Gov. Ralph Northam said Monday he is open to the idea of opening businesses in southwest Virginia before the rest of the state as he weighs when coronavirus restrictions can be lifted.
The governor said at a news conference that the situation in the border city of Bristol illustrates why a regional approach might be necessary.
Bristol, a city that sits on both sides of the Virginia-Tennessee border, now faces a situation where restaurants on the Tennessee side of the border can provide dine-in services to patrons, while those on the Virginia side cannot.
Last week, Northam had downplayed the idea of opening businesses on a regional basis. On Monday, he said wanted to discuss the idea further with the business community.
“To try to be consistent, is it really fair for Tennessee’s businesses to be open and Virginia’s not to be?” Northam asked. “I’m open-minded to all of that. I would say, ‘Stay tuned.’”
Northam faced increasingly skeptical questions at Monday’s press conference about his justification for continuing his executive orders closing nonessential businesses and requiring Virginians to stay at home, particularly as other Southern states are beginning to ease restrictions.
Northam said he’s trying to be guided by the science, but he acknowledged Monday that the science is in a state of flux. One computer model, for instance, suggests that Virginia may have reached its peak of COVID-19 cases. Another model, prepared by the University of Virginia, suggests that keeping stay-at-home restrictions in place through the duration of Northam’s current order of June 10 will only delay an inevitable surge of cases, and result in a sharp peak of cases in August.
“It’s not a perfect science and I would be the first as a scientist to agree with that,” said Northam, a physician. “They call this a novel COVID-19, novel meaning new to the world. So there a lot of things that we don’t know about the virus that we’d like to know.”
Also Monday, Northam said he worked with the governors in Maryland and Delaware to request federal help to deal with an outbreak of COVID-19 cases connected to poultry plants on the Delmarva peninsula. He said workers from the federal Centers for Disease Control arrived in Virginia on Monday. Teams include epidemiologists, contact trace workers and translators who speak Haitian Creole, a language commonly used among the region’s poultry workers.
“The poultry economy on the Delmarva peninsula is so interconnected that a coordinated approach is critical,” Northam said.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up within weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and death. The vast majority of people recover.