Virginia, Maryland suburbs aligned with DC in COVID response

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The Sligo Creek Golf Course in Silver Spring, Md., is opened Monday, May 11, 2020, as Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan opened golf courses in the initial stage in easing coronavirus shutdown. As states push for some return to normal business operations, elected officials in the Virginia and Maryland suburbs surrounding Washington, D.C., are unwilling to quickly reopen, as they confront COVID-19 infection and fatality numbers that are the highest in their states. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

FALLS CHURCH, Va. – The allure was tempting: Haircuts were to be had, as was the chance to drink a beer at an outdoor bar after governors in Maryland and Virginia agreed to loosen weekslong lockdown restrictions because of the coronavirus. But unlike other areas of the country that are itching to reopen, wealthy suburbs in those states are insisting on staying shut down.

The decision follows a longstanding pattern in which the affluent areas bordering Washington, D.C., have acted more in concert with each other and the nation's capital than with their own states.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Wednesday extended the city’s stay-at-home order until June 8, citing a continuing increase in COVID-19 cases. Virginia's northern suburbs and Maryland's Montgomery and Prince George's counties are staying shut down for at least the next couple of weeks, citing coronavirus case numbers that are disproportionately higher than in the rest of their states.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Wednesday that while he is allowing a Phase One reopening for his state on Friday, he also is allowing Montgomery and Prince George's counties to move at their own pace.

Earlier this week, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said his state's Phase One can also begin on Friday. Phase One allows barbershops and hair salons to reopen as well as limited outdoor seating at bars and restaurants and low-capacity retail shopping.

Northern Virginia, though, will remain at “Phase Zero” with full restrictions still in place for at least two more weeks after the region petitioned for an exemption.

Northam, who previously urged a unified approach for the entire state, said a two-pronged approach to reopening is justified by the numbers. While acknowledging that the percentage of positive tests is falling throughout the state, he noted that the percentage in northern Virginia has dropped only to 25%, while in the rest of Virginia it has fallen to 10%.

But there are other factors at play. Residents of the wealthy suburbs have the highest median incomes in the nation, and, in northern Virginia especially, a large percentage of workers are employed in high-tech and government fields that allow them to easily do their jobs from home, unlike workers in the service economy.