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Halifax reopens under Phase 3, with caution / July 02, 2020

Businesses and establishments in Halifax County have joined most of the rest of Virginia in moving to Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan, but the progress comes in fits and starts.

The World of Sports has gone back to showing movies on a limited schedule, restaurants have expanded interior dining, and in-person church services have returned on Sunday mornings, but Gov. Ralph Northam has cautioned that Virginia could revert back to shelter-at-home orders if coronavirus infections surge in the days ahead.

“Everyone should continue to take this pandemic very seriously. Cases are on the rise in many other states,” Northam said in a June press briefing to discuss the start of Phase 3 on July 1. “I do not want to see that happen in our Commonwealth.”

On Wednesday, Halifax County South Boston Library director Jay Stephens announced the South Boston and Halifax branches will hold off moving to Phase 3 until at least July 20.

“I’ve been monitoring virus cases in the region,” said Stephens. “Over the last several days Halifax County and nearby localities have seen steady increases in the number of coronavirus cases. I feel that it is better for us to take this reopening process in a safe, slow manner, than to rush it along.”

The libraries will continue to offer curb service for the exchange of books and other materials, Stephens said, until it’s safe to reopen the two local branches.

Halifax County’s current COVID-19 caseload stands at 54 patients, according to the latest report by the Virginia Department of Health on Wednesday. Seven days earlier, on June 24, Halifax had 41 diagnosed cases of the disease, which has claimed more than 127,000 lives nationally. One person has died in the county, according to VDH.

In Southside Virginia, the fastest growth of the virus has occurred in Pittsylvania County, where 122 people have now been infected. Pittsylvania’s caseload has more than doubled in three weeks, which health officials attribute in part to vacationers returning home from Myrtle Beach, S.C. and other COVID-19 hot zones. One person has died in Pittsylvania, and hospitalizations have risen from 16 to 22 patients in the past week, from June 24-July 1.

Although local establishments are welcoming back patrons under Phase 3, most are continuing safety precautions as directed by the governor and advised under health department and CDC guidelines.

At the YMCA of South Boston/Halifax County, “people have been really understanding and really good” about heeding limits on certain activities, said executive director Kristen Zerbato. The Y, she said, “has a social responsibility to keep this community safe, especially with our large elderly population.”

With the transition to Phase 3, the Y will soon resume its Stay and Play in-house childcare service for parents who bring their small children with them while they work out. Stay and Play begins July 8. The YMCA also is opening up its pool for open swim and its locker rooms starting on Saturday, July 4. All swimmers, whether visiting for lap, exercise class or open swim, must reserve their pool times online, at

Men’s and women’s locker rooms at the Y will be opening soon, but steam rooms will remain closed under the governor’s directive, said Zerbato.

Under Phase 3, the cap on the number of individuals allowed at most social gatherings has been raised from 50 to 250 people. Occupancy limits on patrons at restaurant and beverage establishments, such as breweries, wineries and distilleries, also are lifted, but these venues must still keep six feet of distance between tables.

On Tuesday, Northam banned bar seating at restaurants, although patrons can order drinks at their tables.

The number of persons accessing fitness centers increases to 75 percent occupancy, although the space between equipment and participants in group exercises remains fixed at ten feet. Recreation and entertainment venues — museums, movie theaters, bowling alleys, amusement parks, fairs, and outdoor venues — can reopen at 50 percent occupancy, up to 1,000 persons.

Swimming pools can expand operations to include free swim in addition to indoor and outdoor exercise, diving, and swim instruction, but occupancy is limited to 75 percent.

Barbershops and hair salons can once again accept walk-in customers, but social distancing will be necessary, as will the wearing of face masks.

The 50 percent occupancy limits imposed on retail businesses under Virginia’s Phase 2 are gone. Shop owners are encouraged to continue following physical distancing guidelines, frequently clean and sanitize high contact surfaces, and keep enhanced workplace safety measures in place through Phase 3.

Beaches, campgrounds, state parks and childcare facilities are open in Phase 3, but overnight summer camps will remain closed, as will the splash park at Occoneechee State Park in Clarksville and the outdoor pool at Staunton River State Park in Scottsburg. So far, the US Army Corps of Engineers has not said when it plans to reopen the shelters or swimming areas at recreational sites around Buggs Island Lake.

Recreational sports can begin again if social distancing of ten feet or more between participants can take place.

Farmers markets are encouraged to continue offering order ahead and pickup options for their customers. Signage must be posted at the market site banning members of the public from the marketplace if they have a fever or symptoms of COVID-19, or are known to have been exposed to a COVID-19 case in the prior 14 days. Additional signage must explain the social distancing requirements of six feet.

Employees and vendors working at the markets must wear face coverings over their nose and mouth, wash their hands between transactions if handing money, and regularly clean and disinfect their spaces and equipment. Hand sanitizer should be made available for both patrons and employees.

Churches and religious organizations can hold in-person services if members of the congregation, except those in the same family, are seated at least six feet apart. Items used to distribute food or beverages, including those used during communion, must be disposable and used only once, and a thorough cleaning and disinfection of frequently contacted surfaces must be conducted prior to and following any religious service.

Churches are also encouraged to suspend their choirs, eliminate the use of common items such as hymnals and prayer books, end the practice of “passing the peace,” and shorten the duration of services.

When oils, water, ashes, or other materials are applied to a person’s forehead, self-application should be used, to the extent possible.

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Is there any recourse when medical facility staff opt not to wear masks? Have yet to see any information as to medical facility PPE requirements.

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