Covid-19

Virginia Expands COVID-19 Vaccination Workforce, Creates Additional Pathway to Enlist Volunteer Vaccinators

Qualified individuals can now sign up through the newly established Virginia Volunteer Vaccinator Registry

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced several efforts aimed at increasing Virginia’s vaccinator workforce to support the continued expansion of COVID-19 vaccinations across the Commonwealth, including a new initiative to recruit eligible individuals interested in administering vaccines.

Governor Northam recently signed House Bill 2333, sponsored by Delegate Lamont Bagby, and Senate Bill 1445, sponsored by Senator Siobhan S. Dunnavant, which expand the pool of health care providers eligible to administer the COVID-19 vaccine in Virginia. Last month, the Governor issued Third Amended Executive Order Fifty-Seven to provide additional flexibility to health care providers in supporting the Commonwealth’s vaccination program and ongoing COVID-19 response. Earlier this week, Governor Northam announced that starting April 18, all adults in Virginia age 16 and older will be eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine. 

“Last year, we issued a call for 30,000 medical and non-medical volunteers to join our fight against COVID-19, and I am proud that over 35,000 Virginians have since stepped forward to assist through the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps,” said Governor Northam. “Thanks to the tireless efforts of our health care providers and volunteer vaccinators, Virginia is now administering an average of more than 70,000 of the COVID-19 vaccine each day and has given over 3.8 million shots to date. By further expanding our vaccinator workforce, we can build on this momentum and ensure we have additional vaccination capacity as supply increases and more individuals become eligible to receive the vaccine.”

Health care providers who are now authorized to administer the COVID-19 vaccine in Virginia include but are not limited to dentists, dental hygienists, veterinarians, optometrists, and health professions students enrolled in an accredited Virginia program. Eligible providers may serve as vaccinators if they have the appropriate training and meet the supervision requirements. All COVID-19 vaccine providers are responsible for ensuring that individuals who administer shots at their site are authorized by law to do so.

Eligible health care providers may register to volunteer as a COVID-19 vaccinator through either the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) or the newly-established Virginia Volunteer Vaccinator Registry (VVVR).

“These efforts to increase the ranks of vaccinators will immediately affect Virginians and their ability to get vaccinated as quickly as possible,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA. “We need ‘all hands on deck’ as we ramp up our vaccination campaign, and the legislation introduced by Delegate Bagby and Senator Dunnavant is crucial to providing additional tools for these unprecedented times.” 

Established in 2002, the Virginia MRC is a force of dedicated volunteers who stand ready to support the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) in responding to public health emergencies and addressing ongoing public health initiatives. MRC volunteer vaccinators are required to complete a background investigation, volunteer orientation, vaccination-specific training as outlined by the VDH and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and a skills assessment to demonstrate competency in administering the COVID-19 vaccine. MRC medical volunteers may have the opportunity to serve in other positions and response missions.

The VVVR is a temporary COVID-19 emergency program administered by VDH and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) that serves as a pathway for eligible providers who only wish to serve as vaccinators during the COVID-19 response. Qualified registry volunteers are required to complete vaccination-specific training as outlined by the CDC and VDH and demonstrate competency in administering the COVID-19 vaccine. A list of credentialed volunteers will be made available to hospitals, non-profit agencies, and local health departments operating community vaccination clinics upon request.  

Registering through either pathway is not a guarantee that an eligible health care provider will be enlisted to vaccinate, and volunteers may not be deployed immediately. While most Virginia localities are meeting the current need for COVID-19 vaccinators through existing workforce channels, demand is expected to increase alongside the Commonwealth’s growing supply of federally allocated vaccines.

For more information or to sign up as an MRC or VVVR volunteer, please visit vdh.virginia.gov/covid-19-community-vaccinator.

Governor Northam Announces Virginia to Expand Vaccine Eligibility to All Adults by April 18 as Vaccinations Continue Rising

Virginia nears end of Phase 1 waiting list, begins moving to Phase 2

PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that all individuals in Virginia age 16 and older will be eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine starting on Sunday, April 18, ahead of the May 1 nationwide goal set by President Joe Biden. Governor Northam made the announcement during a visit to a vaccination clinic at First Mount Zion Baptist Church in Prince William County, where more than 1,000 vaccines will be administered today.

This news comes as nearly every Virginian in the highest risk groups who has pre-registered for a vaccination appointment has received one, and those still on the pre-registration list will receive appointment invitations within the next two weeks.

“The COVID-19 vaccine is the light at the end of the tunnel—and that light is getting brighter every day as more and more Virginians get vaccinated,” said Governor Northam. “We continue to work with diverse providers and community partners across the Commonwealth to distribute vaccines in a fair and equitable way and ensure those at the highest risk are vaccinated first. Expanding vaccine eligibility to all adults marks an important milestone in our ongoing efforts to put this pandemic behind us, and I thank all of the public health staff, health care workers, vaccinators, and volunteers who have helped make this possible.”

With over 3.7 million doses of vaccine administered so far in Virginia, more than one in three adults have received at least one dose and one in five Virginians are fully vaccinated. Virginia is administering vaccine doses as quickly as they are provided by the federal government. Because the Commonwealth has followed guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to prioritize those at highest risk, and because Virginia is a large and diverse state with many essential workers, many out-of-state commuters, and a high percentage of the population that wants to be vaccinated, it has taken some time to open eligibility to the general public.

In addition to adopting phased eligibility based on risk, Virginia has focused on equity throughout its vaccination effort by providing targeted resources in multiple languages, scheduling clinics in collaboration with community partners, performing grassroots outreach to drive pre-registration and scheduling, and implementing large, state-run Community Vaccination Centers in areas with vulnerable populations. These efforts will continue when eligibility opens to the general public in Phase 2.

Twenty-one of Virginia’s 35 local health districts have already started vaccinating essential workers in Phase 1c after providing appointments to everyone eligible in Phases 1a or 1b on the pre-registration list. Beginning April 4, districts that have invited everyone pre-registered in Phase 1c may invite members of the general public who have pre-registered. Based on the supply projected by the federal government, all local health districts will have enough vaccine to open appointments to the general public by April 18. Those at highest risk will continue to receive priority in the scheduling process.

Everyone who lives or works in Virginia should pre-register so they can be notified when they are eligible for vaccination and an appointment is available. To pre-register, visit vaccinate.virginia.gov or call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users call 7-1-1). Assistance is available in English, Spanish, and more than 100 other languages. Videoconferencing in American Sign Language is also available at vaccinate.virginia.gov.

First Cases of B.1.427 and B.1.429 COVID-19 Variants Reported in Virginia

(RICHMOND, VA) – The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) today announced the first cases of the SARS-CoV-2 variants B.1.427 and B.1.429 in samples that were collected between December 2020 and February 2021 from Virginia residents. The B.1.427 and B.1.429 variants, which first emerged in California in the summer of 2020, are associated with increased person-to-person transmission of COVID-19. At this time, there is no evidence that infections with these variants cause more severe disease. These two variants were only recently added to CDC’s Variant of Concern list.

The Department of General Services Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS) confirmed the cases using next-generation sequencing analysis, which provides a genetic blueprint of the virus that causes COVID-19. With the identification of these new variant cases, Virginia now has identified a total of 14 cases of the B.1.427 variant, nine cases of the B.1.429 variant, 26 cases of the B.1.351 variant (first identified in South Africa) and 127 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant (first identified in the United Kingdom). With the combined state and national surveillance efforts, it is likely that additional cases with SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern will be identified.

Viruses change all the time, and VDH expects to see new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus as disease spreads. As our public health officials closely monitor the emergence of these SARS-CoV-2 variants in our Commonwealth, it is critical that all Virginians comply now with mitigation measures.  Public health recommendations for stopping the spread of COVID-19 will work for all COVID-19 variants. This means wearing masks correctly, staying at least six feet from others, avoiding crowds, washing hands often, getting vaccinated for COVID-19 when it is your turn, and staying home if you are infected with COVID-19 or if you have had close contact with someone with COVID-19.

For more information about COVID-19 variants, visit the VDH Variants website and the CDC COVID-19 Variants website.

Governor Northam Announces Limited Capacity Increases for Indoor and Outdoor Gatherings, Some Entertainment Venues as Vaccinations Rise

Approximately one in four Virginians vaccinated with at least one dose

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that as COVID-19 vaccinations continue to rise in Virginia, certain sports and entertainment venues may begin to operate with additional capacity and indoor and outdoor gathering limits will increase starting Thursday, April 1. He amended Executive Order Seventy-Two with the next steps of the “Forward Virginia” plan to safely and gradually ease public health restrictions while mitigating the spread of the virus. More than two million Virginians, or approximately one in four people, have now received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“With increased vaccination capacity and our health metrics continuing to trend the right direction, we can safely take these targeted steps to ease certain mitigation measures,” said Governor Northam. “Virginians have come so far over the past year, and now is not the time to simply throw the doors open or let down our guard. While some capacity limits will be increased, we must all remember to stay vigilant and work together to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities.”

The Commonwealth will maintain a Safer at Home strategy with continued mitigation strategies like physical distancing, teleworking, and universal mask requirements. Key changes in the Fourth Amended Executive Order Seventy-Two include:

  • Social gatherings: The maximum number of individuals permitted in a social gathering will increase to 50 people for indoor settings and 100 people for outdoor settings. Social gatherings are currently limited to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.
  • Entertainment venues: All indoor and outdoor entertainment and public amusement venues must continue to operate at 30 percent capacity. Indoor venues must operate at 30 percent capacity or with a maximum of 500 people, an increase from the current cap of 250 people. Outdoor venues must operate at 30 percent capacity, with no specific cap on the number of attendees. These venues were previously limited to 30 percent capacity or up to 1,000 attendees, whichever was fewer. 
  • Recreational sporting events: The number of spectators allowed at recreational sporting events will increase from 25 to 100 people per field or 30 percent capacity, whichever is less for indoor settings, and from 250 to 500 people per field or 30 percent capacity, whichever is less for outdoor settings.
  • In-person graduation and commencement events: Last week, Governor Northam issued preliminary guidance on safe in-person graduations and commencements, which included a cap of 5,000 people or 30 percent of the venue capacity for outdoor events, whichever is less. Events held indoors may have up to 500 people, or 30 percent of the venue capacity, whichever is less. Attendees must wear masks and follow other guidelines and safety protocols to ensure proper distancing.
     

The full text of Fourth Amended Executive Order Seventy-Two and Order of Public Health Emergency Nine is available here. Updated guidelines for specific sectors can be found here. Visit virginia.gov/coronavirus/forwardvirginia for more information and answers to frequently asked questions.

Virginia has now administered more than 3.1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine and is currently giving approximately 50,000 shots per day. Virginians are strongly encouraged to make sure they are pre-registered at vaccinate.virginia.gov, or by calling 877-VAX-IN-VA, to ensure that the Virginia Department of Health has all the relevant information to reach out when individuals are eligible to schedule vaccination appointments.

WARNER PRESSES IRS TO FIX PROBLEMS DELAYING RELIEF CHECKS

~ Urges IRS to address three specific issues that could delay latest round of direct relief payments for some recipients ~

WASHINGTON – With more than 7 million Virginians slated to get over $9 billion in relief as a direct result of the American Rescue Plan, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) sent a letter to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) urging the agency to ensure that families receive their promised COVID-19 stimulus payments by quickly and proactively addressing three common issues that Virginians experienced with the last round of economic impact payments (EIPs) earlier this year.

“I write today following the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to raise specific issues my constituents had in accessing their second economic impact payments (EIP) in hopes those problems can be resolved and taken into consideration as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) administers the third round of economic impact payments,” wrote Sen. Warner in his letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig.

In his letter to the IRS, Sen. Warner identified the three most prevalent issues Virginia families ran into when attempting to access their second round of COVID-19 stimulus payments. The issues commonly heard from Virginians were:

  1. Couples who filed a 2019 tax return as married filing jointly who reported that only one spouse received a second EIP even though they received a joint EIP in the first round.
  2. Social Security recipients who received the first EIP via direct deposit or direct express card but did not receive the second EIP.
  3. Virginians who reported that the IRS’s Get My Payment application showed that they would either receive their payment via direct deposit or check but never received it.

During the COVID-19 crisis, Sen. Warner has been a strong advocate for Virginians, working to ensure that they get the funds to which they are entitled. Last April, he pressed the Treasury Department to ensure that families who are not normally required to file taxes do not need to wait until the following year to receive the additional $500 payment per dependent child that they were promised. He also successfully pushed the Treasury Department to allow Social Security recipients to automatically receive CARES Act direct cash assistance without needing to file a tax return.

A copy of the letter can be found here and below.

Dear Secretary Yellen and Commissioner Rettig,

I write today following the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to raise specific issues my constituents had in accessing their second economic impact payments (EIP) in hopes those problems can be resolved and taken into consideration as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) administers the third round of economic impact payments.

The Administration is well aware of the millions of Americans facing economic hardship, and should be applauded for its tireless work to deliver more relief as part of the ARPA. Further, I am appreciative of the IRS’s hard work throughout the pandemic. IRS employees have worked diligently to deliver hundreds of millions of dollars in EIPs to Americans while managing the risks associated with COVID-19.

Virginians continue to reach out with specific problems they are having, particularly those trying to access their second EIP. Below, I lay out the three most prevalent issues my staff has identified. To help me respond adequately to my constituents, please review the three issues and answer the following related questions.

  1. Couples that filed a 2019 tax return as married filing jointly are reporting that only one spouse received a second EIP even though they received a joint EIP in the first round. When the spouse not receiving the payment checked the IRS’s Get My Payment App, there was no information. Is the couple’s only recourse to claim a Recovery Rebate Credit (RRC)? Is there a reason why the second EIP was treated differently in this situation? Can the IRS take steps to ensure the same problem does not occur with the third EIP?
  2. A number of my constituents who are Social Security recipients received the first EIP via direct deposit or direct express card but did not receive the second EIP. The IRS has said those constituents can file a tax return and claim a RRC but I am concerned for those Social Security recipients who are non-filers and are less equipped to file a tax return to claim their RRC. I am also concerned that these same constituents will not receive their third EIP. Please explain why the IRS did not send the second (December) round of EIPs automatically to Social Security recipients. Will the IRS commit to sending past due checks to Social Security recipients who should have received them? For the third round of EIPs, can the IRS commit to automatically sending checks to Social Security recipients? If not, why not?
  3. Last year, the IRS created a Non-Filers tool to allow non-filers to gain access to the first round of EIPs to address this problem and make it easier for non-filers to access their EIP. Why did the IRS not reopen the Non-Filers tool to help Americans access their second EIP? Will the IRS commit to reopening the Non-Filers tool for the third round of EIP to ensure non-filers can easily access their third EIP? And will they be allowed to use this tool to claim checks owed to them from the first two rounds?

A number of constituents reported that the IRS’s Get May Payment application showed that they would either receive their payment via direct deposit or check but they never received it. Although the payment was issued to them and they qualified based on their 2019 tax return, the RRC is based on their 2020 tax filing. In some situations this has eliminated constituents’ eligibility for the second EIP. Will the IRS offer any flexibility or recourse for constituents in these circumstances?

I know the IRS is working diligently to serve the American people, and I welcome our continued collaboration to help Americans across the country. Thank you for your attention to this important issue.

Sincerely,

Covid 19 Vaccination Appointments Available at CVS

Appointments are available for Group 1b to receive Covid-19 vaccinations at CVS Pharmacy. Persons age 16-64 with certain underlying health conditions and those age 65 and older.

Registration using cvs.com or the cvs app is reguired and is generally hassle free, except for the wait.

According to one source our local CVS will receive 200 doses per day.

Lawmakers Pass COVID-19 Workers’ Compensation Bills

By Sam Fowler, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Virginia General Assembly passed multiple bills allowing health care workers and first responders to receive workers’ compensation benefits if they are disabled or die due to COVID-19.

“We did it!” Del. Chris Hurst, D-Blacksburg, said in a Twitter post. “Health care heroes who got COVID on the job will get the retroactive workers comp presumption they deserve!”

Hurst’s House Bill 1985 expanded workers’ compensation benefits for health care workers “directly involved in diagnosing or treating persons known or suspected to have COVID-19,” including doctors and nurses. The bill provides coverage from March 12, 2020 until Dec. 31, 2021. 

The health care worker must have been treated for COVID-19 symptoms and been diagnosed by a medical provider to qualify for compensation before July 1, 2020. The individual must have received medical treatment and a positive COVID-19 test to be eligible for compensation after July 1, 2020. 

The bill also said health care workers who refuse or fail to get vaccinated for COVID-19 will not be eligible for workers’ compensation. The aforementioned rule doesn't apply if a physician determines vaccination will risk the worker’s health. 

“This is how we honor our brave health care heroes that put themselves in harm’s way to treat those infected with this horrible virus,” Hurst said in a press release. “They sacrifice for us and deserve our utmost praise and admiration, but they also deserve our help.”

There were concerns about the bill’s costs, according to Hurst. The Senate tried to remove the bill’s retroactive clause, but the bill passed the House and Senate with bipartisan support following negotiations. 

The Virginia Nurses Association said the bill will make it easier for nurses to access benefits.

“Unfortunately, too many Virginia nurses caught COVID-19 while treating patients,” the association said in a Facebook post. “For those that got very sick, there is no easy way to file for workers’ compensation, and many have suffered not only physically, but financially.” 

Senate Bill 1375 and HB 2207 cover workers’ compensation for first responders who are diagnosed or died from COVID-19 on or after Sept. 1 of last year. The measures include firefighters, police officers, correctional and regional jail officers and emergency medical services workers. The bills require an official diagnosis through a positive COVID-19 test and symptoms of the disease.

The House bill, sponsored by Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, originally included a retroactive clause that compensated cases going back to March 2020, but that was taken out of the legislation’s final version.

“We fought tooth and nail to provide our first responders - the real heroes of the pandemic - coverage under workers' compensation for COVID and we got it done,” Jones said in a Twitter post. 

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University's Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

First Case of B.1.1.7 COVID-19 Variant Identified in the Central Region of Virginia

(RICHMOND, Va.) – The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) today announced that the first case of the SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.7 has been identified in a sample from an adult resident of Central Virginia who had no history of travel during the exposure period. The B.1.1.7 variant, which first emerged in the United Kingdom in late 2020, is associated with increased person-to-person transmission of COVID-19. A preliminary report from experts in the United Kingdom indicates that this variant causes more severe illness than other variants, but more studies are needed to confirm this finding. To date, the B.1.1.7 variant has been identified in 44 other U.S. states.

The Department of General Services Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS) confirmed the case using next-generation sequencing that provides a genetic blueprint of the virus that causes COVID-19. In addition to this case of the B.1.1.7 variant, eleven other cases of the B.1.1.7 variant and three cases of the SARS-CoV-2 B.1.351 variant (first identified in South Africa) have now been identified in Virginia, as of February 24. With the combined state and national surveillance efforts, it is likely that additional cases with SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern will be identified.

Viruses change all the time, and VDH expects to see new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus as disease spreads. As our public health officials closely monitor the emergence of these SARS-CoV-2 variants in our Commonwealth, it is critical that all Virginians comply now with mitigation measures. We are in a race to stop the spread of these new variants. The more people that become infected, the greater that chance the virus will mutate and a variant will arise that could undermine the current vaccination efforts. Public health recommendations for stopping the spread of COVID-19 will work for all COVID-19 variants. This means wearing masks correctly, staying at least six feet from others, avoiding crowds, washing hands often, getting vaccinated for COVID-19 when it is your turn, and staying home if you are infected with COVID-19 or if you have had close contact with someone with COVID-19.

As of February 23, 2021, approximately 1.9 million Virginians have joined the fight against COVID-19 using their mobile devices. This includes 1,008,322 downloads of COVIDWISE – the nation’s first app using the Google/Apple framework and the second most downloaded exposure notifications app in the United States. An estimated 900,975 additional iPhone users have also turned on COVIDWISE Express, which is a secondary exposure notifications option specifically for iPhone users.

DCLS began sequencing positive COVID-19 samples in March 2020, becoming one of the first public health labs in the nation to use this technology to examine the genetic makeup of the virus and track how it is changing and being transmitted in the Commonwealth. DCLS is working with other labs in Virginia to solicit additional positive samples to sequence so public health officials can get a representation of variants circulating throughout Virginia.

For more information about COVID-19 variants, visit the VDH COVID-19 Testing website and the CDC New COVID-19 Variants website. For more information on DCLS and its use of next-generation sequencing, visit dgs.virginia.gov/dcls.

REMEMBERING THE 500,000 AMERICANS LOST TO COVID-19

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
 
A PROCLAMATION

 As of this week during the dark winter of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 500,000 Americans have now died from the virus. That is more Americans who have died in a single year of this pandemic than in World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War combined.  On this solemn occasion, we reflect on their loss and on their loved ones left behind.  We, as a Nation, must remember them so we can begin to heal, to unite, and find purpose as one Nation to defeat this pandemic.

     In their memory, the First Lady and I will be joined by the Vice President and the Second Gentleman for a moment of silence at the White House this evening.  I ask all Americans to join us as we remember the more than 500,000 of our fellow Americans lost to COVID-19 and to observe a moment of silence at sunset.  I also hereby order, by the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, that the flag of the United States shall be flown at half-staff at the White House and on all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations, and on all naval vessels of the Federal Government in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its Territories and possessions until sunset February 26, 2021.  I also direct that the flag shall be flown at half-staff for the same period at all United States embassies, legations, consular offices, and other facilities abroad, including all military facilities and naval vessels and stations.

     IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-second day of February, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty-one, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-fifth.

JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR.

Virginia Launches Central Pre-Registration Website for COVID-19 Vaccine

Vaccinate.Virginia.gov’ to go live on Tuesday February 16; Statewide hotline to launch Wednesday

RICHMOND – The Virginia Department of Health today launched a new, centralized website that allows Virginians to easily pre-register for the COVID-19 vaccine. This ‘one-stop-shop’ website allows individuals to pre-register online, check that they are pre-registered, and access additional information on Virginia’s vaccination roll-out.

Virginians who have previously pre-registered through their local health district have been automatically imported into the new system and do not need to pre-register again. Data migration is continuing throughout the week and it may take several days for your name to appear in the centralized system. Everyone who has previously registered is still on the list, and their status will not be affected.

The Virginia Department of Health expects millions of unique visits to the site on Tuesday, and IT teams will be addressing back-end components as needed throughout the day. Anyone who cannot get through immediately should try again.

Recognizing that many Virginians are uncomfortable or unable to pre-register online, the Virginia Department of Health will also launch an accompanying hotline number on Wednesday, February 17. Governor Northam will provide additional information about this hotline, in addition to the new online tools, at a press conference on Wednesday, February 17.

Due to technological limits with CVS Pharmacy’s national appointment system, Virginians must continue to register for CVS appointments through the CVS Pharmacy website. The Fairfax Health Department has opted to maintain their local registration form as one of the few health districts not part of the Virginia state health system. Virginians eligible for vaccination based on living or working in Fairfax County should pre-register for vaccinations on the Fairfax County Health Department website.

Virginia has vaccinated over 12% of the population with at least one dose. Demand for the COVID-19 vaccine currently far outstrips supply, and it is expected to take several months to reach all who want to be vaccinated. Virginia is prioritizing people who qualify for Phase 1B: people age 65 and older; frontline essential workers; those living and working in homeless shelters, correctional facilities, and migrant labor camps; and individuals with high-risk medical conditions.

Virginia lanza el sitio web central de preinscripción para la vacuna COVID-19

Vaccinate.Virginia.gov‘ ahora en vivo; Línea directa estatal que será lanzada el miércoles

(RICHMOND, Va.) – El Departamento de Salud de Virginia lanzó hoy un nuevo sitio web centralizado que permite a los residentes de Virginia preinscribirse fácilmente para la vacuna COVID-19. Este sitio web de “ventanilla única” permite que las personas se preinscriban en línea, verifiquen que estén preinscritas y accedan a información adicional sobre la implementación de la vacunación en Virginia.

Los residentes de Virginia que se han preinscrito previamente a través de su distrito de salud local se han importado automáticamente al nuevo sistema y no necesitan preinscribirse nuevamente. La migración de datos continúa durante la semana y pueden pasar varios días hasta que su nombre aparezca en el sistema centralizado. Todos los que se hayan inscrito anteriormente todavía están en la lista y su estado no se verá afectado.

El Departamento de Salud de Virginia espera millones de visitas particulares al sitio el martes y los equipos de TI abordarán los componentes técnicos según sea necesario a lo largo del día. Cualquier persona que no pueda comunicarse de inmediato debe intentarlo de nuevo.

Reconociendo que muchos residentes de Virginia se sienten incómodos o no pueden preinscribirse en línea, el Departamento de Salud de Virginia también lanzará un número de línea directa asociado el miércoles 17 de febrero. El gobernador Northam proporcionará información adicional sobre esta línea directa, además de las nuevas herramientas en línea, en una conferencia de prensa el miércoles 17 de febrero.

Debido a los límites tecnológicos del sistema nacional de citas de CVS Pharmacy, los residentes de Virginia deben seguir inscribiéndose para las citas de CVS a través del sitio web de CVS Pharmacy. El Departamento de Salud de Fairfax ha optado por mantener su formulario de inscripción local como uno de los pocos distritos de salud que no forma parte del sistema de salud del estado de Virginia. Los residentes de Virginia elegibles para la vacunación según donde viven o trabajan en el condado de Fairfax deben preinscribirse para las vacunas en el sitio web del Departamento de Salud del Condado de Fairfax.

Virginia ha vacunado a más del 12 % de la población con al menos una dosis. La demanda de la vacuna COVID-19 actualmente supera con creces la oferta, y se espera que tarde varios meses en llegar a todos los que deseen vacunarse. Virginia está dando prioridad a las personas que califican para la Fase 1B: personas de 65 años o más; trabajadores esenciales de primera línea; aquellos que viven y trabajan en refugios para personas sin hogar, instalaciones correccionales y campos de trabajadores migrantes; e individuos con condiciones médicas de alto riesgo.

Virginia Department of Health Launches COVIDWISE Express as Additional Tool to Boost Exposure Notifications

New additional platform informs iPhone users of potential exposure to COVID-19 without having to download an app. 

(Richmond, Va.) — Virginia is making it even easier for people to be notified of potential exposures to COVID-19. Last week, the Virginia Department of Health launched COVIDWISE Express, a new app-less exposure notifications technology for iPhone users in Virginia who do not already have the COVIDWISE app installed.  Anonymously sending and receiving exposure notifications has never been easier. Since launching, COVIDWISE Express already has more than 504,000 users in Virginia.

COVIDWISE Express, which is available in both English and Spanish, will work solely on iPhones that have not installed COVIDWISE. When an iPhone user enables Exposure Logging on their smartphone, their device will automatically use the app-less experience, if the user hasn’t already downloaded COVIDWISE.  The Express version of COVIDWISE works by communicating with a test verification server and the national key server at specific times, all while protecting the user’s privacy and location data. Android users, and iPhone users who already have the app, will continue to use COVIDWISE. 

“COVIDWISE Express provides an additional option to help Virginia expand its existing exposure notifications and contact tracing operations without compromising user privacy or security,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA. “This technology will notify you if you’ve likely been exposed to another smartphone user who anonymously shared a positive COVID-19 test result. Knowing your exposure history allows you to self-quarantine effectively, seek timely medical attention, and reduce risk of exposing others.”

COVIDWISE launched on August 5, 2020 and has surpassed 994,000 downloads, making it one of the two most downloaded exposure notification apps in the United States. The free app, which is available through the App Store and the Google Play Store, alerts users if they have been in close contact with an individual who anonymously reported their positive COVID-19 test result. 

On December 10, COVIDWISE began using the Association of Public Health Laboratories’ National Key Server, which allows COVIDWISE to work across D.C. and 19 states that have similar exposure notifications systems.  This helps to ensure users receive exposure notifications, if exposed to persons from a participating jurisdiction. 

VDH remains steadfastly committed to COVIDWISE privacy protections and continued adoption and widespread use of exposure notifications as a tool to support the public’s health and reduce the spread of the virus.

To learn more about COVIDWISE options, or to download the app, visit www.covidwise.org.

For more information on COVID-19 in Virginia, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus and www.cdc.gov/coronavirus.

McEachin to VDH on COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Concerns: “These Issues Must be Addressed Immediately”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman A. Donald McEachin (VA-04) sent a letter to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) regarding VDH's COVID-19 vaccine distribution and administration efforts throughout the commonwealth. The letter commended VDH for its ongoing work, but also advocated for improvements to its coordination efforts in rural communities and communities of color.

McEachin noted that the Crater Health District, located in his congressional district, has received the sixth-lowest amount of vaccines of Virginia’s 35 health districts and cited similar concerns with vaccine administration in communities of color, which have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus. In Richmond, there were initially no vaccination sites in the predominantly Black and Latino communities south of the James River.

“While I appreciate the work you have already done and will continue to do, it is clear that these issues must be addressed immediately,” said McEachin. “Every vaccine that goes unused could save a grandparent’s life, a teacher’s life, or a frontline worker’s life – and we must do everything in our power to protect as many Virginians as possible. With new variants of the virus and the potential for case numbers to continue to rise, families, seniors, teachers, and frontline health workers across the Commonwealth are understandably terrified, and we must work to instill confidence in our state and local departments of health.”

McEachin’s letter to the Virginia Department of Health can be found here.

Mixed Reaction to Senate Passage of Bill for In-Person Education

By Zachary Klosko, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- A bill which would require in-person instruction, along with virtual learning, be made available to Virginia public school students upon request passed the Virginia Senate Tuesday.

Senate Bill 1303, introduced by Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, aims to make sure students have the opportunity to attend in-person instruction. The student’s parent or guardian must make the request, according to the bill. The legislation passed the Senate on a 26-13 vote.

The bill does not lay out specific expectations of local school divisions in regard to in-person learning, according to the bill’s text. The original version of the bill required the measure to go into effect once the legislation passed the Virginia General Assembly, but an amended version of the bill removed that requirement. Without that stipulation, the bill will take effect on July 1, according to Dunnavant.

Many Virginia school systems, including Fairfax County, Hanover County and Alexandria City Public Schools, begin summer break in mid-June, according to their academic calendars.

During the bill’s committee hearing, Dunnavant said that it is more dangerous for children to not be in the classroom. 

“We have amazing evidence to show that being in school is safe for both students and teachers,” Dunnavant said. “We have profoundly disturbing evidence that not having in-person school for a body of our students is possibly, irrevocably damaging.”

“I think it is probably the most important thing that we can do this session,” Dunnavant added.

Dunnavant stressed the need for innovation in educating students in grade school similar to how many colleges were able to provide in-person education for students.

“If you look at the interventions and the innovations that they have created to make it safe, and again, without outbreaks, you would be so proud,” Dunnavant said on the Senate floor before the bill passed.

Dunnavant’s comments come after 20 active cases of COVID-19 among students and teachers led Hurt Elementary School in Pittsylvania County to abruptly stop in-person classes last week, according to the Danville Register & Bee

Chesterfield County Public Schools is trying a mixed approach, sending some elementary students to in-person classes while keeping middle and high school students fully online, according to NBC 12. Chesterfield returned to virtual learning after Thanksgiving when COVID-19 cases spiked. Chesterfield County School Board will discuss a broader return to in-person learning on Feb. 9.

The reactions to the bill from senators were mixed. Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, called the bill “a slap in the face” to school board members despite expressing her support for the goal the bill was trying to achieve. Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, D-Richmond, said it is critical that students returned to in-person schooling soon but criticized the bill’s terms for being too vague.

During the committee hearing for the measure, Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, said that the people in communities are the ones that should make decisions concerning school operations. 

“It should not, in my opinion, be those of us from all over the state deciding what should happen in someone else’s jurisdiction,” Howell said.

Virginia Education Association President James Fedderman said in an email he strongly opposed the bill. He called the legislation an “unnecessary and ill-advised state mandate.”

The bill now moves to the House of Delegates.

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University's Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

Two Bills Advance to Facilitate COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

By David Tran, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Virginia House and Senate have unanimously advanced separate bills to facilitate administration of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

House Bill 2333, introduced by Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Richmond, intends to strengthen the state’s vaccine distribution efforts and also bolster data collection.

The measure removes barriers on health care providers’ eligibility to conduct vaccination. Any person licensed or certified by the appropriate health regulatory board, who is in good standing within the past 10 years, can volunteer to vaccinate. This includes nurse practitioners, physician assistants and pharmacy technicians. The bill also allows anyone to volunteer whose license was in good standing within 10 years before it lapsed.

Health profession students enrolled in statewide accredited programs who have been properly trained in vaccine administration will also be allowed to volunteer. 

The bill directs the Virginia Department of Health to establish a program where eligible individuals may volunteer and complete training. 

Institutions such as hospitals, medical care facilities and universities would be able to volunteer their facilities as vaccine administration sites.

The bill also requires the collection of race and ethnicity data of people receiving the vaccine. Bagby said during the House meeting that this will ensure a more equitable vaccination rollout. The bill also allows higher education institutions to assist VDH with data processing and analytics.

“(This emergency legislation) is essential to making Virginia safely and efficiently distribute the COVID-19 vaccine supply we will receive from the federal government,” Bagby said.

VDH does not mandate reporting data based on race and ethnicity, but vaccine providers are asked to enter such data, states the organization’s website. Over 300,000 vaccines have been administered without data collection of race or ethnicity, according to the department’s vaccine dashboard.

A similar bill cleared the Senate unanimously last week. That measure, introduced by Sen. Siobhan S. Dunnavant, R-Henrico, does not require data collection on race and ethnicities. Dunnavant’s bill, Senate Bill 1445, allows anyone licensed or certified by the Department of Health Professions with good standing to volunteer, including those whose licenses were in good standing within five years prior to lapsing due to retiring. 

Del. Israel D. O’Quinn, R-Bristol, chief-co patron of the House bill, said during the meeting that despite the two bills he “has no doubt that we can work through those differences expeditiously.” 

The bill’s House passage on Tuesday came hours after President Joe Biden announced efforts to increase the country’s supply of COVID-19 vaccines by 200 million by the end of summer.

The Biden Administration plans to distribute weekly a minimum of 10 million doses to states, tribes and territories. The move would add 1.4 million doses per week than what’s currently being distributed. Biden’s administration said it will try to maintain the distribution for at least the next three weeks.

Roughly more than half a million Virginians have been vaccinated as of Wednesday with at least one dose. That means nearly 67% of the available first doses Virginia received were administered, according to the VDH vaccine dashboard. Over 488,000 total COVID-19 cases have been reported in Virginia as of Wednesday. The 7-day positivity rate is over 12% throughout the state.

 "People want to help," O'Quinn said. "I think we can put a lot of people to work utilizing their skills that have been honed in our communities."

The bills now head to the other chambers.

First Case of B.1.1.7 COVID-19 Variant Identified in Virginia

(RICHMOND, VA) — The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the Department of General Services Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS) today announced that the first case of the SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.7 has been identified in a sample from an adult resident of Northern Virginia with no reported recent travel history. The B.1.1.7 variant, which first emerged in the United Kingdom in late 2020, is associated with increased person-to-person transmission of COVID-19.

DCLS confirmed the case using next-generation sequencing that provides a genetic blueprint of the virus that causes COVID-19. DCLS has informed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the case.

“Viruses change all the time, and we expect to see new strains as disease spreads,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA. “We know this variant strain spreads more quickly between people than other strains currently circulating in our communities, but we still have more to learn about whether it causes more severe illness. As our state public health officials closely monitor the emergence of the B.1.1.7 variant in our Commonwealth, it is important that all Virginians continue following mitigation measures.”

In the United States, nearly 200 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant have been detected in 23 states as of January 22, 2021. While scientists are working to better understand its impact on vaccine efficacy, early data suggests currently authorized vaccines are effective against the new variant. VDH continues to work with communities across Virginia to slow the spread of all strains of COVID-19 through widespread adherence to preventive measures, supporting testing and vaccination efforts, and conducting investigations of cases and outbreaks.

As a virus spreads from one person to another, it makes copies of itself and sometimes makes small genetic changes called mutations. Because of these mutations, new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time. According to the CDC, multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been documented in the United States and around the world. The B.1.1.7 variant contains an unusually large number of mutations.

DCLS began sequencing positive COVID-19 samples in March 2020, becoming one of the first public health labs in the nation to use this technology to examine the genetic makeup of the virus and track how it is changing and being transmitted in the Commonwealth. To date, DCLS has sequenced more than 10 percent of positive samples tested by the state lab, and is working with other labs in Virginia to solicit additional positive samples to sequence so public health officials can get a representation of variants circulating throughout Virginia.

“Sequencing is one of many tools we have available at the state’s public health laboratory to enable medical and public health officials to quickly identify and respond to threats such as emerging COVID-19 variants,” said Dr. Denise Toney, Director of DCLS. “We share this information not only within the Commonwealth, but with our federal and international partners to gain a better understanding of emerging genetic changes to SARS-CoV-2.”

For more information about COVID-19 variants, visit the VDH COVID-19 Testing website and the CDC New COVID-19 Variants website. For more information on DCLS and its use of next-generation sequencing, visit dgs.virginia.gov/dcls.

Internet Society Announces $1M in Grant Funding to Expand Internet Access to Underserved Communities in the Southeastern United States

Grant is in Partnership with Truist Cares COVID-19 Relief Efforts

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Internet Society today announced a new grant program, Expanding Potential in Communities, or Truist EPIC Grant, to support broadband initiatives that help alleviate disparities in education, employment and social welfare in the southeastern United States. These grants will expand broadband access in communities with complementary Internet connectivity solutions such as community networks.

The grant is part of Truist Cares, a cooperative effort between Truist Financial Corporation, Truist Foundation, Inc., and Truist Charitable Fund to provide communities, organizations and individuals disaster relief and assistance during the COVID-19 crisis. The Internet Society will distribute $1 million in funding through grants between $125,000 to $180,000 to organizations and entities to bring high-speed Internet infrastructure with limited or no Internet access to low-income communities and indigenous populations or communities of color in Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C.

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the critical role the Internet plays in our daily lives and the vast number of communities unable to access the Internet. The need to connect all communities is urgent as work, school, health care and more continue to shift online.

“The pandemic has shown that the Internet is an essential infrastructure for all communities and, without it, opportunities are lost and inequities are magnified,” said Lynette Bell, president of the Truist Foundation. “We must all work to make high-speed broadband available to everyone who needs it. It’s the engine for building strong and sustainable communities and a resource that requires immediate investment.”

According to Microsoft data, more than half of Americans — nearly 163 million people — don’t have access to high-speed broadband, with rural and low-income urban areas disproportionately affected. In particular, the southeastern United States lags behind the rest of the country in access to the Internet, with 76.9%  of households reporting access compared with the national average of 81.9%.

Community networks are communications infrastructures built, managed and used by local communities or municipalities and are a sustainable solution to address these connectivity gaps in underserved regions. The Internet Society has a long history of working with communities worldwide to fund, build and train people with the skills needed to run and maintain community networks.

“Closing the digital divide and expanding Internet access is vital, creating healthier, safer and more resilient communities. We are excited to partner with Truist to help rebuild and revitalize communities with the essential infrastructure for Internet access,” said Mark Buell, regional vice president, North America of the Internet Society, a global nonprofit promoting the development and use of an open, globally-connected and secure Internet.

The Truist EPIC Grant application will be available starting Jan. 25, 2021, with applications accepted through Feb. 19, 2021. For more information on the grants and to download the application, go to www.Internetsociety.org/grants/epic/.

COVID-19 Outbreaks in Higher Education

Data Dashboard Includes Information on Virginia Higher Education

(Richmond, Va.) — The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has launched a COVID-19 Outbreaks in Virginia Higher Education dashboard. This dashboard includes confirmed outbreaks reported to VDH among public and private colleges and universities since August 1, 2020. This dashboard helps to provide awareness of the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in colleges and universities statewide.

Only distinct confirmed COVID-19 outbreaks investigated by VDH local health departments, and the associated cases and deaths related to an outbreak are included. A confirmed COVID-19 outbreak means that there were two or more confirmed COVID-19 cases associated with a particular setting.

VDH collaborates with Virginia colleges and universities to investigate and report outbreaks. Accompanying the VDH COVID-19 Outbreaks in Virginia Higher Education dashboard is a separate website hosted by college and universities that presents the number of COVID-19 cases reported at their institutions, www.covid19.va.education. VDH is not involved in collection of the data presented or the maintenance of this website hosted by colleges and universities.

For clarification, VDH will present only outbreak-associated COVID-19 cases and deaths on the COVID-19 Outbreaks in Virginia Higher Education dashboard. The dashboard does not include the total number of cases at the college or university. Some colleges or universities separately track and report the number of cases associated with their school or community and may use different methods than VDH. Therefore, it is not expected that the numbers on the VDH dashboard and numbers reported on individual dashboards created by the colleges and universities will match.

If you have questions about the data on the separate website hosted by the colleges and universities, please direct those inquiries to the specific college or university.

VDH Expands Partnership with Walgreens To Offer Antigen Testing at No Cost

COVID-19 tests to be offered in fifteen Walgreens locations across Virginia

(Richmond, Va.) — The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announced today that it has expanded its partnership with Walgreens to provide Abbott BinaxNOW rapid antigen testing at selected Walgreens locations across the Commonwealth. This arrangement increases the number of Walgreens locations that will operate drive-thru COVID-19 testing at no cost to the public from four to fifteen stores.

“We are pleased to announce the expansion of this public-private partnership following a successful pilot with four Walgreens locations,” said Dr. Parham Jaberi, VDH Public Health and Preparedness deputy commissioner. “Our continued partnership will help ensure increased access to COVID-19 testing at no cost for some of our communities that lack a fixed testing location or have higher rates of vulnerable populations.”

VDH encourages the use of these tests for individuals who are symptomatic, those who have been in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, those at high risk of illness or complications and essential employees such as educators, childcare providers and healthcare providers.

“Walgreens takes pride in offering support to our customers and communities in times of need, and we’re pleased to work in collaboration with Virginia’s health officials on their efforts to broaden access to COVID-19 testing to vulnerable populations,” said Paul Blankenship, Walgreens regional vice president in Virginia.

Walgreens pharmacy teams will oversee the patient’s self-administration of a COVID-19 test, where test results will be processed at the pharmacy and provided to patients within 24 hours.

COVID-19 testing will be available by appointment to adults and children age 3 and older who meet screening criteria to receive a test. Appointments can be made by following the steps at Walgreens.com/COVID19Testing

The fifteen Walgreens COVID-19 testing locations are listed below:

  • Chesapeake: 1168 George Washington Hwy North
  • Collinsville: 3590 Virginia Ave
  • Fairfax (Centreville): 13926 Lee Hwy
  • Giles (Pearisburg): 121 North Main St
  • Lee (Pennington Gap): 5261 US Hwy 421
  • North Dinwiddie: 26036 Cox Rd
  • Northumberland (Callao): 17422 Richmond Rd.
  • Patrick (Stuart): 140 South Main St.
  • Pulaski: 901 Memorial Dr.
  • Pulaski (Dublin): 240 Broad St.
  • Richmond: 4845 Laburnum Ave
  • Rockingham (Timberville): 14111 Timber Way
  • Shenandoah (Woodstock): 120 West Reservoir Rd.
  • South Boston: 3220 Halifax Rd
  • Suffolk: 118 West Constance Rd.

For a list of additional testing options, please visit the VDH website at:
https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/covid-19-testing/

VDH recommends two tools to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Download the free COVIDWISE app on your smartphone and it will anonymously notify you if you have been exposed to COVID-19. The app does not collect, store, track or use location data. VDH provides a free online risk-assessment tool called COVIDCHECK to check symptoms and connect users with appropriate health care resources.

Governor Northam Announces New Steps to Accelerate COVID-19 Vaccination Efforts

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced new actions to support the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution program and accelerate the pace of vaccinations across Virginia.

Governor Northam is taking the following steps to help providers increase the rate of vaccinations as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible:

  1. Vaccination goal. Governor Northam set an initial goal of vaccinating 25,000 Virginians each day when supply allows.
  2. ‘Use it or lose it’ model. Medical facilities will be required to put the vaccine they receive into arms as soon as possible, or risk having future vaccine allotments reduced.
  3. Danny T.K. Avula to lead vaccination efforts in Virginia. Governor Northam appointed Dr. Avula, who serves as director of the Richmond City and Henrico County Health Departments to coordinate work between state officials, local health departments, hospitals, and private providers.
  4. Expanded priority groups. Governor Northam announced that K-12 teachers and child care workers will be among the next priority groups to receive vaccinations after Group A, and outlined the populations that will be included in Groups B and C.
  5. Elevating the Virginia National Guard. As the Commonwealth receives more doses, the Virginia National Guard will provide logistical support and help local health departments will administering vaccines.

“Getting Virginians vaccinated against COVID-19 is the best way to end this pandemic, rebuild our economy, and move our Commonwealth forward,” said Governor Northam. “By setting clear goals and appointing Dr. Avula to spearhead our vaccination program, we will have a clear vision of how this effort—the largest public vaccination campaign in modern history—is progressing. I plan to get vaccinated when my turn comes, and I encourage Virginians to do the same.”

Governor Northam also announced the next priority populations to receive vaccinations, based in part on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and recommendations form the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. The Virginia Department of Health is developing an online portal to help people understand how to register to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.

Group B includes frontline essential workers in specific industries, K-12 teachers and staff, childcare providers, adults age 75 and older, and people living in correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and migrant labor camps. Additional information about Group B, which is expected to start near the end of January, is available here.

Group C includes other essential workers, adults age 65 and older, and people age 16-64 with certain medical conditions or disabilities that increase their risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Additional information about Group C is available here.

Governor Northam Welcomes First Shipments of COVID-19 Vaccine to Virginia

Frontline health care workers to begin receiving vaccine in coming days

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today welcomed one of the first shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to a Bon Secours hospital in Richmond, Virginia. This initial allotment of 72,150 doses is arriving today and tomorrow at health systems across the Commonwealth and will be administered to frontline health care workers as early as tomorrow.

“These initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are a much-needed symbol of hope for our Commonwealth and our country,” said Governor Northam. “With this remarkable medical achievement, we are beginning to see the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. Yet even in this moment of celebration, we must remember that this is the first step in a months-long process to receive, distribute, and administer the vaccine as it becomes available. I ask everyone to stay vigilant, take care of each other, and continue following the public health guidelines as we work to vaccinate Virginians in a safe, efficient, equitable manner.”

Initial shipments are being delivered to health systems across the Commonwealth this week, as expected, with vaccinations for health care workers beginning tomorrow. Health care workers that directly care for COVID-19 patients will receive top priority among providers in Virginia.

Virginia health systems expect to receive an estimated 480,000 doses of vaccine from two manufacturers, Pfizer and Moderna, by the end of December. This initial allocation will begin the inoculation process for nearly all health care personnel and long-term care facility residents. The Virginia Department of Health estimates that there are up to 500,000 individuals in these two top priority groups in the Commonwealth.

Governor Northam was joined by Kelly Sweet, PharmD, MSHA, Director of Pharmacy for the Bon Secours Health System today. Photos from the Governor’s visit are below and unedited b-roll footage is available here.

VDH Announces New Contact Tracing Prioritization and Reduced Quarantine Guidelines

Virginia is Following Newly-Issued CDC Guidance

(Richmond, Va.) — Today, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announced because of substantial levels of COVID-19 community transmission, local health departments may need to prioritize  contact tracing efforts for key elements of the population.  During this time of significantly high case volume,  traditional methods of contact tracing are less effective. This means that some local health departments, as necessary, may not be contacting everyone with COVID-19 infection or close contacts to someone with COVID-19 infection.  Per new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), VDH may prioritize follow-up of cases and tracing of close contacts for the following groups:

  • People diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past six days and their household contacts
  • People living or working in or visiting congregate living facilities
  • People involved in known clusters or outbreaks
  • People at increased risk of severe illness

“As cases of COVID-19 increase across the Commonwealth, this change will allow us to deploy resources where they will have the most impact,” said Virginia State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A.  “We urge residents to continue to follow public health guidance on wearing masks and physical distancing, and to notify their circle of friends and family quickly if diagnosed with COVID-19.  Also, please answer the phone if a VDH Contact Tracer calls.  All these things are helping us in the fight against COVID-19.”

Case investigation and contact tracing are an essential and impactful part of the COVID-19 response in Virginia, and nearly 2,000 public health professionals have been hired since May 2020 in local health departments to do this work.  Although not all cases and not all contacts can be called when the number of cases is high, contact tracing will continue in Virginia in accordance with these new recommendations.  VDH continues to work closely with the CDC and follow federal guidance.

During times like these, everyone must be proactive in following public health recommendations that include:

  • Wear a mask
  • Practice social distancing
  • Wash your hands on a regular basis
  • Stay home whenever possible
  • Avoid gatherings outside of your household
  • Download COVIDWISE, the VDH exposure notification app
  • Use the CDC and VDH websites for accurate, reliable, and updated information

If you test positive for COVID-19 or are diagnosed with COVID-19, you need to stay at home, away from others, and self-isolate for at least ten days.  You should also help identify and notify the people that you had close contact with while you were contagious.  If you have been exposed to COVID-19, you need to stay at home, away from others, self-quarantine, get tested for COVID-19 five-to-seven days after exposure, and watch for any symptoms.

VDH and CDC continue to recommend a quarantine period of 14 days.  However, CDC  guidance now includes two additional options for how long quarantine should last.  The safest option is still to quarantine for 14 days after last exposure.  Any quarantine shorter than 14 days balances reduced burden against a small possibility of spreading the virus.  The two additional options for shortened quarantine are for people without symptoms to end quarantine after day 10 without testing, or after day 7 with a negative PCR or negative antigen test performed on or after day 5.  It is still important to watch for symptoms of COVID-19 until 14 days after exposure and to take other prevention measures including wearing a mask, distancing, and frequent hand washing.

Today, VDH is adopting this revised quarantine guidance for everyone except healthcare workers or healthcare facilities.  CDC’s healthcare-associated infection prevention and control experts are currently reviewing the revised guidance; in the meantime, VDH recommends that healthcare personnel and residents and staff in healthcare facilities continue to use a 14-day quarantine.

Always seek medical care if symptoms worsen or become severe.  Severe symptoms include trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, or bluish lips or face.

Governor Northam Announces New Statewide Measures to Contain COVID-19

Includes limit of 25 individuals for in-person gatherings, expanded mask mandate, on-site alcohol curfew, and increased enforcement

RICHMOND—As COVID-19 surges in states across the country, Governor Ralph Northam today announced new actions to mitigate the spread of the virus in Virginia. While the Commonwealth’s case count per capita and positivity rate remain comparatively low, all five health regions are experiencing increases in new COVID-19 cases, positive tests, and hospitalizations.

“COVID-19 is surging across the country, and while cases are not rising in Virginia as rapidly as in some other states, I do not intend to wait until they are. We are acting now to prevent this health crisis from getting worse,” said Governor Northam. “Everyone is tired of this pandemic and restrictions on our lives. I’m tired, and I know you are tired too. But as we saw earlier this year, these mitigation measures work. I am confident that we can come together as one Commonwealth to get this virus under control and save lives.”

Governor Northam shared a new video to update Virginians on the additional steps the Commonwealth is taking to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, which is available here.

The following measures will take effect at midnight on Sunday, November 15:

  • Reduction in public and private gatherings: All public and private in-person gatherings must be limited to 25 individuals, down from the current cap of 250 people. This includes outdoor and indoor settings.
  • Expansion of mask mandate: All Virginians aged five and over are required to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces. This expands the current mask mandate, which has been in place in Virginia since May 29 and requires all individuals aged 10 and over to wear face coverings in indoor public settings.
  • Strengthened enforcement within essential retail businesses: All essential retail businesses, including grocery stores and pharmacies, must adhere to statewide guidelines for physical distancing, wearing face coverings, and enhanced cleaning. While certain essential retail businesses have been required to adhere to these regulations as a best practice, violations will now be enforceable through the Virginia Department of Health as a Class One misdemeanor. 
  • On-site alcohol curfew: The on-site sale, consumption, and possession of alcohol is prohibited after 10:00 p.m. in any restaurant, dining establishment, food court, brewery, microbrewery, distillery, winery, or tasting room. All restaurants, dining establishments, food courts, breweries, microbreweries, distilleries, wineries, and tasting rooms must close by midnight. Virginia law does not distinguish between restaurants and bars, however, under current restrictions, individuals that choose to consume alcohol prior to 10:00 p.m. must be served as in a restaurant and remain seated at tables six feet apart. 

Virginia is averaging 1,500 newly-reported COVID-19 cases per day, up from a statewide peak of approximately 1,200 in May. While Southwest Virginia has experienced a spike in the number of diagnosed COVID-19 cases, all five of the Commonwealth’s health regions are currently reporting a positivity rate over five percent. Although hospital capacity remains stable, hospitalizations have increased statewide by more than 35 percent in the last four weeks.

On Tuesday, Governor Northam announced new contracts with three laboratories as part of the Commonwealth’s OneLabNetwork, which will significantly increase Virginia’s public health testing capacity. Contracts with Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, and Sentara Healthcare in Norfolk will directly support high-priority outbreak investigations, community testing events, and testing in congregate settings, with a goal of being able to perform 7,000 per day by the end of the year.

The full text of amended Executive Order Sixty-Three and Order of Public Health Emergency Five and sixth amended Executive Order Sixty-Seven and Order of Public Health Emergency Seven will be made available here

For information about COVID-19 in Virginia, visit vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus.

How Biden and Trump plan to face the COVID-19 pandemic

By Anya Sczerzenie, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va.-- Both major presidential candidates hope to convince voters they have plans in place to protect the health of Americans and the economy as COVID-19 cases rise nationally. 

As of Oct. 28, there have been almost 8.8 million total coronavirus cases in the United States and 176,754 in Virginia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the past week, the country has reached a record high level of daily new cases, according to The New York Times.

Candidates addressed their plans to address the COVID-19 crisis during the final presidential debate held earlier this month. President Donald Trump criticized former Vice President Joe Biden for wanting to “shut down the country” and said that a vaccine will come soon. 

“I’m going to shut down the virus, not the country,” Biden responded, adding that there need to be “standards,” or response protocols, in place for when rates increase in a community. 

Below are more details on Trump and Biden’s plans for handling the pandemic. 

Trump’s Plan

Samantha Zager, Trump’s deputy national press secretary, said that the president’s administration will continue to respond to the virus as they have been.

“When reelected, the President will continue his work on developing a vaccine to achieve his vision of a return to normal life and a roaring, post-COVID economy where all Virginians can achieve their version of the American Dream,” Zager wrote in an email. 

Zager also criticized Biden’s proposed response to the virus.

“Joe Biden has actively demeaned a coronavirus vaccine for political purposes, and he would surrender to the virus, hurting Virginia’s small businesses and families with another draconian shutdown of our economy,” Zager said. 

Under Trump, Congress passed an over $2 trillion dollar coronavirus stimulus package—the CARES Act—that gave money to every eligible adult in the country, as well as small businesses and healthcare facilities. Legislators recently failed to advance another stimulus package. 

Trump has stated that the U.S. is the world leader in testing, having performed 100 million COVID-19 tests. The U.S. however, does not have the highest number of tests per capita, which some health experts say is a more useful metric, according to PolitiFact, a fact checking project run by the nonprofit Poynter Institute.

 Trump said the U.S. has led the “largest mobilization since World War II” to combat the coronavirus and that no American who needed a ventilator has gone without one. Additionally, his administration has launched “Operation Warp Speed” to fast-track vaccine production. In July, Trump hoped to have 300 million doses of vaccines available by early 2021. The administration announced agreements just weeks before the election with CVS and Walgreens to provide COVID-19 vaccines to residents of long-term care facilities with no out-of-pocket costs.

Trump has also stated that the U.S. will withdraw from the World Health Organization to hold the organization “accountable for mismanagement of the coronavirus.” 

Biden’s Plan

Biden's campaign did not answer direct questions but referred to the candidate’s website which outlines ways that Biden plans to fight the virus. If elected, his administration would “spend whatever it takes, without delay, to meet public health needs and deal with the mounting economic consequences.”

He has accused Trump of having “no comprehensive plan” to curtail the pandemic that has killed over 225,000 Americans. Biden also said he backs the accelerated development of a vaccine, something that has also been a priority for Trump’s administration. 

Biden promotes swift and aggressive action from the federal government to protect families, small businesses, first responders and caregivers. Biden said helping individuals and small businesses is essential. Corporations shouldn’t be bailed out. 

Biden states that if elected he will make COVID-19 tests “widely available and free” by establishing at least 10 mobile testing sites per state and expanding programs which offer tests to people who may not know how to ask for a test, such as nursing home residents. He also plans to amend the Public Health Service Act and the Social Security Act to make sure individuals aren’t charged for COVID-19 tests, treatment or vaccines. 

Biden has also called on every state governor, as well as local authorities like mayors, to pass a mask mandate.

The Biden administration plans to provide up to 12 weeks of paid sick leave for U.S. workers. Biden promotes the passage of an emergency paid leave program that would require 14 days of paid leave for individuals who get sick from the virus or have to quarantine. 

Biden’s plan also includes helping “vulnerable nations” treat coronavirus outbreaks. 

What should the next president do?

Dr. Bill Petri, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Medicine in Charlottesville, said that the next president needs to focus on finding a vaccine for the disease and producing those vaccines within the U.S.

“First, the federal government needs to support fundamental research on immunization and vaccines,” Petri said. “We should be leading the world in providing COVID-19 vaccines, we don’t want China or Russia doing that.”

Petri also said that the federal government should be more involved in coordinating the COVID-19 responses of individual states, which have differed depending on individual governors. 

“What one state does affects us all,” Petri said. 

Many Democratic state governors have criticized the federal government for providing a slow-paced COVID-19 response. Some state governors have coordinated their COVID-19 responses with other states. The governors of Virginia and Maryland, as well as the mayor of Washington D.C, have attempted regional cooperation in battling the pandemic. 

Petri said that the next president should continue to support the CDC as well as individual state departments of health, including the Virginia Department of Health. 

In a recent Pew Research poll, 57% of registered voters surveyed said they are “very or somewhat” confident in Biden’s ability to handle the impact of the coronavirus, while 40 percent say they are “very or somewhat” confident in Trump’s ability to do so.

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University's Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

Governor Northam Directs More Than $220 Million in CARES Act Funding to Virginia’s K-12 Schools

All 132 school districts to receive at least $100,000 for COVID-19 preparedness and response

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced a new allocation of more than $220 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Recovery, and Economic Security (CARES) Act dollars to help K-12 public schools in Virginia. The funding will support COVID-19 preparedness and response measures for the 2020–2021 school year, including testing supplies, personal protective equipment, sanitization, and technology for distance learning. Funding will be distributed to all 132 public school districts using an allocation formula of $175 per pupil based on fall enrollment, with a minimum of $100,000 for each school division. 

“Students, teachers, principals, and parents are going to great lengths to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic amid a new school year, and we must do everything we can to support them,” said Governor Northam. “This additional $220 million in federal funding will give our schools the resources they need to continue operating and provide Virginians with a world-class education, whether safely in person or remotely from home.” 

This funding will supplement $66.8 million provided to Virginia through the federal Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund and an additional $587.5 million allocated to the Commonwealth in May under the CARES Act. This included $238.6 million from the Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief (ESSER) Fund for K-12 activities. Additionally, the CARES Act provided $343.9 million for higher education through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.

“This funding is critical as we continue to provide safe, high-quality education for Virginia students,” said Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane. “I am grateful to Governor Northam for his ongoing support of public education—and I can assure you that his funding will immediately be put to good use.”

Governor Northam was one of the first governors in the country to close schools for in-person instruction when COVID-19 began to spread quickly during the 2020 spring semester. Virginia school divisions have been working overtime to adapt during the fall semester, and many continue to face challenges associated with maintaining public health protocols and increased technology needs. In June, the Commonwealth provided guidance for the phased reopening of PreK-12 schools, including guidelines for safely resuming in-person instruction and school activities.

“We applaud Governor Northam’s commitment of more than $220 million in federal CARES Act funding to our public schools,” said Dr. James Fedderman, President of the Virginia Education Association. “COVID-19 has brought huge new challenges for our students and educators, and members of the Virginia Education Association have made clear throughout the pandemic that additional, necessary services require additional funding. This action will help keep our students safe, healthy, and learning.”

“Virginia’s teachers are heroes, and they are doing an incredible job in the midst of this pandemic,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “This funding will help ensure the safety of students, families, and teaching staff, all while providing critical support for our most at-risk students.”

“School divisions, teachers, and families are working overtime for the safety and wellbeing of Virginia’s students,” said Senator L. Louise Lucas. “Whether this funding is used for personal protective equipment, testing, or technology for distance learning, it will help keep our children safe and ensure no student is left behind.”

“This pandemic has disproportionately impacted vulnerable Virginians, including our most at-risk students,” said Delegate Roslyn Tyler. “I am grateful to Governor Northam for this additional support, which will increase access to education for all families—including those who need it most.”

More information on the amount of funding allocated to each school division can be found here.

Governor Northam Announces More Than $8.4 Million to Support COVID-19 Recovery and Response Efforts in Rural Virginia

Funding will help small businesses and community partners with rent relief, equipment purchases

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced more than $8.4 million in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) for 14 projects that will help rural communities across Virginia respond to recover from the public health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Our administration remains committed to investing in rural communities during this unprecedented health crisis and as we work to rebuild Virginia’s economy,” said Governor Northam. “This funding will go a long way to address the immediate needs of Virginia families and provide relief to small businesses, so they are better prepared for economic growth despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic.”

Since 1982, the federally funded CDBG program has been administered by the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). Virginia receives funding annually to distribute to small cities, towns, and counties, and funding is allocated among local government applicants through an open submission application process using objective scoring criteria developed in consultation with eligible localities. Large cities and counties receive direct allocation of CDBG resources from the federal government, so the state administered funds must focus on smaller and more rural regions of the state. This year, more than $20.4 million has been distributed to communities across Virginia through the CDBG program.

DHCD reallocated existing CDBG funding to assist with COVID-19 response and recovery activities. Funding can be used for: 

  • Construction or rehab of structures for shelters
  • Testing or equipment manufacturing
  • Training programs for healthcare workers or service industry jobs transitioning to food or pharmaceutical delivery systems
  • Acquisition costs for telework or telemedicine services
  • Job creation or business development for manufacturing of COVID-related materials
  • Business assistance for job training or re-tooling business services to reopen and adapt in a new environment
  • Small business recovery funds for rent/mortgage assistance
  • Personal protective equipment, sanitization, dining equipment, and barrier devices to meet social distancing requirements

“Virginia continues to take an innovative approach in providing resources to assist households and businesses throughout the Commonwealth as they navigate this pandemic,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “From housing to business assistance, this CDBG funding will create healthy and safe ways for Virginians to move forward with recovery efforts.”

The following projects (among others) will receive CDBG funding:

Brunswick County Small Business Recovery Assistance
$520,000
Brunswick County

Brunswick County will provide recovery assistance to small businesses adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses will be able to apply for up to $5,000 for retooling and technology activities and up to $10,000 for three to six months of rent and mortgage relief. Brunswick County will work with its local partners to assist at least 40 businesses.

Mecklenburg County Small Business Recovery Assistance
$520,000
Mecklenburg County

Mecklenburg County will assist at least 40 businesses that have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses will be able to apply for up to $5,000 for retooling and technology activities and up to $10,000 for three to six months of rent and mortgage relief.

Governor Northam Announces Expansion of $70 Million Rebuild VA Grant Fund for Small Businesses, Nonprofits Impacted by COVID-19

Eligibility criteria expanded to include businesses that received federal CARES Act funds, supply chain partners affected by closures

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that Rebuild VA, the $70 million economic recovery fund launched in August, is expanding its eligibility criteria to allow more small businesses to apply. Businesses that received funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and supply chain partners of businesses whose normal operations were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic are now eligible to receive grants of up to $10,000. Businesses that have received federal funds must certify that they will only use the Rebuild VA grant for recurring expenses and that the grant will not be used to cover the same expenses as the other CARES Act funds.

Rebuild VA, which is administered by the Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity (SBSD), successfully launched on August 10. SBSD and its program partners, the Department of Housing and Community Development, the Virginia Tourism Corporation, and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, made the decision to expand eligibility criteria after analysis of eligible and ineligible applications received within the first 30 days of the launch.

“When we initially launched Rebuild VA, we focused on reaching the small businesses and nonprofit organizations most in need,” said Governor Northam. “I am deeply grateful for the work of our state agencies to swiftly adjust the parameters of this program so we can assist more Virginia businesses as they weather this health crisis and build back stronger.”

Eligible businesses and nonprofits must demonstrate that their normal operations were limited by Governor Northam’s Executive Orders Fifty-Three or Fifty-Five, or that they were directly impacted by the closure of such businesses. In March, Governor Northam took executive action to protect the health and safety of Virginians, which included limiting operations for food and beverage, non-essential brick and mortar retail, exercise and fitness, entertainment and public amusement, personal care and personal grooming, and private campground and overnight summer camps. Expanded business sectors now eligible to apply for Rebuild VA grants include small hotels and bed and breakfasts lodging facilities along with film companies supporting production in the Commonwealth. Businesses that provide goods or services for those identified in one or more of the eligible business categories previously mentioned are now eligible.

Businesses must also certify that they have not received grant or loan dollars from federal, state, or local CARES Act funded programs, or if they have received CARES Act funding, that they will use the Rebuild VA grant only for recurring expenses. These businesses must also certify that the Rebuild VA funds will not be used to cover the same expenses as other CARES Act funds.

Rebuild VA still requires that businesses and nonprofit organizations must be in good standing, have annual gross revenues of no more than $1.5 million, and have no more than 25 employees.

Rebuild VA funding may be utilized for the following eligible expenses:

  • Payroll support, including paid sick, medical, or family leave, and costs related to the continuation of group health care benefits during those periods of leave;
  • Employee salaries;
  • Mortgage payments, rent, and utilities;
  • Principal and interest payments for any business loans from national or state-chartered banking, savings and loan institutions, or credit unions, that were incurred before or during the emergency;
  • Eligible personal protective equipment, cleaning and disinfecting materials, or other working capital needed to address COVID-19 response.

For additional information about Rebuild VA, expanded eligibility criteria, covered expenses, and how to submit an application, please visit governor.virginia.gov/RebuildVA.

Virginia Department of Health Confirms First Age 10 – 19 Fatality Due to COVID-19

RICHMOND, VA — Today, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announced that an adolescent resident in the Southside Health District who tested positive for COVID-19 has died. This is the first reported COVID-19 death of a child in the Commonwealth. VDH will disclose no further information about the teenager to protect privacy and out of respect for the patient’s family.

“We were extremely saddened to learn of the loss of the state’s first adolescent with COVID-19. On behalf of all of us at VDH, I extend sincere condolences to the teenager’s family and loved ones,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A.  “No age group is immune from the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and this unfortunate event, along with the increasing numbers of coronavirus cases we are seeing in some areas of the Commonwealth, is a reminder that we all need to do our part to help slow the spread of virus in the community.”

This fatality will be reflected on the data dashboard update for Saturday, September 19, 2020.

To lower the risk of spreading respiratory infections, including COVID-19, the Virginia Department of Health encourages everyone to:

  • Stay home as much as possible, except for essential travel;
  • If you must go out in public, wear a cloth face covering;
  • Practice social distancing. Maintain at least six feet of space between yourself and other individuals;
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available;
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces;
  • Stay home when you are sick;
  • Avoid contact with sick people;
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing;
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth;
  • If you are experiencing symptoms, call your doctor; and
  • Avoid large gatherings and contact with crowds, especially with those not wearing masks or adhering to social distancing guidelines.

For more information on COVID-19 in Virginia, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus and www.cdc.gov/coronavirus.

Efforts falter to require schools to provide in-person options

By Sam Fowler, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- An effort to require Virginia school districts provide in-person classes to students with poor internet access during the COVID-19 pandemic is most likely dead. 

House Bill 5009, introduced by Del. Mark Cole, R-Fredericksburg, would require public schools to offer in-person classes to elementary, middle and high school students who have substandard internet connections at home. 

The bill was referred in August to the House Committee on Education during the Virginia General Assembly special session, but the legislation still hasn’t been addressed as the legislature nears crossover day—when each chamber must act on bills for them to advance.

“Anything still left in committee, will essentially die. So it doesn’t look like this bill will progress,” Del. Joshua Cole, D-Fredericksburg, who co-sponsored the bill, said in an email. 

Mark Cole’s bill would have required schools to provide in-person instruction to individuals who can’t access an internet speed of more than 10 megabits per second download and one Mbps upload. 

“This is an equity issue,” Mark Cole wrote in an email earlier this month. “Some children do not have access to the internet or internet of sufficient capacity to be able participants in online instruction, primarily rural and poor children.”

More than 1 million public school students were slated to start school in an online-only format, according to data posted in August by the Virginia Public Access Project. That includes Fairfax County, home to almost 189,000 students. More than 269,000 children were set to start school in a hybrid format that offers in-person and online instruction. Many of those students are located in rural areas. Hanover County, which enrolls more than 17,500 students, is the largest school district offering a blended format, according to VPAP. 

Russell County in Southwest Virginia is among the schools offering an in-person and online learning format. The school has set up an internet hotspot on school grounds to help students download material for class, and zip drives to store what they download, according to Janice Barton, a teacher at the school. High schools in the surrounding area have also done the same, Barton said. 

Even though schools are offering ways to access the internet, they’re still not offering high-speed access, Mark Cole said.

“This still puts children without high speed internet at a disadvantage over those that can participate in the comfort of their homes,” he said. “Children have to be driven to a hotspot, often a school parking lot, where they try to receive instruction while sitting in their car.”

Joshua Cole believes children should have an equal opportunity to learn without having to worry about attending online classes.

“If you don’t have internet, if you don’t have high speed internet, if your speeds are low, we want to make sure that your student is not left out,” he said. 

Stafford County gives some students an opportunity to come to school if they need to, said Joshua Cole, who is one of the county’s representatives in the House. The lawmaker said only some students are attending in-person classes in Stafford County, primarily students with disabilities or those without reliable internet access.

“It's not a bunch of students coming in,” he said.

Fredericksburg City Public Schools partnered with business owners in the area who are helping fund internet hotspots for students to access from their homes, according to Joshua Cole.

Many schools that are offering in-person instruction have created spaces to accommodate students and follow social distancing guidelines.

“We have signs in the hallways, in our classrooms. We have it set up 6 feet apart,” Barton said. “We have cleaning supplies, every teacher has that.”

Russell County Public Schools also provide students and teachers with masks, Barton said. 

Senate Bill 5114, sponsored by Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Mechanicsville, had similar wording to Mark Cole’s bill, but it was passed by indefinitely, which means the bill is dead unless the committee takes additional action.

Governor Northam Announces $4 Million to Expand Legal Aid Services for Virginians Facing Eviction

Governor will match $2 million IKEA donation with $2 million from Virginia’s COVID-19 Relief Fund

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced $4 million in funding for the Legal Services Corporation of Virginia, which will support 20 Legal Aid attorneys in providing services to Virginia tenants facing eviction for the next two years. This critical investment comes as thousands of Virginians continue to be at risk of eviction and is supported in part by a $2 million donation from IKEA U.S. Community Foundation. The Governor will match the donation with $2 million from Virginia’s COVID-19 Relief Fund, which was approved by the General Assembly in April.

“Our Commonwealth faced an eviction crisis before COVID-19 arrived in early March, and the ongoing global pandemic is making this problem even worse,” said Governor Northam. “We are deeply grateful to IKEA for this generous donation that, coupled with money from the COVID-19 Relief Fund and other federal resources, will help more Virginians stay in their homes as we fight this virus. In an unprecedented crisis and financial uncertainty, we must be able to get relief to vulnerable populations quickly and efficiently—this additional funding will make that possible.”

IKEA Retail U.S. has stores in Norfolk and Woodbridge and employs approximately 550 Virginians. As part of the company’s efforts to support COVID-19 recovery across the country, IKEA is providing partner states with a donation equal to the amount given to their employees in the form of unemployment benefits. Housing security continues to be a top priority for Virginia amid the ongoing public health crisis, and Governor Northam asked that the $2 million donation from IKEA to the Commonwealth be directed to support eviction relief.

IKEA has continued to follow Governor Northam’s orders to protect the health and safety of both employees and customers. After Governor Northam issued a statewide Stay at Home order, IKEA closed its two Virginia retail locations to keep their staff and customers safe. Now IKEA is giving back to ensure the Commonwealth has the funding to provide essential services and goods to those who need it most.  

“We are appreciative of the ongoing support from the Commonwealth of Virginia, including the unemployment funds paid to our co-workers who were furloughed in the early weeks of the pandemic,” said Javier Quiñones, IKEA Retail U.S. president. “People are the heart of our business, and these unemployment benefits helped IKEA U.S. co-workers during a difficult time. We now have a better understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on our business, and we’ve decided to pay it forward to support the ongoing relief efforts in our local communities.” 

This funding will be matched by $2 million from Virginia’s COVID-19 Relief Fund, which is supported by tax revenue from electronic skill machines. Governor Northam proposed this one-year alternative funding mechanism as a way of providing additional support to small businesses, Virginians who are out of work due to the pandemic, and individuals struggling to stay in their homes.

Although $1.5 million per year for Legal Aid was unallotted from Virginia’s biennial budget, this $4 million in funding will allow for additional support during the COVID-19 pandemic. Legal Aid attorneys play a critical role in eviction diversion in the Commonwealth—Virginia families facing eviction have successful outcomes 72 percent of the time when represented by Legal Aid lawyers, as opposed to just 34 percent without representation.

Governor Northam also established the Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program (RMRP) with an initial $50 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds and proposed an additional $88 million in funding for the Housing Trust Fund over the biennium to prevent evictions and expand affordable housing. Since launching at the end of June, the RMRP has served more than 3,100 households in Virginia, and over 60 percent of the households served have children in the home.

The Legal Services Corporation of Virginia funds and oversees the work of nine regional Legal Aid programs and a statewide support center, the Virginia Poverty Law Center, that provide services to low-income Virginians in every city and county in the Commonwealth.

Watch the video of today’s announcement here.

 

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