The coronavirus pandemic has created a situation with no easy answers. As someone who works for a small business, I understand there are valid concerns that non-essential business closure and stay-at-home orders have taken a substantial toll on Prince William’s economy. Businesses have shuttered, folks are out of work, and families are struggling to put food on the table. A sizable number of our Occoquan District neighbors work in fields where current restrictions have left them unemployed or underemployed.
That being said, I believe that our well-reasoned economic concerns must be weighed alongside the substantial negative impacts on many Prince William County residents, especially those in our most vulnerable communities. A significant portion of our essential workers are people of color, come from low income backgrounds, or in some other way fall into a economically-disadvantaged group. Although testing and PPE have become more widely available, these workers still require more protections and support. Reopening too soon would not only increase COVID-19 exposure to these workers, but would also further increase negative economic pressure. If we do not do enough to protect workers in service fields before re-opening, more lives will be at risk and the reputations of our local businesses will be on the line.
Moreover, the data we can actually rely on paints a sobering picture of where we currently are: the Prince William Health District reported its highest per-day cases, 313, on May 11th. This means that while social distancing, good hygiene, and the restrictions have kept many Prince William residents safe, we have not yet flattened the curve, nor do we meet the Opening Up America Again guidelines set forth by the White House. Other states that have opened up before meeting these metrics have continued to see significant spikes in new COVID-19 cases, which puts individuals and businesses at even more risk. I have also heard from entrepreneurs who say that their business would not survive reopening only to close again during a new COVID-19 spike; that a steadier approach is more manageable.
It’s for those reasons that I support the Governor’s decision to target May 29 as the beginning of Phase I in Northern Virginia. This is not a position I take lightly; it is not lost on me that families and businesses will continue to be negatively impacted the longer we delay. At the same time, I believe our healthcare professionals when they tell us that it would be irresponsible to begin re-opening too early. As a Board, the safety and security of Prince William residents is our top priority, and all of the information we currently have shows that we protect the lives and livelihoods of the most people by following the new reopening timeline.
Finally, the May 29th date gives our business leaders the additional time they need to help us meet the metrics our health professionals are looking for – enough masks and other safety equipment being commonplace in establishments, a 14-day downward trend in new cases, and continued increase in testing capacity are all points we need to meet before we can reopen safely. We all have a part to play in ensuring we get there as soon as possible.