In addition, Northam (D) said Virginia students will return to school in the fall if the state continues to limit the spread of the virus.
State leaders explained a three-part schools reopening plan that matches the phases Northam has put in place to reopen the economy. While the plan offers guidance, school systems and private schools have flexibility to tailor their own plans, which then must be submitted for approval.
“All Virginia schools will open for students next year, but the school experience will look very different,” Northam said. “These phases will allow in-person instruction, but slowly.”
Phase 2 of the education reopening plan allows for in-person teaching for prekindergarten through third-grade students, students with disabilities and students who are not fluent in English. Strict social distancing protocols must be enforced; on school buses, just one child may be assigned to each seat, Northam said.
School assemblies and other large gatherings are limited to 50 people; school clubs and extracurricular activities may be reinstated as long as students follow social distancing guidelines. Student-athletes are permitted to resume practices, so long as they keep 10 feet away from one another and disinfect shared equipment, such as helmets and uniforms, between uses.
While the entire state will be in Phase 2 by Friday, Northam said the school year is already over, so no classes will resume. He said schools may launch summer school or school-based camps if they adhere to the restrictions.
The final stage — Phase 3 — will invite all students back to school, with social distancing measures in place. Students and teachers who are at a higher risk of getting sick may continue remotely. Teachers and staff members must wear face coverings if they are in proximity to others; students will be encouraged to do so.
Northam sounded confident the state will be in Phase 3 in time for school to open, but officials said that will depend on current favorable trends continuing. Local schools may impose tighter restrictions if they need to.
The announcements came as the owner of a Loudoun County winery and wedding venue and the owner of a Fredericksburg restaurant sued Northam in state and federal court to try to force him to more completely reopen the state for business.
The plaintiffs — represented by state Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City), who is an attorney — allege that Northam did not rely on medical or scientific evidence to prove the shutdown was necessary. Petersen also called for the General Assembly to have a say in the orders.
“We can’t just have government by fiat,” Petersen said at a news conference in front of the state Supreme Court.
Jon B. Tigges, owner of the 24-acre Zion Springs winery and bed-and-breakfast, said his business saw the cancellation of 16 weddings this spring and summer, eliminating more than half his total expected annual revenue.
Linda Park, owner of the hibachi-style Japanese restaurant Fujiya House, said she has been unable to reopen under the state’s strict social distancing restrictions, because food is not prepared in a kitchen, but at the customers’ tables.
Their lawsuits are not the first to challenge Northam’s orders. A gun shop owner in Lynchburg won an injunction in April allowing the shop to reopen. Two Republican lawmakers challenged the shutdown orders on behalf of Gold’s Gym, but a judge turned down their request for an injunction allowing the gyms to reopen. A church in Chincoteague fought the ban on gatherings of more than 10 people.
Virginia, Maryland and the District reported 1,072 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, but the number of people hospitalized remained below 200 and the rolling seven-day average of newly reported deaths remained below 70.
Both statistics indicate a gradual slowdown in the severity of the pandemic after months of widespread shutdowns and social distancing restrictions.
The region saw 58 new deaths reported, bringing the death toll for Virginia, Maryland and the District to 4,802.
In the District, there were 85 new cases and four new deaths.
In Virginia, there were 487 new cases and 19 new deaths. Fairfax, which has been hit hard by the virus, saw an uptick of 92 new cases, bringing its total to 12,695.
In Maryland, there were 500 new cases and 35 new deaths reported. Montgomery County reported 150 new cases and eight deaths, and Prince George’s reported 113 new cases and five deaths.
Montgomery County entered Maryland’s Phase 1 reopening on June 1. County Health Officer Travis Gayles said the county will wait until at least June 15 to determine whether there have been consistent declines over 14 days that would warrant the further easing of restrictions. The county’s coronavirus dashboard has not yet been reset to track the progress since June 1.
“We’re moving toward the right direction, but, again, what we’re looking for is sustained improvements,” Gayles said.
Among the most positive indicators is the decrease in the county’s test positivity rate, which is about 9 percent as of Tuesday, down from a high of 30 percent at the peak of the crisis.
Acute care bed utilization rate is the indicator that has been “holding us back,” said County Council member Andrew Friedson (D-District 1), with the number of beds in use falling below 70 percent only four times in the past two weeks.
Gayles said this is partly because covid-19 patients often need to convalesce over a long period. So even though the county’s caseload growth is slowing, many patients still need acute care.
On Monday, Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young (D) signed an executive order launching the Phase 1 reopening in his city. It is the last jurisdiction in Maryland to do so.
The Phase 1 reopening allows for barbershops and hair salons to reopen by appointment with up to five people inside; permits churches to hold tented outdoor services with 50 people in attendance; and reopens restaurants for outdoor meals, summer camps with up to 10 people per room for indoor activities and hotels with appropriate safeguards in place.
Laura Vozzella and Gregory S. Schneider in Richmond and Rebecca Tan and Ovetta Wiggins in Washington contributed to this report.