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Phase Three begins next week

Virginia is poised to enter Phase Three of Gov. Ralph Northam’s “Forward Virginia” plan, as the state continues to ease restrictions on gatherings in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Northam announced during a press briefing Tuesday that the third phase of the state plan will be implemented beginning Wednesday, July 1, as COVID-19 numbers continue to trend down in the commonwealth.

The guiding document for Phase Three was released on June 18. According to that document, the state will continue its “Safer at Home” strategy, including recommendations for social distancing and teleworking and the requirement that individuals wear face coverings in indoor public settings.

The maximum number of individuals allowed in social gatherings will increase from 50 to 250 people, said Northam, but with physical distancing guidelines still required, along with the frequent cleaning and sanitizing of high-contact surfaces.

Restaurant and beverage establishments may offer both indoor and outdoor dining for up to 250 people, but are required to continue to maintain six feet of distance between tables, as well as six feet of distance among all parties, including at the bar. Enhanced cleaning and sanitation requirements remain in place, as well.

Fitness centers may open indoor areas at 75 percent occupancy, and recreation and entertainment venues may operate at 50 percent occupancy, or a maximum of 1,000 persons, said the governor. Guidance documents continue to require physical distancing and enhanced cleaning and disinfection practices in these venues, as well.

Swimming pools may expand operations to free swim in addition to indoor and outdoor exercise, diving, and swim instruction. Overnight summer camps will remain closed.

Enhanced workplace safety measures such as screening employees and requiring those who are sick to stay home and remain in place in all business sectors.

While many states are experiencing a surge in new infections, the governor said that Virginia’s case counts continue to trend downward. Hospital bed capacity remains stable, the percentage of individuals hospitalized with a positive or pending COVID-19 test is trending downward, no hospitals are reporting PPE shortages, and the percent of positive tests continues to decline as testing increases, he said.

The governor emphasized that, although Virginia’s numbers may look good, residents should continue to be cautious and reduce their chance of infection by wearing masks, washing hands frequently, and practicing social distancing. He said people are still safer at home, and that those experiencing COVID-19 symptoms should stay home.

“This virus is still with us, and we must continue to adapt our lives around it and ensure we are keeping our vulnerable communities safe,” Northam said.