- Associated Press - Thursday, May 14, 2020

RICHMOND, VA. — Virginia’s capital city and a rural county on the Eastern Shore are opting out of beginning to reopen Friday, saying it is still too soon to ease restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Ralph Northam granted requests to the city of Richmond and Accomack County on Thursday afternoon to delay a gradual reopening of some nonessential businesses just hours ahead of when those areas were set to start reopening. The governor is easing some restrictions in most of the state Friday. He previously granted a two-week delay to several localities in northern Virginia.

“As I have said previously, Virginia’s Phase One guidelines represent a floor, not a ceiling,” Northam said in a statement. “I have encouraged local leaders to request exemptions when appropriate.

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.

“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.

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