The District and Northern Virginia are taking similar steps Friday.
The tally of known coronavirus infections in the region reached 99,602 Thursday, and reported covid-19 deaths reached 4,219, with Virginia announcing 57 new deaths, a record for the second straight day.
Laurie Forlano, Virginia’s state epidemiologist, said the virus’s long incubation period means it is too soon to attribute the spike in deaths to the gradual reopening that began in most parts of the state outside Northern Virginia on May 15. She also said deaths are a “lagging indicator,” because localities have to wait for death certificates before reporting them.
Still, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said the commonwealth would remain in the first phase of his reopening plan at least through June 4, meaning, among other things, that any businesses allowed to operate must do so at half-capacity and restaurants can offer only outdoor dining.
Northam said it is too soon to move into a more loosely restricted Phase 2 of his plan because the effects of his initial round of easing shutdown orders remain unknown.
“We will all remain in Phase 1 for a minimum of one more week,” he said.
Local officials in Maryland struck similar tones of caution about the reopening they will launch Monday.
“We have not made this decision lightly,” Alsobrooks (D) said, referring to the fact that Prince George’s remained Maryland’s hardest-hit locality Thursday after recording an additional 408 coronavirus cases and 10 more covid-19 deaths. “We must continue to be vigilant.”
Overall, the region recorded 101 additional covid-19 deaths.
Montgomery County added nine fatalities. In Virginia, Loudoun County reported 10 deaths, while Fairfax County added seven and Fairfax City recorded two. The District added eight covid-19 fatalities.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) disclosed that he and his wife, Anne Holton, tested positive for coronavirus antibodies earlier this month, after experiencing mild symptoms in late March and early April.
But with numbers plateauing, testing increasing and more than 1.4 million area residents losing their jobs since the shutdowns began two months ago, local leaders said they would move forward with efforts to breathe life into the ailing economy. They stressed the need to wear masks and take other precautions against infection.
In Prince George’s, Alsobrooks said a dramatic increase in testing during the past few weeks has made it easier to understand how the virus is behaving. The county of 909,000 residents has Maryland’s highest number of infections, with 14,508 as of Thursday, and African Americans and Latinos disproportionately affected.
Alsobrooks said there are now about 9,000 tests conducted per week in Prince George’s, meeting what she has said would be a key benchmark for reopening. By the end of the week, the county will also have 150 contact tracers, after training some of its own staff, she said. The number of available hospital beds in Prince George’s has also increased, with about 40 percent of them available.
On Monday, nonessential retail stores in Prince George’s can open for curbside pickup, manufacturing plants can operate with social distancing measures in place, and barbershops and hair salons may serve customers by appointment.
Restaurants may open with outside seating only. No more than six people can sit at a table, and tables must be six feet apart. No more than 50 people total are allowed, and all employees must wear face masks.
Alsobrooks said a new covid-19 task force will monitor the county’s recovery, focusing on hospitals, schools (which remain closed), social services, government services and the economy.
Montgomery, a county of 1 million, has the most covid-19 deaths in Maryland, totaling 581 on Thursday. Elrich (D) had resisted discussing a potential reopening for weeks but said Thursday that the county’s metrics finally appear to be trending in the right direction.
“The only reason we didn’t have a steep curve [in infections] is because of the actions we took,” he said.
Like Prince George’s, Montgomery will allow retail businesses to offer curbside pickup and restaurants to begin outdoor seating. The county’s Department of Transportation is working with local restaurants to identify streets that can be closed to provide more outdoor dining space.
Elrich’s news conference was interrupted by about a dozen protesters who said he should have allowed reopenings earlier and called him a “fascist” and “a dictator” for allowing local businesses to suffer.
Meanwhile, the rest of the metropolitan area prepared for their Friday reopenings.
Northam said all of Virginia’s public beaches could reopen as of Friday, and he reminded residents that a new policy requiring masks to be worn in public indoor spaces would also take effect that day.
“If you shouldn’t go into a public space without shoes or a shirt, you shouldn’t go into it without a face mask,” the governor said. “It’s just the right thing to do to protect the people around you as well as workers.”
Chief state counsel Rita Davis said the Department of Health could enforce the mask order by seeking a civil injunction or criminal charge against an individual from a magistrate. But she said the department would do so only for “very egregious or gross violations. Not for one-offs.”
Davis said businesses are free to refuse service to customers who refuse to wear masks unless the refusal is based on a health condition that would be exacerbated by wearing a mask. But businesses will not be held responsible for the actions of their customers, she said.
“This is a personal mandate on people as they go inside the businesses,” Davis said. “We do have facial covering requirements for employers under other executive orders.”
The University of Virginia said it is planning for at least some in-person classes when the fall term starts in late August, a cautious step toward normalcy that illustrated how universities across the country are grappling with how and when to bring students back.
In Fairfax County, the Board of Supervisors voted to allow restaurants without permanent outdoor seating to erect tents or canopies on their properties so they adhere to Virginia’s outdoor-dining-only restriction. Restaurants are limited to half their capacity, and tables must be set at least six feet apart, with group sizes of 10 or fewer. Nearby Arlington County took a similar action this week.
An emergency ordinance unanimously approved by the Fairfax board also allows gyms and other fitness centers to stage temporary sites for outdoor classes. The ordinance prohibits permanent structural alterations at those locations and any kind of outdoor entertainment and requires that there be sufficient parking, including for customers with disabilities. Board Chairman Jeff C. McKay (D) said the ordinance will be revisited in 60 days.
“Hopefully, we’ll be into the next phase by then of our recovery, and some of these issues will be a moot point,” McKay told his colleagues before the ordinance was approved.
The CVS drugstore chain announced that it will open 39 coronavirus testing sites in Virginia and three in the District on Friday. The sites in the District will be at 845 Bladensburg Rd. NE, 6514 Georgia Ave. NW and 110 Carroll St. NW.
The company said it is opening testing sites in more than 30 states this week to reach a goal of 1,000 such locations by Monday. Customers who make appointments will be given self-administered test kits, with instructions, at the store’s drive-through window, the company said in a news release.
A pharmacy worker will be there to ensure that the swabs are done properly. The test samples will then be sent to a commercial lab for processing and the results will be available in about three days.
In Maryland, a local water utility warned commercial building owners that reopening after the two-month shutdown could present a host of problems because of stagnant water in their plumbing systems.
The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, which serves Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, recommended that the pipes be flushed before anyone uses the water, especially for drinking.
Stagnant water can carry bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease and other serious illnesses, the utility said.
A small building should have faucets, shower heads and other outlets run for 10 to 30 minutes with both hot and cold water, the utility said. A 40-gallon water heater would take about 45 minutes to fully flush.
People who work in newly opened buildings also should thoroughly clean coffee makers or other water-using devices according to the manufacturer’s instructions, the utility said.
Nick Anderson, Dana Hedgpeth, Katherine Shaver and Steve Thompson contributed to this report.