Virginia Health Dept. Walks Back Comment that “Phase One” Reopening Could Last 2 Years After Controversy

The Virginia Health Department has clarified comments from State Health Commissioner Norman Oliver were not accurate and Phase one will NOT last two years.

“I personally think Phase One will be a two year affair,” said State Health Commissioner Norman Oliver, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “There are a lot of people working on this, and I hope they prove me wrong, but I don’t see it happening in less than two years.”

Richmond.com reports on Friday, Gov. Ralph Northam presented Phase One of lifting public restrictions in Virginia that would include a continuation of social distancing, remote work and wearing masks in public.

Though the reopening outline of Phase One did not include a time frame, State Health Commissioner Norman Oliver told the Times-Dispatch on Friday that he thought Phase One would be in effect until a treatment or vaccine became available, which he predicted could be “a two-year affair.”

Saturday morning, the Health Department clarified Oliver’s statements, saying that producing a vaccine, a process that can take 12-18 months to be developed and tested, could take two years — not Phase One.

Without a vaccine or treatment, the health department said public health experts will have to monitor and contain the coronavirus through testing, contact tracing — figuring out who a COVID-19 positive patient has been in contact with — and quarantining those affected.

“In the meantime we can safely ease restrictions in a phased approach,” said a VDH spokesperson on Saturday. “Although we have no expectation that Phase One of this approach will last two years, some level of social distancing will have to continue until we have a treatment or a vaccine for the disease.”

State officials said Friday that Phase One will begin once Virginia sees a decline in both the percentages of positive cases per day and hospitalizations for a consecutive 14 days and the state increases protective equipment supply and health care capacity.

In Phase One, some businesses would remain closed, added state officials, while others would reopen under restrictions to guarantee safety. States, such as Georgia and Alaska, opening businesses in the next few days have received backlash from experts saying it could leave to a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases.

“Phase One will not last for two years,” said the governor’s office on Saturday. “We need to keep working together to beat this disease — not spread fear and misinformation.”