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Virginia and Maryland Counties Surrounding D.C. Pump the Brakes on Reopening Plans

COVID-19 numbers in places like Arlington and Prince George’s County don’t match the downward trends in their states

People wearing face masks wait for takeout in front of an Alexandria, Virginia, restaurant

While governors in Virginia and Maryland continue to follow reopening plans that could let residents to return to some restaurants in a limited capacity by the end of this week, local leaders in counties surrounding D.C. say they must wait longer to start their gradual return to reopening businesses.

On Sunday, the mayor of Alexandria and representatives for Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William counties sent a joint letter to Gov. Ralph Northam stating that Northern Virginia isn’t ready to reopen, and it should be considered with its own regional targets apart from the rest of the state. The letter included a memo put together by public health officials that showed the region has not yet met the state’s data-driven benchmarks for entering the first phase of reopening.

According to a release, Alexandria and the Northern Virginia counties represent a combined 2.5 million residents. That accounts for a third of the state’s population and half of its COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.

Northam said in his public address Monday that he requested the letter from local leaders as a show of unity, effectively a pledge that they would all act in concert with one another. He said the rest of the state remained on track to enter the first phase of reopening on Friday, May 15. That plan allows participating restaurants to welcome customers for outdoor seating only at 50 percent capacity.

Northam said he expects to issue an official order by Wednesday, May 13.

In Maryland, Gov., Larry Hogan has already begun lifting some restrictions, reopening golf courses and beaches as of Thursday, May 7. Hogan said last week that as long as COVID-19 trends were on the decline, the state could enter its own first phase or lifting restrictions: allowing religious gatherings outside and letting people back inside some nonessential businesses. In Maryland, eating at restaurants is deemed a “medium-risk” activity that would be allowed in the second phase of the tiered plan.

Leaders in Montgomery County and Prince George’s County have since both said that they’ll move slower than the state at large. Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich told reporters on a Zoom call Saturday that he would follow the lead of health officials and was looking to coordinate policies with D.C. and Northern Virginia. Prince George’s Executive Angela Alsobrooks said last Friday that her jurisdiction would also lag behind the rest of the state. Alsobrooks cited an average of nine deaths per day in the county while making her statement.

Per the Washington Post, Maryland added 786 cases Monday, its lowest number in five days, and continued a five-day decrease in the number of hospitalized patients.

As of Monday, May 11, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser had yet to extend the May 15 expiration date on the city’s emergency orders. But Bowser has emphasized she expects that self-imposed deadline to be extended, and the city is following a cautious approach to reopening.