The time is now: Roanoke County leaders call on Gov. Northam to reopen southwest Virginia economy

‘Now it’s time to let us do it on our own’

ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. – Roanoke County leaders are calling on Gov. Ralph Northam to reopen the economy on a regional basis.

Friday morning, the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors announced the members have signed and sent a letter to the governor asking him to ease restrictions on southwest Virginia, as soon as possible.

Roanoke County is the latest local government to urge the governor to reopen, saying he should trust that citizens and businesses can follow health and safety protocols, as they’ve been doing for weeks.

Some local business owners say it’s time to reopen; other say proceed with caution.

It’s curbside only at Hollywood’s Restaurant and Bakery in Roanoke County. Owner Mark Henderson said business is hanging on for now.

“We were 43% down from sales from last year. I’m not going to get rich like this, but at least we can pay our rent and our bills and our utilities and so forth," Henderson said.

Henderson got a Paycheck Protection Program loan, but that money will run out.

“Before that, I didn’t know if we were going to be able to stay open or not. However, after about two weeks, the loss in sales will equal about what the PPP check was," said Henderson.

Henderson’s is a story the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors members have heard time and time again from businesses and citizens in the community. So on Friday, they sent a letter to Gov. Northam asking him to reopen Virginia, regionally, and as soon as possible.

Board chairman David Radford said southwest Virginia is rural and not a high health risk for spreading COVID-19. He said local hospitals are not overwhelmed and businesses have been disproportionately hurt by the closures.

“Hopefully we can get back to a new normal and let us kind of be creative with our own methods...We’ve been acting upon it for the past 7 weeks. Now it’s time to let us do it on our own now," said Radford.

But Dr. Molly O’Dell, the Virginia Department of Health’s medical director for the New River Valley told 10 News off camera it’s too soon. She said the number of new COVID-19 cases is still on the rise, even in southwest Virginia.

Kirtesh Patel, the CEO at Omma Management, which runs multiple hotels, pharmacies, gas stations and health care facilities in Roanoke County, agrees businesses should be allowed to reopen, but not all at once.

“That would be very risky to open everything...start slow...then we can be successful,” said Patel.

Henderson said, “It’s something that we need to open, and safely.”

County leaders said they’re going to follow the guidance of health officials, but if they can’t reopen the economy, there are going to be serious long term consequences.

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