Regional Re-Open Plan Remains Slow as COVID Rates Stay High

While states with both Republican and Democratic leadership have begun re-opening businesses like restaurants and even bowling alleys, elected officials and health authorities in our area have taken a slower approach. Across the D.C. area, there has been, at best, a stagnation in the decline of new COVID-19 cases, and as such, the region likely remains at least a couple weeks away from entering something that resembles the “phase one” outlined in the federal re-opening guidance.

Currently, new franchised auto dealerships are allowed to remain open under the parameters of Virginia’s Executive Order 53, issued in March, and Maryland legal guidance that expressly authorized sales and service operations to continue. In both states, there are significant regulations around these continued operations, including a 10-person capacity limit and social distancing requirement in Virginia, and statewide and local workplace PPE ordinances in Maryland.

In the District of Columbia, where there are no new auto dealerships, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Wednesday that she will extend the city’s stay-at-home order until at least June 8. She said that the city continues to experience widespread community transmission of COVID-19, and that the rate of positive tests in the city remains over 20 percent.

Last week, Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia issued Executive Order 61, which, when implemented, would be the largest loosening of restrictions in the region by far. The ordinance will allow businesses to operate at 50 percent of their lowest published patron capacity; hair salons will be able to accept clients again on a by-appointment basis, and restaurants can offer dine-in services outdoors.

The ordinance was supposed to go into effect statewide on Friday; however, local leaders and health officials in Northern Virginia asked Gov. Northam to delay the implementation of EO 61 in their region. On Tuesday, Northam issued Executive Order 62, officially delaying the region’s entrance into phase one until at least May 29. In essence, the parameters around EO 53 will remain in effect in the region.

Even as the “phase one” of the Forward Virginia re-open plan gets delayed in Northern Virginia, businesses statewide will be required to have all employees wear masks in public-facing areas. That order will be enforced by the state Department of Health, and non-compliant businesses can be closed.­­­ Virginia has issued guidelines for all businesses during phase one of the re-opening. 

In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan announced a plan last week to allow some elective medical procedures to resume, as he simultaneously re-opened state parks and beaches to certain outdoor activities. Leaders in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties expressed concern about the governor’s attempts to loosen restrictions on outdoor activities, noting that the rate of COVID cases in their jurisdictions are vastly higher than in the rest of the state. On Tuesday, Gov. Hogan indicated he would let those two counties chart their own re-opening timeline.

Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties account for nearly half of all COVID-19 cases in Maryland, greatly outpacing their total population rate, and the same dynamic is true in Northern Virginia.

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