RICHMOND, Va. – Neither Richmond or Accomack County will take the first step towards reopening on Friday.
Gov. Northam granted both localities their request to remain in Phase Zero.
Now, the earliest either locality can move into Phase One is May 29.
“As I have said previously, Virginia’s Phase One guidelines represent a floor, not a ceiling,” said Northam in a news release. “I have encouraged local leaders to request exemptions when appropriate, and I am pleased to grant the delays for both Accomack County and the City of Richmond.”
Two more Virginia localities have asked Gov. Ralph Northam to delay the reopening planned for Friday, saying it’s still too soon to ease restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The city of Richmond and Accomack County, which is on the state’s Eastern Shore, have both asked Northam to delay a gradual reopening of some nonessential businesses. The governor is easing some restricting in most of the state Friday, but has previously delayed reopening in Northern Virginia.
Northam did not immediately respond to the new requests for delays.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said at a news conference Thursday that the most recently available data shows a increase in the number of coronavirus tests coming back positive in the last two weeks. He also said the data shows that the virus is having a disproportionate impact on people of color and noted that Richmond has a higher percentage of minorities than the rest of the state.
Mayor Stoney and Dr. Danny Avula to provide COVID-19 updatePosted by City of Richmond, VA Government on Thursday, May 7, 2020
"I cannot justify risking the health and safety of residents of the great city of Richmond by moving forward with phase one. I just cannot do that," Stoney said.
Black state lawmakers have also asked Northam to delay reopening, citing the virus's impact on minorities. People of color are especially exposed because they are more likely to hold many of the jobs that were deemed essential, and, as the reopening starts, they are likely to be among those whose workplaces open first.
By the most recent count, Richmond has about 611 total cases of the virus. The city has about 230,000 residents.
Accomack County has about 32,000 residents and 593 cases. The county is home to two large chicken processing plants that have been hot spots for virus outbreaks.
The county board of supervisors voted 5-4 Wednesday to ask Northam to delay reopening. The board said in a letter to the governor that it needs another two weeks to gather sufficient data to determine if the county is ready to start reopening.
Northam announced earlier this week he was delayed the reopening in northern Virginia by two weeks after elected officials there said the region, which accounts for about 30% of the state's total population, wasn't ready. He's also come under fire from some Republicans for not moving more quickly to reopen the state like some other governors have done.
Also Thursday, new unemployment figures were released by the federal government showing more than 53,000 initial claims were filed during the week ending May 9. That number is down by about 6,000 from the week before and marks the fifth straight week of declining totals.
For the most recent filing week, continued unemployment claims totaled 392,673, according to the state commission. In the comparable week last year there were 17,804 continued claims.
"Thus far, about two thirds of workers who filed for initial claims during the pandemic continued to file during the May 9 filing week," the news release said.
The commission said the total number of initial claims filed from mid-March through the last filing week exceeded 16% of pre-pandemic, nonfarm employment.