Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s office said Friday that Phase One of reopening the state under federal guidelines could last as long as two years as the state battles the novel Wuhan coronavirus.
“I personally think Phase One will be a two year affair,” said State Health Commissioner Norman Oliver, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “There are a lot of people working on this, and I hope they prove me wrong, but I don’t see it happening in less than two years.”
Phase One under federal recommendations feature a limited reopening of some businesses with strict safety restrictions, social distancing requirements remaining in place, continued teleworking encouraged and face masks suggested in public. Nowhere do the guidelines mention reopening schools that will already remain closed for the rest of the academic year.
The Virginia health department tried to clarify Oliver’s comments on Saturday, saying the health commissioner misspoke when speculating that Phase One of recovery would last 24 months.
“Dr. Oliver intended to say that the Commonwealth will likely be dealing with COVID-19 in some form until a vaccine is produced, not that Phase One itself would take two years,” a department spokesperson told Newsradio WRVA.
As of Saturday morning, the state has reported more than 12,000 cases and nearly 2,000 hospitalizations with more than 400 deaths from the virus, according to the Virginia Department of Health. In order for the state to enter Phase One, Virginia must report a sustained decline of new cases over a 14-day period. New cases however, have continued on an upward trajectory though at a slower pace than previous weeks.
Several states this week and in the coming days have begun to lift restrictions either on their own without abiding by the nonbinding federal guidelines or have entered Phase One of the White House rubric including Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Minnesota, Montana, Mississippi, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Vermont.