So were all but two of the state’s newly reported covid-19 deaths. (The state reported 12 new deaths but removed an earlier death from its tally, leaving a cumulative increase of 11.)
Northam (D) had asked Northern Virginia leaders to send him a formal request to maintain the tighter restrictions. He received the letter over the weekend from a group including officials from Alexandria and the counties of Fairfax, Arlington, Prince William and Loudoun.
“We feel that we’re in a place where we can safely go into phase one in most areas of Virginia — obviously Northern Virginia is the exception,” Northam said. “The metrics look a bit different in Northern Virginia than they do in the rest of the state.”
Northam’s offer to let the D.C.-area suburbs reopen more slowly is an attempt to satisfy forces pulling in opposite directions.
Republicans in rural parts of the state have argued that their areas are not as affected by the pandemic, and merchants in some tourist-heavy regions — such as Hampton Roads — say their economies will be wrecked if they can’t start reopening as summer approaches.
But dense Northern Virginia reacted with alarm last week when Northam suggested he might move toward easing restrictions.
A similar split has developed in Maryland, where cases are also concentrated in the D.C. suburbs.
While Republicans in more rural areas have decried the strict shutdown orders of Gov. Larry Hogan (R), the Democratic leaders of hard-hit Prince George’s and Montgomery counties have already said they won’t be part of any reopening Hogan may order in coming days.
Northam’s efforts to strike a balance only drew more criticism from Republicans on Monday.
“We have called for a regional approach to reopening for weeks, and it seems we are being held up due to northern Virginia,” Del. Terry G. Kilgore (R-Scott), from Southwest Virginia, said in an emailed statement. “While Northern Virginia has [its] concerns with reopening, the ‘Rest of Virginia’ as the Governor and his chief of staff referred to us are willing and able to safely begin that process.”
Northam has insisted that he is motivated only by health data and not politics. On Monday he cited statistics showing that Northern Virginia actually is experiencing the pandemic differently than the rest of the state.
The governor said he is reassured that the percentage of new infections is trending downward for the rest of the state even as Virginia ramps up higher levels of testing. On Sunday, 9,800 tests were administered, close to the daily goal of 10,000.
The District, Maryland and Virginia collectively reported 55 covid-19 deaths Monday, one more than Sunday but the second-lowest tally in two weeks. A total of 2,861 people have died of the disease in the region so far.
There were 1,892 new covid-19 infections, bringing the total for the greater Washington region to 64,832.
Virginia’s report of 989 new infections was the second-highest on a single day since the pandemic began, raising its case count past 25,000. Officials said the uptick was due in part to an increase in testing, particularly on the Eastern Shore, where outbreaks linked to poultry plants have been a problem.
The percentage of positive tests — an important metric as states consider reopening — has declined from its peak of 22 percent in mid-April to about 15 percent, according to charts Northam presented. Covid-19 hospitalizations in the state continued to decline slightly.
About a quarter of all tests administered in Northern Virginia come back positive, Northam said, vs. a much lower 10 percent positivity rate in the rest of the state.
Hospitalization rates are higher in Northern Virginia as well.
In Maryland, where Hogan relaxed some restrictions last week and said he will consider a phase-one reopening this week, there were 786 new cases Monday, the lowest number in five days. The number of hospitalized patients declined for the fifth straight day, to 1,544.
But the state recorded 39 new deaths — nine more than a day earlier — including six each in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and one in Wicomico County, where a poultry plant has sustained a significant outbreak of the virus. The percentage of tests that have come back positive remained steady over the past week, about 20 percent.
The District reported 117 new coronavirus cases and five deaths Monday, tied for the lowest number of fatalities in the capital in more than three weeks (in general, reporting of deaths in all three jurisdictions tends to be lowest on Sundays and Mondays). The capital’s cumulative positivity rate is just shy of 22 percent and has been declining slightly.
D.C. officials unveiled a makeshift hospital overflow center at the downtown Walter E. Washington Convention Center that will be able to treat nearly 500 covid-19 patients with mild to moderate symptoms, preserving hospital space for those who need to be in intensive care or on ventilators.
The convention center hall that just months ago featured high-end cars for the annual auto show has been converted to a medical surge site with stand-alone rooms featuring beds, tablets and local artwork prints on the walls, in addition to open-air nurse stations and shower facilities.
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) called the joint project with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers the city’s “insurance policy” against a potential surge of cases. The city has plenty of hospital beds available, after covid-19 hospitalizations peaked at 477 in late April and have since trended downward.
The cancellation of elective procedures also has freed up beds.
Officials said it cost about $55 million to set up the convention center site and six treatment pods at the publicly owned United Medical Center hospital. The city will seek federal reimbursement for costs. With no conventions planned at the center in the near future, Bowser said the city will use the overflow center “as long as we need it.”
The Bowser administration said it has hired the first 17 of what it hopes will be 700 new contact tracers, who will track new infections and contact people potentially exposed to the virus, encouraging them to self-quarantine or be tested. The mayor has drawn more than $2 million from reserves for the effort.
In Virginia, officials said they are building a staff of more than 1,000 contact tracers.
The state has about 600 available now — enough for the state as a whole if Northern Virginia is held out of the reopening slated to begin Friday, said Clark Mercer, Northam’s chief of staff.
Northam said he will urge people from Northern Virginia not to travel into the rest of the state after Friday, to avoid bringing the infection with them. Such a recommendation would not be mandatory, he added.
Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large), chair of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, acknowledged that the county can’t stop residents from venturing to a reopened bar or restaurant in nearby Fauquier or Warren counties — even though those residents could take the virus there with them.
Loudoun officials have worked to get residents to understand the hazard that still exists in the region and why the county has joined the other Washington suburbs in keeping the shutdown restrictions in place, Randall said.
“People will do what they feel is right for themselves and their families, and they have every right to do that,” she said. “I just need to follow the advice of the health directors, and that’s all I can really do.”
Northam said Virginia has been working closely with Maryland and the District to keep policies consistent. “That whole area is so dense, they’re all kind of sharing the same challenges that we are. A lot of that went into the decision-making,” he said.
His plan for reopening continued to draw criticism from some business leaders, with the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging & Travel Association saying it was “troubled” by his decision to only allow outdoor dining at first.
“Virginia restaurants who do not currently offer outdoor dining are certainly the ‘losers’ in the first phase of reopening,” said a letter from the association, which also criticized Northam’s decision not to reopen the state’s beaches.
Antonio Olivo and Rebecca Tan contributed to this report.