County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) said she expects Northern Virginia to enter the narrow Phase 1 lessening of business restrictions next week, based on the trends health leaders are seeing in COVID-19 cases.
She made the statement this morning during a meeting with two dozen business leaders gathered at the Ion International Training Center in Leesburg. The meeting was organized by Ion COO Mitra Setayesh and involved owners of companies in various business sectors—from hospitality to automotive to medical—who were concerned about last week’s decision to delay a limited reopening in Northern Virginia.
During the two-hour session, the business owners said they were not advocating reducing restrictions only on rural businesses—as some county supervisors have suggested—but questioned whether the fate of Loudoun businesses should be tied to other Northern Virginia localities that have shown higher infection and hospitalization rates.
Their message was that businesses are ready to get back to work in a responsible way that would protect employees and customers.
As Randall shared the personal pain of writing letters to family members of the 49 county residents who have died from the coronavirus, Setayesh noted a recent death by suicide of the 43-year-old cofounder of a hockey club formed to provide support and a recreational outlet to disabled veterans. Members of that group are among those being socially isolated by the state’s business restrictions.
“We ask of you to not hold us back and delay the inevitable any longer, but instead work with us, as a unified community and as a team to help us open gradually and responsibly while taking all safety measures to minimize the impact of the pandemic while we instill hope and promote physical health to boost immune systems. Fight this virus and save lives,” Setayesh said.
Randall said the decision made by the region’s leaders to delay Phase 1 of reopening—which will eventually allow limited outdoor dining, by-appointment personal services, outdoor gym classes and a return to in-person worship—was made at the urging of local health directors who feared a spike in new COVID-19 cases at that time. During the past week, trends have improved, she said.
Despite the controversy that followed, Randall said she would not have made a different decision today based on those facts. However, she said that she wished there had been time to meet with more businesses before that decision was made. “It was a 48-hour, medically based decision.”
In addition to moving into Phase 1 on May 29, Randall said she was hopeful that Loudoun and the region would move into Phase 2 at the same time as the rest of the commonwealth next month. Phase 2 will allow restaurants to reopen at a limited capacity and permit gatherings in excess of 10 people.
“Virginia is ripe for re-opening,” Randall said. “I want to re-open on the 29th.”
Gov. Ralph Northam is expected to set the stage for lifting the current Phase 0 restrictions in Northern Virginia during his public briefing on Friday afternoon. A formal announcement is not expected until Tuesday, following a situation review with regional leaders following the holiday weekend.
Randall also said she would make a special pitch for the governor to provide flexibility for veteran support organizations as part of an overall effort to address the impacts from weeks of social isolation, including increases in domestic violence and alcohol use.
In addition their desire to increase their operations, several business owners urged Randall to consider tax breaks or other support as they work to recover. While tax reductions are unlikely, she noted that the recent award of $36 million in CARES Act funding will mean that every business that applied for a business interruption grant would be awarded one and that an additional round of grants was possible.