Virginia’s health commissioner said the first, limited phase of reopening from the strict lockdown will last two years.
“I, personally, think phase one will be a two-year affair,” state Health Commissioner Norman Oliver told 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.”
Like most states, Virginia went into lockdown in March in a bid to slow the spread of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, a novel coronavirus that emerged from mainland China last year that causes COVID-19. Unlike most governors, Gov. Ralph Northam said his strict orders would be in place until June 10.
“I want to be clear: Do not go out unless you need to go out. This is very different than wanting to go out,” the Democrat said at the time.
The overwhelming majority of governors have already begun reopening their states or planning their reopenings. Virginia officials told reporters at a press conference on Friday restrictions would begin to be lifted only if the daily increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations decline over a two-week period.
An increase in the capacity to test for the virus and trace contacts of people who test positive, along with a boost in the number of available hospital beds and personal protective equipment, is also required, Northam said.
When those benchmarks are met, the state’s phase one will allow some businesses that were forced to close in March to reopen. A number of others will have to stay closed.
Northam said he hopes to move into phase one by May 8.
Oliver appeared to suggest the phase could last for years, or until “medical countermeasures” such as a treatment being proven to work against the CCP virus or the development of a vaccine.
Asked about the comments, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Health told WRVA Radio, “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.”
Besides having “some businesses re-open with strict safety restrictions,” phase one will include continued social distancing measures, a continued emphasis on having all workers who can, work from home, and a recommendation for people to wear masks or other face coverings in public.
Virginia officials on Friday reported 596 new confirmed cases, bringing the total to 11,594, and 410 total deaths from COVID-19, an increase of 38.