Northam announced last week that he will begin a “Phase 1” reopening in areas of the state that have showed declining trends in infection rates and hospitalizations over a 14-day period, adding that “hot zones,” such as Northern Virginia, may take longer to ease restrictions.
Those trends were still surging in Northern Virginia on Sunday, where most of the state’s 12 new covid-19 deaths and 885 new cases of known infections were reported.
Overall on Sunday, the Washington region recorded 54 additional covid-19 fatalities, for a total of 2,806, while the tally of known infections climbed to 62,940.
“We eagerly wish to rebuild our economy and help our residents recover,” officials representing the city of Alexandria and the counties of Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun and Arlington said in their letter to Northam.
“It is only through our regional achievement of these milestones that we will be positioned to avoid a more damaging return to business closures later in the summer,” the officials wrote.
Alena Yarmosky, a spokeswoman for Northam, said the governor requested the letter to avoid a situation where neighboring localities had different policies that could reduce their effectiveness.
“He asked for this formal communication to demonstrate unity across the diverse Northern Virginia region, which is critical to a continued successful mitigation strategy,” Yarmosky said. “He appreciates their willingness to work with him on this responsible, data-driven and health-based approach.”
With local businesses struggling and more than 781,000 area residents newly unemployed during the past seven weeks, Sunday’s sunny, mild Mother’s Day weather heightened frustrations over the shutdown orders.
In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan’s “Happy Mother’s Day” tweet was met with derision.
“I remember when Mothers Day was a great weekend of business,” one commenter replied, calling Hogan (R) “Lockdown Larry.”
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser called on residents to “send our love” to people who have lost their mothers, grandmothers and mother figures to the novel coronavirus, which prompted another commenter to say: “Give us the streets!”
Bowser (D) has resisted lifting restrictions in the District, whose rates of infection and fatalities have been higher than in Virginia and Maryland.
Like Northam, Hogan has moved toward a cautious relaunch of Maryland’s economy, allowing golf courses and beaches to reopen in recent days, while suggesting that on Friday, small shops and businesses offering curbside service may also be able to reopen.
That isn’t likely to happen in Montgomery County, the state’s most populous jurisdiction, officials there said.
County Executive Marc Elrich (D) said Saturday that he will not reopen playgrounds, parks or other facilities until Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, determines that it is safe to do so.
Montgomery leads the state in number of covid-19 deaths, with 382, after another 13 fatalities were recorded Sunday.
“We are in a densely populated metropolitan area, and we share borders with other jurisdictions,” Elrich said, referring to Northern Virginia. “It is important that whatever any one of us does, we all do. Until we are all ready to open, it is not prudent for any one of us to open.”
Northern Virginia officials also are allowing their public health officials to determine when to reopen.
In their letter to Northam, they included a joint memo from their health departments that laid out where the region is in reaching the 14-day benchmarks that Northam’s team is monitoring.
The memo pointed to the still-rising rates of infection, with Fairfax — the state’s most populous jurisdiction — adding another nine covid-19 deaths and 282 cases Sunday.
In the first 10 days of May, Fairfax has averaged about 10 deaths per day, higher than the last 10 days of April, where an average of seven deaths were recorded, according to a Washington Post analysis.
Prince William added one more fatality Sunday, for a total of 48. Arlington also added another covid-19 fatality, for a total of 61.
The health departments’ memo noted that nearly half of the patients hospitalized in Virginia — 1,555 on Sunday — are in Northern Virginia, with those numbers steadily climbing since late April.
The memo also said the rate of positive test results in the region was 27 percent on May 7, while the statewide rate was 18 percent.
The health directors also noted that there isn’t enough covid-19 testing occurring in Northern Virginia and no infrastructure set up for contact tracers who can quickly track close contacts of infected patients.
Finally, the health experts said, personal protective equipment (PPE) is still in short supply inside nursing homes and other long-term care facilities that have been home to some of the state’s largest outbreaks. Area hospitals, however, appear to have enough PPE, they said.
“Based on our assessment, we do not believe that the Northern Virginia region has met the criteria for moving into Phase 1 at this time,” the health directors wrote.
Fairfax County Board Chairman Jeff C. McKay (D-At Large) said his county is eager to relaunch, but only if it’s done safely.
“We all want to reopen our economy in the safest, data-driven way possible,” McKay said in a statement. “Regardless of the governor’s decision about how we move forward, we will continue to monitor our local statistics and be fully transparent about where we stand as a region.”