Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced that the City of Virginia Beach will open its beaches to recreational activity this Friday, May 22.

As most of Virginia entered Phase One of reopening last Friday, the continued restrictions on public beaches have been a source of much contention. The City of Virginia Beach, a summertime destination for both in- and out-of-state residents, is eager to launch back into its major season of tourism as Memorial Day approaches next Monday. After working closely with the governor, it looks like city officials got their wish.

Virginia Beach public beaches will be "allowed" to reopen this Friday, Northam announced in his COVID-19 briefing this Monday. Beaches will officially open this Friday, May 22, for recreational activity, including swimming, sunbathing, surfing, and fishing. Parking will be capped at 50-percent capacity.

Group sports, alcohol, tents, and groups of umbrellas are prohibited.

"Today, I am announcing that Friday, May 22, which is this Friday, I will allow the City of Virginia Beach to open its beaches to recreational activity," Northam said. "This includes sunbathing and swimming, as well as fishing and surfing, as defined by the City's ordinance. It does not include group sports, alcohol, usage of tents, or groups of umbrellas. Parking will be capped at fifty percent capacity."

Talks as to how to safely reopen the state in the middle of a pandemic have been contentious but ongoing as we coordinate across local, regional, and state governments to develop clear policy initiatives and contingency plans to prevent and contain the outbreak of COVID-19. Northam said Virginia Beach officials who presented the proposal worked with the state secretary of natural resources, Matt Strickler, to "toughen [the plan] up." He says the state has been working hard to coordinate with regional officials across the East Coast as summertime approaches.

"Officials in our beach localities, particularly in Virginia Beach, have been working for some time on a comprehensive plan for how to reopen the beaches while maintaining safety and social and physical distancing," Northam said. "You've all seen that public beaches along the East Coast are taking the next steps."

Most of Virginia entered Phase One of reopening last Friday, May 15. Accomack County, 13 counties in Northern Virginia, and the City of Richmond have not reopened, after filing an exemption to postpone entering Phase One for an additional two weeks.

Phase One, which includes slightly relaxed restrictions on select businesses, does not overrule the stay-at-home order still in place for citizens until June 10. Gatherings of more than 10 people are still prohibited, and everyone must maintain a social and physical distance of at least six feet

As of Monday, May 18 at 4 p.m., Virginia reports 31,140 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 3,822 hospitalizations, and 1,014 deaths. According to data published by the Virginia Department of Health, Virginia Beach has reported 557 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 86 hospitalizations, and 19 deaths.

"I want to remind everyone as we enter Phase One of easing restrictions, this does not mean we can behave as we used to," Northam said last week shortly, after announcing reopening for some businesses across the state. "You still need to stay at home as much as possible. You still need to wash your hands and stay physically distant."

"The virus is very much still with us, and no one should let their guard down," he said.