending test. So I have delayed the implementation of Phase One in Northern Virginia for an additional two weeks. I thank the officials in those localities for their cooperation in working with us on this."
Northam said that as of Wednesday no other localities had asked his administration to delay the first phase of reopening.
However, the governor warned Virginians that while part of the state will begin reopening, Phase One is not like "turning on a light switch," but more of a dimmer switch.
"Phase one represents a small step forward, but we will remain vigilant. We will continue to monitor health data closely," Northam said.
Northam has said at the last several news conferences that the COVID-19 health metrics that Virginia needs to hit to begin phase one has been trending in the right direction.
The metrics are recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that he laid in his “Forward Virginia” blueprint, including an adequate supply of personal protective equipment, enough hospital beds and intensive care capacity, and a downward trend in the percentage of positive tests and hospitalizations over 14 days.
Northam also acknowledged the Commonwealth is not just in the middle of a health crisis, but an economic crisis.
"Until we can get the health crisis behind us, the economy will never recover," Northam said. "So my emphasis, our administration's emphasis, and I think really, Virginia's emphasis, has been on the safety and well being of Virginians. And so we'll continue to emphasize that that will be our focus, but we also realize that the economy plays a part. People have lost their jobs, people are making tremendous sacrifices... We will all continue to work together to put this health crisis behind us, to get it under as best control as we can, and that will allow us to move forward with economic recovery."
The health department reported 946 more people tested positive for COVID-19 out of the 8,845 total tests processed since Tuesday. That brings Virginia's total number of coronavirus cases to 26,746.
As of Wednesday's update, 3,520 people had been hospitalized and 927 people had died as a result of COVID-19-related illnesses, according to VDH data.
Health officials are investigating 278 outbreaks of COVID-19 in the Commonwealth, including 164 outbreaks at long-term care facilities with a total of 3,802 COVID-19 cases and 545 deaths as of Wednesday.
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.