The mayor had requested a pause on opening salons and churches.
On Monday, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney requested modifications to the city's Phase One reopening guidelines that are set to go into effect Friday, May 29. For the first time, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam denied the mayor's request.
Before most of Virginia entered Phase One of the state's "Virginia Forward" reopening on May 15, the Richmond mayor had requested a two-week extension for the city, which was not seeing a decline in cases unlike other regions of the state. Thirteen Northern Virginia counties and Accomack County requested extensions as well. All requests were quickly granted. The request on Monday, however—a pause on relaxed restrictions for hair salons and places of worship—was not.
"... I believe the capital city should operate under the same provisions that will apply to all 138 Virginia localities starting Friday," Northam said in the letter to Mayor Stoney published Tuesday evening. "This forces no business or house of worship to take any action it does not want to take.
"Just because a business can open, does not mean that it must open," the governor continued.
The mayor requested a pause on relaxing restrictions for "grooming salons" and places of worship.
“Many of our faith leaders have told me that they do not believe it is safe to reopen at this time, do not intend to reopen, and are worried about the health and safety of their parishioners," Stoney said. "Barbershops and salons are certainly feeling the economic pressure of the extended closure, but also have concerns for the safety of their employees with prolonged exposure to clients.”
Mayor Stoney expressed disappointment at the governor's decision Tuesday evening on Twitter.
“I won’t hide my disappointment in this. The Governor has always said the state set the floor, not the ceiling. I proposed this modified plan for the good of our city,” Stoney said in the post.
City councilman Mike Jones is also the pastor of Village of Faith church. In a video posted on social media, he said his church will stay closed for members' safety, and he hopes other churches do the same. As Channel 8 News reported, the pastor said in a video:
“I’ve heard some preachers announce ‘yeah we're opening back up. Praise the Lord, saints,’ and then I have some friends who are like ‘heavens the mercutroid [sic] no, we’re not opening back up’... If I’m sitting here in the front row ... that means there’s a person right there six feet away from me and they were coughing, how many of you are going to look back? How many of you would have a concern that someone right behind you is coughing?”
Northam's move to deny the request seemingly reflects a shift in state policy. As the burden of COVID-19 policy enforcement has shifted to the regional and hyperlocal level (despite aid packages from the Commonwealth under the CARES Act sent to localities), the governor has largely left regional officials to set their own normal before now.
What do you think? Should Northam have let Richmond hold off on reopening? Tell us in the comments!