FREDERICKSBURG, VA — Fredericksburg officials are developing a plan to reopen the city government in response to Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s announcement on Monday that the state will ease some restrictions on businesses and gatherings starting May 15. In the meantime, the city will continue to conduct most government services by telephone and electronic means.
The city’s plan to reopen will be a “very measured, phased-in approach” that is going to be based on data and focused on providing services to the community while keeping the health and safety of city employees and the public at the forefront, Fredericksburg Fire Chief Mike Jones said Tuesday in a video statement.
“We’ve got to make sure that we keep a well workforce, that we keep them available for you, and we’ve got to make it safe so when the time comes in the future for you to be able to access city buildings that you feel safe coming there and that our employees are well and capable of working with you,” Jones said.
With declining hospitalizations across the state and increased coronavirus testing capability, Virginia is planning to start the first of three phases of reopening certain businesses and other activities on May 15. Northam said Monday that he expects the first phase to last about three weeks before the state seeks to further ease restrictions on social gatherings. Phases two and three also will last about three weeks as long as health data supports the further easing of restrictions, the governor said.
With May 15 as the target date, Northam on Monday said he is extending an executive order — Executive Order 53 — closing most nonessential businesses that was set to expire May 8. A separate stay-at-home order set to end June 10 will remain in place.
Fredericksburg is conducting research for the guidance it plans to provide businesses like hair salons, barber shops, fitness centers and restautants on the best ways to implement social distancing and keeping occupancy at safe levels, according to Jones. The city hopes to have the guidance ready for its businesses in the next week to 10 days.
“We want to be proactive rather than reactive,” Jones said about the city’s attempt to get the guidance ready for businesses before the May 15 reopening date.
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Health officials reported Tuesday that the Fredericksburg area now has its second outbreak of the coronavirus.
Last week, several employees of the Aldi grocery store in the Four Mile Fork area of Spotsylvania County tested positive for the new coronavirus, or COVID-19, the first coronavirus outbreak reported in the Rappahannock Area Health District. An outbreak is defined as two lab-confirmed cases that are linked by a person, place, or time outside of a household.
The second outbreak was reported in King George County. Two staff members and two residents at Heritage Hall nursing home in King George County tested positive for the cornavirus, marking the Fredericksburg area’s first outbreak in a long-term care facility.
All of the people at the nursing home who tested positive are being isolated. The health district has conducted contact tracing for the people who tested positive and notified the people who had the potential for exposure to them, Jones said.
As of Tuesday, the Rappahannock Area Health District reported 629 people who tested positive for the coronavirus. Stafford County has 308 cases, followed by Spotsylvania County with 206 cases, King George County with 36 cases and Caroline County with 34 cases. The city of Fredericksburg has 45 positive cases. The district has reported 11 deaths, but none in Fredericksburg.
At the state level, 16 percent of the tests conducted are coming back positive for the coronavirus. In the Rappahannock Area Health District, 13 percent of people tested have the coronavirus.
When those percentages stay the same, flatten or even decrease, those are positive trends, Jones explained.