Northam details reopening plans, says it will be cautious

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is laying out his plans for reopening the state next week amid the coronavirus pandemic, cautioning that the process will be gradual many restrictions will remain in place for at least several more weeks.
“We are not flipping a light switch from closed to open,” Northam said. “When the time is right we will turn a dimmer switch up just a notch.”
The governor said at a Friday news conference that his planned reopening — currently set for May 15 — would be slow, cautious and deliberate.
Under the new rules, nonessential retail businesses and places of worship can operate at at 50% of their building’s occupancy rate — up from 10 people under the current rules. Restaurants and bars will only be allowed to serve customers in outdoor spaces. Employees at retail businesses and restaurants will have to wear masks.
Beauty parlors and barber shops will be by appointment only, and will only be able to operate if both employees and customers wear masks.
Gyms can only have classes outside. And entertainment venues, like theme parks and bowling alleys, will stay closed. Beaches will remain open only for people getting exercise or fishing.
Northam said the first phase of reopening will last a minimum of two weeks and some parts of the state, particularly the population-dense northern Virginia, can impose stricter regulations.
“Phase one restrictions will be a floor, not a ceiling,” Northam said.
Northam has been trying to navigate the state’s reopening while taking criticism for all sides.
The governor, a Democrat, has come under increasing pressure from Republican lawmakers and others to reopen sooner and and with fewer restrictions as some other states have done. But some advocates for the poor and leaders in northern Virginia have said the state is not prepared to relax its restrictions.
Nicole Riley, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business in Virginia, said she’s concerned that Northam’s new regulations will hurt restaurants that don’t have a permit to serve customers outdoors. She said small businesses are willing to follow whatever rules are necessary to reopen.
“Small business owners are telling us they are willing and able to handle social distancing, require face coverings, and take the necessary steps to protect customers and workers,” she said.
As of Friday, the state health department reported Virginia had over 22,300 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19, with more than 800 confirmed or probable deaths.
Millions of people around the world have been infected.
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. The majority of people recover.
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