As Virginia slowly reopens, several key public health metrics still haven’t been met

As Virginia slowly reopens, several key public health metrics still haven’t been met
Shoppers walk around the mostly closed stores at Short Pump Town Center in Henrico, Va., May 16, 2020. (Source: Parker Michels-Boyce / For the Virginia Mercury)

Plenty has changed in the two weeks since Gov. Ralph Northam announced his plans to gradually reopen Virginia starting Friday.

What Northam first described as a widespread reopening with possible regional exceptions (most notably, in Northern Virginia) has become a more piecemeal approach after the governor granted last-minute exemptions to the city of Richmond and Accomack County, two localities that worried their COVID-19 caseloads were still far too high to safely loosen restrictions.

In letters to Northam, both Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and Accomack County Administrator Michael Mason cited concerns over a lack of data to show their jurisdictions were meeting goals that the governor has cited as crucial to reopening the state.

“Currently, data is not readily available to determine Accomack County meets these metrics,” Mason wrote in a May 14 letter requesting a late reopening. “A two-week delay will allow sufficient time for data to be accumulated for this area and analyzed to determine if it is indeed ready to take further steps to reopen.”

Northam, a pediatric neurologist, has repeatedly insisted that Virginia’s reopening hinged on meeting a set of public health metrics. “We’re really emphasizing and focusing on data rather than dates,” he said Wednesday, explaining his decision to allow Northern Virginia — one of the state’s hardest-hit regions — to maintain restrictions for at least an additional two weeks.

But as the rest of Virginia enters Phase One of the reopening plan, health data shows that some of those metrics still haven’t been met. In other cases, erratic data reporting has made it all but impossible to track the state’s progress.

The Mercury broke down where the state currently stands on the health metrics and data that Northam has described as vital to a safe reopening.

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The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.