Northern Virginia Reopening, Guidelines For Now and Questions About the Future

In Chamber Blog by admin

by Clayton Medford, Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce's Vice President, Government Relations

The Chamber has been heavily engaged in COVID-19 rescue and response advocacy since mid-March when our community went into lockdown. Those first few weeks were a chaotic sprint, with everyone working tirelessly to identify what needed to be done to keep the economy from collapsing and then to identify the resources to meet those needs. “There is no playbook for this” was something I heard as much as “now more than ever” or “we’re all in this together.” Uncertainty abounded, but so did hard work and commitment to solve the ever-changing set of challenges before us. As of last Friday, we began to see the light at the end of the tunnel as Phase 1 of Gov. Northam’s Forward Virginia re-opening went into effect. 

Our reopening on May 29 occurred two weeks after most of the rest of Virginia and didn't clear up all of our questions. Gov. Northam is making an announcement on Phase 2 today (June 2) and hopefully releasing guidelines at the same time. Metro is looking for the business community’s help (survey) in determining what level of service will be needed as people start coming back to their offices. The rest of the DC Metro region is also in various phases of reopening. We are slowly emerging from the stay-at-home phase of the COVID-19 crisis, but there is a lot of uncertainty and a lot of work ahead of us.

How long Northern Virginia will be in Phase 1, and how long we will be back in alignment with the Commonwealth, is unclear right now. Many localities including Fairfax County created new rules allowing restaurants and other businesses to use more of their outdoor space to accommodate more customers during Phase 1, which prohibits indoor dining and other activities but allows restaurants to utilize 50% of their outdoor capacity. Phase 2 will likely include some more indoor seating capacity, but we won’t know until Gov. Northam releases the guidelines.

As of Friday, Virginians are required to wear facial coverings in most public spaces. The Northam administration has said that businesses are not ultimately responsible for ensuring compliance with this mandate, but instead should do what they can to encourage voluntary compliance by their patrons. Hopefully the effect of the mask mandate, coupled with the strict Phase 1 guidelines, will lead to less community spread of COVID-19 which will lead to a quicker entrance to subsequent phases of reopening (and prevent a slide backwards). We need to reopen and stay open, and the only way to do that is with health and safety as the primary focus.

Where does that leave us? Congress continues to be in a stalemate on the next round of stimulus. The Virginia General Assembly is awaiting the next set of numbers from the Secretary of Finance before a Special Session of the legislature takes place in late summer. The programs established in the multiple rounds of federal stimulus have helped many businesses, but those resources are not endless. This summer and fall are still without a playbook, and it is going to take all of us continuing to work together to weather this storm. Regardless of what happens, know that your Chamber is working tirelessly on your behalf today, and on into the future.