Stoney cites racial disparities in Richmond COVID-19 cases, requests to delay reopening

RVA Mayor Levar Stoney addresses the crowd during the State of the City on January 31, 2019. Photo by Jon Mirador

Katharine DeRosa, Staff Writer

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said he is hesitant to reopen the city in a letter to Gov. Ralph Northam, as Virginia is set to partially reopen businesses on Friday.

Stoney said there is a lack of data analysis in Richmond and that the virus is disproportionately affecting those experiencing other social or economic struggles.

“To be clear – I want to reopen our city,” Stoney said. “However, we should only take that step when there are adequate protections for our most vulnerable communities.”

On Thursday, Stoney officially requested that Northam allow Richmond to delay the first phase of reopening due to an increase in the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests in Richmond. In a Facebook post, Stoney included a graph showing the number of people tested and the percentage of positive and negative cases in Richmond. It displays a large increase in testing and a slight increase in positive cases since April 28.

Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax sent a letter to Northam on Tuesday proposing that the governor create a statewide task force to address racial disparities associated with COVID-19. He wrote that many members of minority communities have been deemed essential workers and therefore need more protection.

As of Thursday, the Virginia Department of Health reported that African Americans account for 53.5% of the 611 positive COVID-19 cases in Richmond, and 23% statewide. Sixteen out of 18 COVID-19 related deaths in the city were African Americans.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, African Americans accounted for 47.8% of the Richmond population in 2019 estimates.

Hispanic and Latino people account for 29.4% of cases in Richmond, according to the VDH, while they account for about 7% of the city’s population. Hispanic and Latino people account for 43.8% of cases statewide.

“It is imperative that we immediately address these glaring racial disparities,” Fairfax said.

Virginia is expected to partially reopen local businesses, including restaurants, hair salons and farmers’ markets, on May 15, given a two-week downward trend of statewide cases.

Northam referred to this as “phase one” of reopening Virginia during a press conference on May 4. He said social distancing remains important during the first phase.

“I don’t want people to let their guard down,” Northam said.

Counties and cities of Northern Virginia requested that Northam allow a postponement of phase one, citing the region’s large population and percent positive cases. Northam approved the request on Tuesday, allowing the region — which includes Arlington County, Fairfax County, Loudoun County, Prince William County and the city of Alexandria — to delay phase one until May 28.

Falls Church Mayor David Tarter thanked Northam for seeing that “one size does not fit all when it comes to the complex work of saving lives and livelihoods,” in a press conference held by Northam on Wednesday.

Guidelines for reopened businesses during phase one include:

  • Reopening of hairdressers and barbers by appointment only, with increased safety measures
  • Farmers’ markets may allow foot traffic with social distancing procedures.
  • Restaurants can offer 50% of outdoor seating in addition to carry out and delivery.
  • Religious gatherings with social distancing procedures and 50% building capacity
  • Nonessential retail stores can reopen at 50% building capacity.
  • Gyms remain closed but can offer outdoor classes with social distancing guidelines.

 

Entertainment and amusement facilities will remain closed, and beaches will remain closed for uses other than exercise and fishing. People who can telework are still encouraged to do so, and a ban on gatherings of 10 or more people remains, Northam said.

Despite the governor’s greenlight, some Richmond businesses are holding off on reopening.

Lyn Page, co-owner of three Carytown thrift stores — Ashby, Clementine and Clover — said all three will remain closed at this time and that she won’t consider reopening until the middle of June.

“On any given weekend, Ashby could be elbow to elbow,” Page said. “We could have customers basically on top of each other.”

Ashby, a consignment store in Carytown, will not be reopening this weekend. Co-owner Lyn Page said customers come in close contact while shopping, and the shop’s staff did not feel comfortable working. Photo courtesy of Lyn Page

Page said that her staff does not feel comfortable returning and that she doesn’t want to make them feel unsafe.

Page is a part of the Carytown Merchants Association, which works to build community and common goals between Carytown businesses, according to its website. Page said she sees the need for smaller businesses to begin reopening because of financial struggles.

Red Eye Cookie, located on West Grace Street near VCU’s campus, has stayed open throughout the stay-at-home order.

During this time, Brayden Pleasants, president of Red Eye Cookie Co., said in an email that they have continued to employ their staff and offer personal protective equipment to ensure safety.

Only one customer is allowed inside the store at a time, Pleasants said, and the company is offering contactless deliveries.

Orders can be placed online directly through the store’s website or through Grubhub, Uber Eats, Postmates and DoorDash.

Pleasants said in a text message that he doesn’t see their operations changing during phase one and that the changes are “a small inconvenience at most.”

“We’re happy to serve our community and employ our staff, but only so long as we can reasonably ensure the safety of both,” Pleasants said in a text.

Northam said phase one will last 2-4 weeks and will be followed by phase two, which will begin when there is a continued downward trend in cases, increased personal protective equipment available and increased testing. Phase three will begin when scientists see no evidence of a resurgence in cases.

This article was updated to include an additional quote from Brayden Pleasants.

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