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Virginia restaurants, businesses unravel Phase 2 guidelines

Posted at 7:41 PM, Jun 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-03 20:07:02-04

HENRICO COUNTY, Va., — Most of Virginia will enter Phase Two of reopening on Friday, June 5, the governor announced Tuesday. The City of Richmond will remain in Phase One.

“Phase Two will include more flexibility for restaurants, gyms, sports, outdoor entertainment venues, and gatherings of up to 50 people,” Governor Ralph Northam said. “It means restaurants can have indoor seating again at 50% of their capacity.”

Matt Tlusty owns Saltbox Oyster Company in the Willow Lawn Shopping Center.

“We are right on that Henrico line so we got to open our patio. It’s been great, it’s been fantastic,” Tlusty said of the Phase One reopening plan.

As far as welcoming customers back inside his Henrico seafood restaurant this weekend, Tlusty will play it by ear.

“What my problem is right now I think we have the customers, but we don’t have the employees. That’s the biggest concern,” he explained. "My cooks and waitstaff are making way more money sitting at home collecting unemployment.”

Tlusty hoped to fill his patio to 50% on Friday, but aimed to seat diners indoors the following weekend.

James Baldwin also planned to hire more waitstaff ahead of Phase Two for his Chesterfield restaurant, Charred.

Baldwin and Walied Sanien opened their Hull Street Road eatery on March 18 at a time when other restaurants were closing their doors due to the pandemic.

“We opened for the to-go and delivery with the four managers and the two owners and that was it,” Baldwin explained. “It was really staff driven and they had gotten to the point where they didn't want to give up on it.”

Tlusty hoped to fill his patio to 50% on Friday, but aimed to seat diners indoors the following weekend.

They opened their patio to customers, but aren’t yet ready to serve customers inside.

“With a brand new restaurant with a limited menu and then increasing the menu size — and an all brand new staff. It's a lot more training,” Baldwin stated.

Baldwin hoped to seat customers indoors by Tuesday.

“Let us get our feet under us before we jump into the full wait list, hopefully, full reservation and people waiting outside for a table,” he said.

Under Phase Two, gyms and fitness centers can have indoor classes and workouts at 30% capacity.

Lorenzo Hutchinson and Briana Oglesby own The Chamber RVA on Hull Street Road in Chesterfield. They offer strength training and personal training sessions that rely on indoor specialized equipment.

Under Phase Two, gyms and fitness centers can have indoor classes and workouts at 30% capacity.

“We don't do boot camps. We do mainly one-on-one and small group training. A lot of it includes weightlifting and a lot of machines. Because of that, we did not benefit from [Phase One] at all,” Hutchinson explained. Phase One allowed gyms to operate outdoor classes only.

Now, they will have to navigate how to safely reopen under strict guidelines and protocols set by the governor.

“The Phase Two protocol is a little stiff on us, but we are going to make it work,” Hutchinson said. “It’s gonna be a little harder to calculate that because it is several trainers and members. We got to all put that together and make sure we're not going over that 30% rule.”

They’ve posted signs warning about COVID-19 and increased their cleaning procedures.

“We have bottles and cleaning equipment next to every machine we've got in our training facility just to make sure we stay on top of that, Hutchinson said.

Personal trainers must maintain at least ten feet of distance between themselves and their clients, according to the Phase Two plans.

“We are probably going to be up and running on Monday since a lot of people don’t want to start working out at the end of the week,” Oglesby explained. “By next week, we will have the flow of things figured out.”

Rick McCoy has held outdoor classes during the pandemic at his MMA Institute martial arts school on Jahnke Road.

When Phase Two begins, McCoy estimates he will be able to allow about 30 people inside for a class.

“Once we go indoors we will check everyone’s temperatures when they get in. We will promote if you feel bad, stay away,” he explained.

Class sizes will also be shortened to allow time to sanitize the mats and equipment between sessions. He’ll continue offering Zoom classes for those who aren’t comfortable to meet in person.

The pandemic has forced him to shut his two affiliate schools in Harrisonburg and Charlottesville due to rent concerns. He hoped to reopen the sites after some downtime.

McCoy kept all of his employees on payroll at his Henrico school.

“It’s been more of a 'stressful struggle' than a 'struggle, struggle,'” McCoy said.

Northam’s Phase Two plan also allow pools to reopen for exercise, diving, and swim instruction.

Devon Slough, a board member of the Chickahominy Aquatic Association, hoped the next phase would allow the Henrico neighborhood pool to reopen.

“Phase Two for pools still doesn’t open for recreational use,” Slough explained. “Theoretically, yes we would have been able to open, but we still aren’t sure what our plans are yet. As of right now, we are weighing our options.”

In 1949, the association first opened to families in Henrico County.

Three pools sit tucked back in the Chamberlayne neighborhood sandwiched between towering trees and single-family homes.

For a lot of aquatic associations, deciding whether or not to reopen is a financial decision.

As the swim coach, Slough has decided against signing up a swim team this year.

In their league of 20 teams, 12 have stated they won’t be organizing a roster. Slough hoped Phase Three would bring them better news.

  • Establish policies and practices for physical distancing between co-workers and between members of the public.
  • Provide clear communication and signage for physical distancing in areas where individuals may congregate, especially at entrances, in seating areas, and in check-out lines.
  • Limit the occupancy of physical spaces to ensure that adequate physical distancing may be maintained.
  • Encourage telework whenever possible.
  • For those businesses where telework is not feasible, temporarily move or stagger workstations to ensure six feet of separation between co-workers and between members of the public.
  • Limit in-person work-related gatherings, including conferences, trade shows, and trainings.
  • When in-person meetings need to occur, keep meetings as short as possible, limit the number of employees in attendance, and use physical distancing practices.

The transition from Phase One to Phase Two was made possible by the positive trend of key COVID-19 numbers, the governor said.

“We've been in Phase One for nearly three weeks and our health data continues to look good. Our hospitals do not report any shortage of PPE and we work continuously to help make sure our medical facilities have the PPE that they need. Our hospital bed capacity remains steady,” Northam said. “Statewide, the percentage of people hospitalized with a positive or pending COVID test has a slight downward trend. Our health data metrics show that testing is increasing. And the percent of tests that are positive continues to trend downward.”

Entertainment venues like museums, and zoos, botanical gardens and outdoor venues can reopen with some restrictions. Recreational sports are allowed with physical distancing requirements and no shared equipment.

Northern Virginia and the City of Richmond, which entered Phase One reopening later than the rest of the state, will remain in Phase One for now.