It’s post-Memorial Day. Summer supposedly is here, but Covid-19 restrictions meant that community pools couldn’t open, sports traditions like the Indy 500 race were postponed, and social gatherings of more than 10 people are banned, so neighborhood holiday picnics and barbeques were out. On the brighter side, the health directors for the counties of Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun, Arlington, and the City of Alexandria determined that Northern Virginia has met four of the six metrics for moving into Phase One. The unmet metrics are contact tracing and increasing and sustainable supplies of personal protective equipment, which are being addressed at the state level. On Monday, the Mayors and Chairs of the same jurisdictions sent a letter to Governor Northam, supporting the transition into Phase One at midnight tonight.
Thursday afternoon, the Board of Supervisors will hold another emergency special meeting to prepare for Phase One. Fairfax County’s Zoning Ordinance typically does not permit restaurants and exercise facilities to operate in parking lots but, under the Governor’s Executive Order 61, these facilities may open, at 50 percent of indoor capacity, utilizing outdoor areas on private property without further documentation or approval from the county.
To allow such activities under certain delineated conditions, the Board must approve an Emergency Ordinance. Otherwise, the businesses would be in violation of their existing approvals to operate, and subject to citizen complaints to the Department of Code Compliance. In the language of the Emergency Ordinance, “the Board of Supervisors desires to reduce Covid-19 emergency impacts to business owners, to the communities those businesses serve and who wish to support them, and to county government. To that end, this emergency ordinance automatically approves outdoor dining and outdoor fitness and exercise activities that meet certain conditions, including those established by the Governor in Phase One.” The Emergency Ordinance may be enforced for no more than 60 days; If a longer time is needed, the Board would schedule a public hearing in July to consider re-adopting the ordinance for a finite period, not to exceed six months after the emergency. Hopefully, an extension will not be necessary!
As much of the National Capital Region prepares for a gradual entry into Phase One re-opening, it may be useful to look at how jurisdictions in other states are faring. Aerial photographs reveal that beaches are popular, but without much social distancing at some. Some southern shopping malls re-opened, welcoming customers who just wanted to browse among the clothing racks after weeks of being confined to homes. On the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the local grocery store was enforcing social distancing, counting the number of people entering, and holding the line until an equal number of customers left the store. Clerks, all wearing face masks and gloves, enforced the directional arrows painted on the aisle floors. However, only about half the customers wore face masks. Carry-outs had contactless service, but the lines at restaurants were long, as social distancing pushed the waiting customers far into the parking lots. A mini-golf venue was open, but most of the usual recreational amenities still were closed. Sadly, some may never re-open.
Entering Phase One is a positive step, but it does not remove the responsibility of observing social distancing, washing hands frequently, covering coughs, and wearing a face mask, made mandatory this week by the Governor when outside of the home. Our region has had almost three months of self-isolation, working remotely, and quarantining, and I doubt any of us wants to repeat that experience.
Stay safe, and healthy.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at email@example.com.