Covid-19

Free Covid Tests and Vaccines Available at Peanut Festival

Virginia Department of Health Announces Launch of QR Codes to Verify COVID-19 Vaccination Status

~ QR codes are secure and private for users, easy for businesses ~

RICHMOND – The Virginia Department of Health today announced the addition of QR codes – a type of barcode that can be scanned with smartphones – to Virginia COVID-19 vaccination records.

QR codes – short for “quick response” – are commonly used in retail, logistics, and other sectors. The technology allows anyone to show proof of vaccination with a digital or printed QR code instead of a paper card, and without the need for an app. As more and more employers and businesses respond to calls by President Biden and Governor Northam to require that employees and customers be vaccinated, QR codes will help improve the consistency and security of vaccination information while protecting individual privacy.

A person vaccinated in Virginia can visit vaccinate.virginia.gov to obtain their free vaccination record with QR code, which can then be saved to a phone gallery, printed on paper, or stored in a compatible account.

QR codes contain the same information as paper records, but in a format that offers greater security and efficiency. Because the QR code is digitally signed by the Virginia Department of Health, it cannot be altered or forged. Information from QR codes is only available if and when the individual chooses to share it. Businesses and employers that choose to verify an individual’s vaccination status can scan QR codes with the free SMART Health Verifier App. Individuals do not need to download an app to use QR codes.

Virginia is now the fifth U.S. state to adopt the SMART Health format for QR codes, empowering individuals with trustworthy and verifiable copies of their vaccination records in digital or paper form using open, interoperable standards. The framework and standards were developed by VCI, a coalition of more than 800 public and private organizations – including The Mayo Clinic, Boston Children’s Hospital, Microsoft, MITRE, and The Commons Project Foundation.

QR codes are available to anyone whose vaccination record includes a working phone number and is in the Virginia Immunization Information System (VIIS). Nearly all doses administered in Virginia are reported to VIIS, including pharmacies, physician offices, health department clinics, federally qualified health centers, and community vaccination centers. Some doses administered outside Virginia to Virginia residents may be in VIIS. Doses administered directly by federal agencies such as the Department of Defense or Department of Veterans Affairs are not reported to VIIS. A person whose record cannot be retrieved automatically may call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users call 7-1-1) for assistance.

With more than 10.2 million doses of vaccine administered so far in Virginia, more than 58% of the population is fully vaccinated. Everyone 12 or older is eligible to be vaccinated now. To find free vaccines nearby, 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.

Elective Surgery and Clinic Update

South Hill, VA (9/13/21) – Effective immediately, VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital (VCU Health CMH) is making changes to non-urgent, elective appointments to safely continue caring for patients during an increase in COVID-19 cases in our region. Urgent and emergency surgeries will continue on an as-needed basis.

To increase staffing in areas of high need, we are postponing most elective surgeries until further notice. We are currently contacting patients who are impacted. In addition, we are moving existing, routine face-to-face clinic appointments to telehealth visits by phone or video where appropriate. We are taking this step to increase our ability to care for those with emergency medical needs.

For questions related to an upcoming appointment, or to schedule a telehealth appointment, established patients can call their VCU Health CMH provider at (434) 584-2273. Telehealth appointments may require copayments and will be billed accordingly.

We are monitoring the COVID-19 situation in our area, and will adapt our flexible surge plans, which have served us well throughout the pandemic, as needed. This time is no different. These plans are in place to aid in our ability to provide the safest, highest-quality care to all our patients.

“We want our patients to continue to have access to safe, high-quality health care,” said Ikenna Ibe, M.D., who serves as vice president of medical affairs and chief medical officer at VCU Health CMH. “Telehealth provides a safe, convenient option to care for our patients from the comfort of their own home.”

Once a telehealth appointment has been scheduled, patients will receive a link via email which logs them in and connects them to their health care provider. This type of appointment requires the patient to use a device with internet or data connectivity and a camera. That can include any smartphone, tablet, and most laptop computers.

Our adult on-demand urgent clinic is available without an appointment from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., daily. To sign up and start a visit, simply download the VCU Health Anywhere app.

Safety remains our top priority, which currently includes visitor limitations to reduce the number of people in our environment. Inpatients are allowed one visitor per patient per day between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. All visitors entering the hospital and C.A.R.E. Building will be screened for signs and symptoms related to COVID-19.

Please continue to practice social distancing by maintaining at least six feet of distance between people, washing hands often and wearing masks. The most effective tool to combat COVID-19 is to get vaccinated.

SBA Administrator Guzman Enhances COVID Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program to Aid Small Businesses Facing Challenges from Delta Variant

Increased Loan Cap to $2 Million, Expanded Use of Funds to Pay and Prepay Business Debt, Streamlined Review Processes, and Deferred Payments; First Approval and Disbursement of Loans of $500,000 or Less Also Introduced.

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman announced major enhancements to the COVID Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, a federal disaster relief loan designed to better serve and support our small business communities still reeling from the pandemic, especially hard-hit sectors such as restaurants, gyms, and hotels. The SBA is ready to receive new applications immediately from small businesses looking to take advantage of these new policy changes.

“The SBA’s COVID Economic Injury Disaster Loan program offers a lifeline to millions of small businesses who are still being impacted by the pandemic,” SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman said. “We’ve retooled this critical program – increasing the borrowing limit to $2 million, offering 24 months of deferment, and expanding flexibility to allow borrowers to pay down higher-interest business debt. We have also ramped up our outreach efforts to ensure we’re connecting with our smallest businesses as well as those from low-income communities who may also be eligible for the companion COVID EIDL Targeted Advance and Supplemental Advance grants totaling up to $15,000.  Our mission-driven SBA team has been working around the clock to make the loan review process as user-friendly as possible to ensure every entrepreneur who needs help can get the capital they need to reopen, recover and rebuild.”

Key changes being announced by the SBA include:

  • Increasing the COVID EIDL Cap. The SBA will lift the COVID EIDL cap from $500,000 to $2 million. Loan funds can be used for any normal operating expenses and working capital, including payroll, purchasing equipment, and paying debt.
  • Implementation of a Deferred Payment Period.  The SBA will ensure small business owners will not have to begin COVID EIDL repayment until two years after loan origination so that they can get through the pandemic without having to worry about making ends meet.
  • Establishment of a 30-Day Exclusivity Window. To ensure Main Street businesses have additional time to access these funds, the SBA will implement a 30-day exclusivity window of approving and disbursing funds for loans of $500,000 or less. Approval and disbursement of loans over $500,000 will begin after the 30-day period.
  • Expansion of Eligible Use of Funds. COVID EIDL funds will now be eligible to prepay commercial debt and make payments on federal business debt.
  • Simplification of affiliation requirements. To ease the COVID EIDL application process for small businesses, the SBA has established more simplified affiliation requirements to model those of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

 The enhancements to the COVID EIDL program will allow more businesses greater and more flexible support from the over $150 billion in available COVID EIDL funds. Additionally, these changes will help entrepreneurs access capital at a time when, according to a recent Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses survey, 44 percent of small business owners report having less than three months of cash reserves, and only 31 percent reporting confidence in gaining access to funding.

 How to apply

 Eligible small businesses, nonprofits, and agricultural businesses in all U.S. states and territories can apply. Visit www.sba.gov/eidl to learn more about eligibility and application requirements. The last day that applications may be received is December 31, 2021. All applicants should file their applications as soon as possible.

 For additional information on COVID EIDL and other recovery programs please visit www.sba.gov/relief. Small business owners may call SBA’s Customer Service Center at 1-800-659-2955 (1-800-877-8339 for the deaf and hard of hearing) or email DisasterCustomerService@sba.gov for additional assistance. The center is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST. Multilingual representatives are available. Small business owners may also contact SBA’s Resource Partners by visiting www.sba.gov/local-assistance.

 Application Process and Fraud Control Enhancements

 In addition to the policy enhancements, the SBA has invested in optimized processes and increased capacity to improve the customer service experience for applicants. Directed by Administrator Guzman to swiftly and drastically enhance COVID EIDL, the revamped management team implemented new processes and performance management such as prioritizing personnel for COVID EIDL and increasing the average number of loan application decisions made. The SBA accelerated daily processing of loan increases from close to 2,000 applications to more than 37,000 applications daily. Loan officer productivity also went from 1.86 applications per day to 15 applications per day. As a result of these increased loan review rates, the 600,000+ loan increase backlog has been cleared and new applications can be processed immediately. At the same time, and to ensure taxpayer dollars are used to support businesses that need COVID EIDL funding most, the SBA has increased fraud controls and is working in collaboration with the SBA Inspector General to closely monitor the program.

All business owners that have received previous loans through the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF), or Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) can still benefit from COVID EIDL. To learn more about the application process, visit www.sba.gov/eidl.

VDH Expanding Testing Across the Commonwealth

Testing expanded to meet community needs

(RICHMOND, Va) –In response to an increasing number of individuals seeking testing, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) is expanding testing events across the Commonwealth. The action comes as cases of COVID-19 are rising, due to the Delta variant, a more contagious variant than the others currently circulating throughout the state.

“While our local health departments, pharmacies and hospitals are working to keep up with the demand for testing, we are providing additional testing locations to accommodate our residents and to help reserve our hospital emergency rooms and rescue squads for medical emergencies,” said Dr. Laurie Forlano, DO, MPH, deputy director, Office of Epidemiology.

VDH has added more than 170 Community Testing Events (CTE) in September throughout the Commonwealth. Additional CTEs will be added based on community need and to reduce increasing stress on healthcare providers.  For a list of all testing locations, visit the VDH website.

VDH recommends that the following people be tested for COVID-19·

  • People with symptoms or signs of COVID-19 regardless of vaccination status.
  • Most people who have had close contact with someone known or suspected to have COVID-19

o   Fully vaccinated people should be tested 3-5 days following a known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, even if you don’t have symptoms.

o   People who are not fully vaccinated should be tested immediately after an exposure and again at 5-7 days following exposure if the first test is negative

o   People who tested positive for COVID-19 within the past 3 months and recovered, do not need to get tested after exposure as long as they do not have symptoms.

  • People who participate in activities that are higher risk for COVID-19 exposure (e.g., travel, attending large events where social distancing is not possible, or being in crowded indoor settings)
  • People who have been referred for COVID-19 testing by their healthcare provider or the state/local health department.
  • People who plan to travel or who have recently returned from travel with some exceptions for fully vaccinated people
  • People who are not fully vaccinated and who plan to visit people at high risk of developing severe COVID-19

While vaccination is the most effective strategy to protect individuals, their family and their community, testing remains an important tool to help identify individuals with illness and monitor trends in COVID-19 infection.

For more information about COVID-19 testing call (877) 829-4682, 8 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday-Saturday.

VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital Visitation Update South Hill, VA (9/1/21) – Due to the increasing incidents of COVID cases in the region, VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital (VCU Health CMH) will adopt revised visiting policies as of 8:00 a.

South Hill, VA (9/1/21) – Due to the increasing incidents of COVID cases in the region, VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital (VCU Health CMH) will adopt revised visiting policies as of 8:00 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021. Adult patients are limited to one adult visitor per day. Pediatric patients are still able to have two adult visitors.

General Visitation Rules

• All visitors must be screened and provided a visitor badge or armband.
• All visitors must be always masked.
• Visitors must comply with physical distancing guidelines in all common areas.
• The second-floor lobby waiting area is reserved for outpatient surgical patients and their visitor/support person only, all other visitors will be asked to return to their car.
• All visitors will be encouraged to use hand sanitizer upon entering the facility and frequently during their stay.
• If patient clinical needs dictate no visitors (i.e. chemotherapy), visitors may be redirected to waiting areas.

Inpatients

• Visiting Hours: 8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
• One visitor (18 or older) per day per patient for all non-COVID patients. COVID-positive patients are still not allowed to have visitors, unless they are pediatric patients.
• Labor and Delivery unit: 1 adult visitor (18 or older) and 1 doula per day, allowing 1 to spend the night.
• Pediatric patients in all units: 2 adults (18 or older) visitor per day, allowing 1 to spend the night. Parent/POA/guardian may trade off. COVID-positive pediatric patients may have 1 parent or caregiver at a time.
• Patients who are at the end of life: The number of visitors is determined by the patient’s care team.
• Special needs patients that require 24/7 assistance may have a caretaker stay with them if in the best interest of patient care.
To reach a patient, please dial (434) 584-****, followed by the four digits of the patient's room number.

Outpatients and C.A.R.E. Building Appointments

  • • Surgery patients may be accompanied by one adult companion
  • • Patients arriving for doctor’s appointments, evaluation, or diagnostic or therapeutic procedures may be accompanied by one adult companion
  • • Pediatric patients: Up to 2 parents and/or legal guardians.

Emergency Department Patients

Visitation is currently suspended except for the following circumstances:

• Pediatric patients: Up to 2 parents and/or legal guardians.
• Patients who are at the end of life or critical condition: The number of visitors are determined by the patients’ care team.
• Exceptions to the visitation rules for specific incidents will be in accordance with ED policy or permission from the Administrative Representative.

Hundley Center

• Two visitors are allowed at a time for 15 minutes, and it must be scheduled in advance. Please call (434) 584-4570 or (434) 584-4579 between 7:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. to schedule a visit for 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

It is very important that all visitors maintain appropriate physical distancing in all waiting areas.  The health and safety of all patients and staff will continue to be of the utmost importance through this pandemic. Your best defense is to make sure you and your family are vaccinated. Look for further updates as VCU Health CMH continues to make progress in the fight against COVID.

Virginia Department of Health and Governor Northam Recognize August as Immunization Awareness Month

(Richmond, Va) – On Thursday, August 26, Governor of Virginia Ralph Northam and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) joined Children’s Hospital of Richmond at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) to celebrate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM). NIAM is an annual observance held in August to highlight the importance of immunization for people of all ages. ImmunizeVA, a statewide coalition of immunization stakeholders, received the Governor’s Proclamation in recognition of the month. Governor Northam was also joined by mascots of various Virginia colleges and universities to hype up and help spread awareness among families in their respective communities. 

In 2020, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation to align Virginia’s immunization requirements with the CDC’s ACIP (Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices) recommendations. Including previously required immunizations, all children in Virginia will need immunizations to protect against Rotavirus, Meningitis, HPV, and Hepatitis A. Without them, students may not be able to start school on time and children may not be able to attend daycare. For families of school-aged children, now is the time to get these required vaccines.

“Back to School is a great time for students of all ages to visit their pediatrician,” said Governor Ralph S. Northam, M.D., a pediatrician. “During these check-ups, babies, children and adolescents can receive their routine immunizations to ensure we have a healthy school year. It is also a good idea for everyone eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine to get the life-saving shot.”

In Virginia, VDH provides free childhood immunization through the Virginia Vaccines for Children’s program. Families can find providers at https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/immunization/vvfc/locatevvfcprovider/ or can visit their local health department to access these free resources. 

“COVID-19 disrupted both in-person learning and routine well-child visits for Virginian children over the last year and a half,” said Dr. Avula, Virginia’s State Vaccination Coordinator. “The CDC’s immunization ordering data shows a 14% drop in 2020-2021 compared to 2019, and measles vaccine ordering is down by more than 20%. Especially now, it is critical that children receive their immunizations so we don’t overwhelm our health systems with the co-circulation of illness.”

The Virginia Department of Health wants to reiterate that having a trusted health care provider  makes it easier to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Regular medical visits help families and caregivers understand and monitor their child’s growth and development, manage illness and preventative care, and keep up with their immunization schedule. 

“Misinformation around vaccines can be really difficult to navigate, but your child’s pediatrician or family medicine doctor is ready and equipped to answer your questions and explain the science behind immunizations,” said Dr. Tiffany Kimbrough, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, and a mother of two young children. “As providers, we are here to partner with you to address concerns and keep your children healthy.”

Lastly, the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination is available for children ages 12 and up. It’s safe, free and effective. As your student goes back to school, be sure to identify and monitor your locality and school division’s COVID-19 protocols. For more information on COVID-19 in Virginia, visit the VDH Coronavirus website. Anyone age 12 or older can find free vaccination clinics near them by visiting Vaccinate.Virginia.gov or by calling 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users may call 7-1-1).

Virginia Department of Health Confirms Age 0-9 Fatality with COVID-19

A Child in the Northern Region has Passed Away 

(RICHMOND, Va.)  — Today, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announced that a child in the Northern Region with COVID-19 has died. VDH will disclose no further information about the child to protect privacy and out of respect for the patient’s family. This is the first reported death of a child in the Northern Region with COVID-19 in Virginia.

“Our hearts go out to the family and friends of this child for their tragic loss,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A. “Across the country, COVID-19 continues to cause illness and death. The Delta variant is now the most predominant strain across the country, and it spreads more easily from one person to another. We urge everyone to take precautions to protect themselves and those around them. Everyone aged 12 and older who is eligible to get vaccinated is encouraged to do so as soon as possible.”

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

  • Get a COVID-19 vaccine when it is available to you or your children. To locate a free vaccine near you, visit vaccinate.virginia.gov/.
  • Wear a mask in indoor public settings, even if you are fully vaccinated. Virginia is currently experiencing high levels of COVID-19 spread.
  • Practice physical distancing. Maintain at least 6 feet of space between yourself and others.
  • Avoid large gatherings, crowds, and indoor spaces with poor ventilation (airflow).
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after you have been in public spaces; 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. If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, get tested.
  • 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.

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

Why You Don’t Want COVID

South Hill, VA (8/19/21) – With Governor Northam’s latest announcement requiring state employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, a lot of people are faced with making a difficult decision. To those state employees who have had COVID, it makes sense to them.

“I have so many continuing issues that I decided in July to retire because I did not feel capable of doing my job any longer.” - Ken Kurz, VCU Health CMH Director of Marketing and Development

I had a severe case of COVID-19 in December of 2020. It was so bad that I thought I was going to die, and there were a few days when I felt like dying would be better than fighting COVID any longer.

I was in bed for 21 days and just getting out of bed to use the restroom required a nap before and after. I had 13 straight days of a fever above 101, while on Tylenol, and nine of those days my fever was above 102. My highest recorded temperature during this time was 103.6 and I was fully dosed on Tylenol. I was never admitted to the hospital, but I did spend an evening in the emergency department, and I believe that saved my life. I was severely dehydrated; my pulse oxygen level was 90 and I told my wife good-bye when she dropped me off because I knew if I didn’t get better, I was going to die. I fully anticipated being admitted to the hospital and if the COVID continued at the rate it was progressing I knew it would kill me.

In other words, I was truly very ill. I had a cough that turned me purple, made me nearly pass out multiple times a day, left me so dizzy I had to lie down and made it difficult to breathe. The cough was worse than any bronchitis I ever had. I lost my sense of taste and smell, lost all desire to eat and was not sure for most of those 21 days if I was going to live through it.

I was not a fan of the vaccine and was pretty sure I was not going to take it when it became available prior to having COVID. But I listened to infectious disease doctors from VCU Health explain the science behind the vaccine’s creation and if there were issues with the vaccine, they would be made apparent quickly. I decided to get the vaccine because I DID NOT WANT COVID AGAIN!

I am now nine months post-COVID and I have significant lingering issues that can only be attributed to COVID.

I had the brain fog people talk about and now, nine months later, I still feel I am significantly impacted mentally from COVID. My memory is really bad – especially my short-term memory. I am still tired EVERY DAY. I get winded walking up a single flight of steps. I have crazy issues with my blood pressure. Pre-COVID my blood pressure was typically 110/70 unless I was doing something that required a lot of exertion.

Now my blood pressure is between 180/110 to 130/99 and I have had crazy spikes as high at 200/150 and drops to as low as 90/60. My heart rate used to be 60-70 and now it is typically 90-100 when at rest. I have had every test known to man, trying to figure out what is wrong with me. In the past six months I’ve had an MRI, MRA, CT Scan, Stress Test, Vascular studies, countless blood tests and every test has come back showing no issues, yet I still have a lot of issues. I wore a heart monitor for 30 days and despite having strange feelings that I was able to record during those 30 days, the monitor showed no issues. My heart would feel like it was racing sometimes and other times I would have pain in my chest. And I haven’t mentioned that in February I went temporarily blind for about 20 minutes that doctors believe was related to a stroke. Again, I attributed that to COVID and doctors did not disagree.

I have so many continuing issues that I decided in July to retire because I did not feel capable of doing my job any longer. I have irrational anger issues; I’ve had mood swings that have taken me to very dark places. I feel poorly most days, and nothing seems to be improving. I have night sweats and chills on a regular basis. All of this is new since COVID.

What I have gone through and continue to go through is not unique to me. In conversations I’ve had with people I know across the country, almost everyone who had a severe case of COVID and lived has similar issues. Even those who did not have serious COVID cases have issues.  My wife had what I would consider a mild case of COVID and she has taste and smell issues nine months post COVID and just doesn’t feel well most of the time.

If you are on the fence about the vaccine, I would ask you to seriously consider getting the vaccine to avoid dealing with issues like I and many others have.

COVID can kill you. And if it doesn’t kill you, it can still change your life dramatically.

“Although I only suffered 2-3 days with concerning COVID issues, I am still dealing with the aftermath 10 months later, and who knows how much longer.” - Brenda Palmore, DHA, VCU Health CMH Vice President of Practice Management and Business Development

In October 2020, I tested positive for COVID.  I was around a close friend, who was exposed from a co-worker and was unaware. The day she told me she tested positive, I felt perfectly fine. I was immediately tested and quarantined while waiting for the results. All I could think about were the people I could have potentially exposed. My husband; our 10-year-old daughter; my father, who suffers from COPD and is on oxygen 24/7; my mother, a cancer survivor who’s missing a portion of her lung from lung cancer; my aunt, age 74, who suffers from dementia; my co-workers at VCU Health CMH; my husband’s co-workers; my daughter’s classmates and teachers. My mind was racing thinking of the trail this could potentially leave and the havoc that it could cause with so many people. What if someone on that trail contracted it because of me and died? I tried to stop stressing and prayed that I was not exposed. The next day I received the dreaded call that I was positive around 8:30 a.m.

I was so emotional. I started calling everyone that I was around to inform them of the results. My daughter was so worried about what would happen to me, as we were constantly watching the news and hearing what this virus could do, so she was hearing the worst. I could hear the fear in my mom’s voice for me and for them as I told her the news.    

The next day, I could barely get off the couch. I did not want anything to eat or drink. I remember going from 10:00 p.m. to 12:00 noon the next day without going to the bathroom because I did not have the energy to get up. 

By 5:00 p.m. I had chills and I could not get warm. By 8:00 p.m. I was on fire and my blood pressure was around 150/90.  All night I went from having chills and shaking all over to burning up and feeling miserable. My blood pressure reached a high of 170/110. I had the worst headache ever and nothing would dull the pain. This continued into the next day. 

By day three, I seemed to level out with blood pressure and body temp, but the headache continued. I had no sense of taste or smell, and the fatigue was horrible. By this point, my husband tested positive, and our 10-year-old daughter had to take care of herself. She was so worried about us and could not come anywhere near us. We shared texts and face timed each other in the same house.   

When I was finally cleared and could return to my normal routine, I was so excited. However, I had no idea of the issues that were waiting just around the corner. I had to push myself to get up and get ready each day. All I wanted to do was crash on the couch. The brain fog was real. Walking from the parking lot to my office became a difficult task. I was short of breath halfway there. I definitely could not talk to anyone while walking. I remember being on a Zoom call one morning and I had to excuse myself to catch my breath. My heart began beating in a weird way and I was lightheaded on several occasions. My PCP referred me to Cardiology for a full work up including a heart echo. My heart function was fine. They explained that some people experienced these issues after COVID and were called “long haulers,” meaning the issues lingered after COVID – but no one knew how long this could continue. Every day after work, I crashed on the couch for about 2 hours. 

In April, I started with several other issues – blurred vision in my left eye, pain in my arms and legs, balance issues/dizziness, continued fatigue, shaking in my hands, extreme sensitivity to heat, sleep issues, and bowel issues. I put it off and tried to ignore it. I returned to my PCP in July convinced that I would be diagnosed with MS. After lab work and an MRI I was informed that everything was normal and they were unsure of the causes of the symptoms. 

My next stop is the Ophthalmologist…

Although I only suffered 2-3 days with concerning COVID issues, I am still dealing with the aftermath 10 months later, and who knows how much longer.

Vaccine Availability

Luckily, vaccines are readily available at retail locations near you. To find available options, visit www.vaccines.gov or call 1-800-232-0233. You can also text your zip code to 438-829 and you’ll immediately get a text message that lists vaccination sites near your home. Vaccination is free!

Statement from Virginia State Vaccination Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula On Booster Dose of mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines for the General Population, Third Dose for Immunocompromised Persons

(Richmond, Va.) – The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) is monitoring discussion at the federal level and the possibility of mRNA vaccine booster doses (Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna), following approval last week of third doses for immunocompromised persons.

“In Virginia, we are monitoring the situation and planning through all of the logistical considerations,” said State Vaccine Coordinator Danny Avula, MD, MPH, “If booster vaccine doses are recommended for the general population, the rollout of those boosters will likely take place over several months, as the expected recommendation is that a booster dose should be given within a defined time frame after your second dose. VDH and local health departments now have experience in planning and carrying out the logistics of a large-scale vaccination effort, and rebooting that for booster doses will not be an issue. The infrastructure for administering the booster doses is already in place.”

Should boosters be recommended by the federal government — the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) — VDH will proceed accordingly with providers to administer the vaccines to the general public.

For more information on COVID-19 in Virginia, visit vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus. Anyone age 12 or older can find free vaccination opportunities near them by visiting vaccinate.virginia.gov or calling 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users call 7-1-1).

Virginia Will Provide Third Doses of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 Vaccines for Immunocompromised People

(Richmond, Va.) — Today the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announced that Virginia will make third doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines available for moderately and severely immunocompromised Virginians, starting as early as August 14. This move comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its vaccination guidelines to recommend third mRNA doses for people who have significantly compromised immune systems. Vaccines are readily available throughout Virginia, and vaccine providers are expected to make third doses available over the next several days as they adapt their processes.

“This is important additional protection for people who have impaired immune systems,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A. “As COVID-19 cases rise across Virginia and the country, everyone who is eligible should get appropriately vaccinated as soon as they can.”

The CDC’s move is the final step in the authorization process for third doses of the mRNA vaccines for some eligible populations. Studies have shown that people with a compromised immune system can have a weak response to the standard vaccine regimen, and that a third dose is needed to strengthen immunity in these persons and protect them from serious COVID-19 complications. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) evaluated those studies and recommended the change to the CDC on Thursday.

Only Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are mRNA vaccines, and therefore the FDA has not recommended additional doses of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine. Additionally, the FDA has not recommended booster vaccines for the general public. Those immunocompromised who have already received two doses of either Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech should wait at least 28 days after their second dose before receiving their third dose.  The third dose should be the same manufacturer as the previous two doses when possible, but this is not required.

This EUA expansion is estimated to  include approximately 3% of people in the United States. Immunocompromised persons are those whose immune mechanisms are deficient because of certain immunologic disorders or immunosuppressive therapy.  As of today, approximately 4,144,080 Virginians have received two doses of an mRNA vaccine and approximately 124,322, or 3% of these Virginians, may be immunocompromised and therefore be eligible to receive a third dose. Individuals with questions about whether they are significantly immunocompromised should consult their healthcare providers.

While available evidence shows that a third dose provides a modest benefit to improving the immune response to mRNA vaccination, it is important to remember that immunocompromised persons might still not have a strong level of protection against COVID-19, even after receiving a third dose of vaccine. Additional COVID-19 precautions remain important for this population. These include wearing a mask, maintaining physical distance from others outside of the home, and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces until advised otherwise by their healthcare provider.

Persons who are significantly immunocompromised should also discuss the possibility of monoclonal antibody treatment options with their healthcare provider in case they get infected with or are exposed to COVID-19. Household members and other close contacts of significantly immunocompromised persons should get fully vaccinated to provide increased protection to their loved ones.

VDH, physicians and healthcare workers, and vaccine providers across the Commonwealth stand ready to assist this vulnerable population to obtain the added protection a third vaccine dose will provide against COVID-19.  Just like previous EUA authorizations and CDC ACIP approvals, additional clinical considerations have been published that provide more detailed guidance. These clinical considerations will provide necessary guidance to assist COVID-19 providers in implementing these new  recommendations. In Virginia, providers may begin administration of third mRNA doses for this vulnerable population across the Commonwealth in accordance with these clinical considerations.

For more information on COVID-19 in Virginia, visit vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus. Anyone age 12 or older can find free vaccination clinics near them by visiting vaccinate.virginia.gov or calling 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users call 7-1-1).

Governor Northam Announces Public Health Order to Require Universal Masking in K-12 Schools

Order reinforces state law SB 1303

RICHMOND—Governor Northam today announced a Public Health Emergency Order requiring universal masking in all indoor settings in Virginia’s K-12 schools. This order reinforces current state law, which requires Virginia schools adhere to mitigation strategies outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As of July 28, CDC guidelines include universal masking for all students, teachers, and staff. SB 1303 was passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority of the General Assembly earlier this year.
 
“We all share the same goal of keeping our schools open and keeping our students safe,” said Governor Northam. “That’s why the General Assembly passed this law with overwhelming bipartisan support. This Public Health Order makes it very clear that masks are required in all indoor K-12 settings, and Virginia expects all schools to comply. I’m grateful to the work of the General Assembly and the Health Department, and I look forward to a safe start to the school year.”
 
73 percent of all adults in Virginia have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. As of August 10, 40.3 percent of 12-15 year-olds in Virginia and 51.7 percent of 16-17 year olds in Virginia are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Children under 12 are not yet eligible to receive any available vaccination, which is one reason CDC updated its guidance to recommend universal masking in all K-12 schools. Masks are a proven tool to reduce in-school transmission, even in communities with high levels of spread. 
 
“We know that masking is an effective tool to prevent the spread of COVID-19, particularly among children who are not yet eligible for vaccination,” said Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver. “As cases rise in our communities, universal masking and other mitigation measures will ensure our schools continue to be the safest place for Virginia’s children.”
 
“The vast majority of school districts have chosen to follow the CDC and keep their school communities safe,” said State Superintendent Dr. James Lane. “Universal masking has worked in school settings across Virginia for the past year and a half, and it remains a critical part of our safety protocols. I’m grateful to Governor Northam and Dr. Oliver for this order, which will ensure uniformity across all school districts and keep students safely in their classrooms—no matter where they live in Virginia.”
 
In addition to this Public Health Order, Governor Northam has dedicated significant resources to improve the safety of K-12 schools. On Tuesday, Governor Northam signed House Bill 7001, which provides a total of $500 million to improve ventilation and air quality in public schools. Ventilation systems clean and disperse air, decreasing the risk of various airborne illnesses including COVID-19.
 
In 2020, Governor Northam directed $492 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to public schools and PreK-12 state-level education initiatives. This year, Virginia received approximately $939 million in ESSER II funds under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act of 2021. Additionally, the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) III funds directly allocate $1.9 billion to school divisions, with an additional state set aside of $211 million.
 
The Public Health Emergency Order is available here.

COVID-19 Vaccination Required of VCU Health System Employees

South Hill, VA (8/9/21) –  Faced with mounting evidence of the threat posed by the COVID-19 Delta variant, and reviewing feedback from thousands of team members, we have decided to require COVID-19 vaccination for all VCU Health System team members and contractors, with few exceptions. The decision aligns our university and its health system with Governor Northam’s decision to require state employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. It is also consistent with the recent actions of other academic health systems nationwide, and a growing number of health care systems in the Commonwealth.

Requiring the vaccine will protect our patients, many of whom are elderly or have health conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to the effects of the virus. Everyone in our health care system has an ethical duty to do everything possible to keep them safe, including getting vaccinated. Although we’ll continue to wear masks and take other measures to prevent spreading COVID-19 to our patients, the Delta variant requires us to do more.

It also ensures the safety and the welfare of our team members and their families. Getting vaccinated will sharply reduce their risk of getting infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, and it will nearly eliminate their risk of getting severely ill or dying from the disease.

Now is the time to pivot from urging vaccination to requiring it. This is due to the sudden emergence of the Delta variant, which is more dangerous than prior strains that killed more than 600,000 Americans and millions of people worldwide. Delta is not only more contagious; it may cause more severe disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently declared that “The war has changed.” We agree.

In Virginia, predictive models indicate that if we don’t act quickly we could find ourselves back in the dark days of January and February 2021. That’s not something we want to go through again.

While we don’t want to lose a single team member over policy, but we must keep our facilities, staff, patients and guests safe from the growing threat of the Delta virus and other variants. Vaccination is the most effective way to do it.

Art Kellermann, M.D., M.P.H.
Professor and Senior Vice President for VCU Health Sciences
CEO of VCU Health System

 

Virginia Department of Health Announces Significant Increases in Delta Variant in Virginia

(Richmond, Va.) — Today, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announced a significant increase in the Delta variant (B.1.617.2) throughout the Commonwealth. The Delta variant is  dominant nationwide and is the most common variant in Virginia. The Delta variant spreads more than twice as easily as earlier strains of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.  Eighty percent of infections that occurred during the week ending July 10th that were caused by a variant of concern and reported to VDH were the Delta variant. This is an increase of 45% since the week of June 19th. The more infectious delta variant is contributing to a surge of cases in Virginia.

Currently a subset of COVID-19 positive specimens are available for the specialized testing that is required to see which variant type they are. The Delta variant has been identified in all of Virginia’s five health regions.

“The Delta variant is here in Virginia, and it is hitting our unvaccinated population especially hard,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, M.D, M.A. “We have a very effective tool to stop transmission of COVID-19: vaccination. There is no question that COVID-19 vaccination is saving lives and preventing and reducing illness. I urge everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Do it for your families, your friends, your neighbors, yourself, and join the millions of others who are protected.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), infections in fully vaccinated people, also known as breakthrough infections, happen in only a small proportion of people who are fully vaccinated. Moreover, when these infections occur among vaccinated people, they tend to be mild. However, preliminary evidence suggests that fully vaccinated people who do become infected with the Delta variant may be infectious and might spread the virus to others.

COVID-19 variants have emerged and circulated around the world throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the United States are effective at protecting persons  from circulating variants of the COVID-19 virus. To protect yourself and others, get vaccinated for COVID-19. 

VDH advises Virginians to: 

  • wear a mask in indoor settings even if you are vaccinated,
  • get fully vaccinated, 
  • stay at least six feet from others outside of your household, 
  • avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, 
  • wash your hands often 
  • stay home if you are infected with COVID-19, and
  • stay separate from others and get tested if you have had close contact with someone with COVID-19. 

The best way to stop variant strains from developing in the first place is to stop the spread of COVID-19.  Please see the Variants of Concern (VOC) dashboard for more information about all variants of concern identified in Virginia.

VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital Visitation Update

South Hill, VA (8/9/21) – Two recent changes to visitation at VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital (VCU Health CMH) include allowing an additional adult visitor for pediatric patients and opening visitation by advanced scheduling back up at The Hundley Center. 

General Visitation Rules

  • • All visitors must be screened and provided a visitor badge or armband.
  • • All visitors must be always masked.
  • • Visitors must comply with physical distancing guidelines in all common areas.
  • • The second-floor lobby waiting area is reserved for outpatient surgical patients and their support person only, all other visitors will be asked to return to their car.
  • • All visitors will be encouraged to use hand sanitizer upon entering the facility and frequently during their stay.
  • • If patient clinical needs dictate no visitors (i.e. chemotherapy), visitors may be redirected to waiting areas.

Inpatients

• Visiting Hours: 8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
• One visitor (18 or older) allowed at a time per patient for all non-COVID patients. COVID-positive patients are still not allowed to have visitors, unless they are pediatric patients.
• Labor and Delivery unit: 1 adult visitor (18 or older) at a time, allowing 1 to spend the night.
• Pediatric patients in all units: 2 adults (18 or older) visitor at a time, allowing 1 to spend the night. Parent/POA/guardian may trade off. COVID-positive pediatric patients may have 1 parent or caregiver at a time.
• Patients who are at the end of life: The number of visitors is determined by the patient’s care team.
• Special needs patients that require 24/7 assistance may have a caretaker stay with them if in the best interest of patient care.
To reach a patient, please dial (434) 584-****, followed by the four digits of the patient's room number.

Outpatients and C.A.R.E. Building Appointments

• Surgery patients may be accompanied by one adult companion.
• Patients arriving for doctor’s appointments, evaluation, or diagnostic or therapeutic procedures may be accompanied by one adult companion.

Emergency Department Patients

Visitation is currently suspended except for the following circumstances:

  • Pediatric patients: Up to 2 parents and/or legal guardians.
  • Patients who are at the end of life or critical condition: The number of visitors are determined by the patients’ care team.

Hundley Center

  • Two visitors are allowed at a time for 30 minutes, and it must be scheduled in advance. Please call (434) 584-4570 or (434) 584-4579 between 7:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. to schedule a visit for 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

It is very important that all visitors maintain appropriate physical distancing in all waiting areas.  The health and safety of all patients and staff will continue to be of the utmost importance through this pandemic. Your best defense is to make sure you and your family are vaccinated. Look for further updates as VCU Health CMH continues to make progress in the fight against COVID.

New App Helps Virginians Apply for COVID Rental Assistance

Tenants and landlords in Central, Southside and Western Tidewater Virginia who need help applying for the Virginia Rent Relief Program now have a toll-free number to call to receive that help: (866) 995-5595.

Virginia Legal Aid Society operates the toll-free line. VLAS, like other legal aid societies in the state, has hired people dedicated to guiding applicants through the process. The workers are similar to state navigators who help people enroll in insurance through the Affordable Care Act. When fully staffed, VLAS will have seven people, including two who speak Spanish, to help people apply to the Virginia Rent Relief Program (RRP).

The toll-free assistance arrives as a July 31 expiration date approaches on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s moratorium on evictions of tenants for falling behind on rent payments. The moratorium was intended to protect the public’s health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Virginia RRP is designed to support housing stability during the coronavirus pandemic. The RRP provides financial assistance for rent payments for eligible households, including rent payments past due since April 1, 2020, and future rent of up to three months. Tenants and landlords can apply directly.

Anyone interested can see if they are eligible and receive useful help at our online interactive guided app bit.ly/VaRentReliefor by calling our Rent Relief number, 866-995-5595.

VLAS’s website offers a COVID Resource Guide at vlas.org/covid19/. VLAS also provides legal information to the public onhousing, access to health care, income and public benefits, family issues, special education, consumer lending, and other issues at vlas.org, and advice, representation, and referrals at no cost to low-income families and individuals with these problems by calling 866-LEGL-AID (866- 534-5243).

Governor Northam Announces $500 Million Investment to Improve Air Quality in Virginia Schools

$250 million in American Rescue Plan funding, $250 million in local matching funds, will complete nearly all currently planned school HVAC projects

HOPEWELL—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that Virginia plans to invest $500 million to improve ventilation and air quality in public schools, securing the completion of nearly all currently planned HVAC projects. The Commonwealth will allocate $250 million in federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding for necessary ventilation upgrades, which will be matched 1:1 by local ARP or other relief funding. Ventilation systems clean and disperse air, decreasing the risk of various airborne illnesses including COVID-19.

Governor Northam made the announcement at Hopewell High School, joining school officials to celebrate the launch of their year-round school initiative. This announcement marks the start of “Investment Week,” during which the Governor and legislative leaders will highlight proposals for allocating the $4.3 billion in ARP funding available to the Commonwealth in advance of the August 2nd special session.

“Air quality is a key part of maintaining safe and healthy learning environments for our students across the Commonwealth,” said Governor Northam. “This investment will help families, educators, and students feel more confident about the quality of the air they breathe as we return to in-person learning five days a week this fall.”

In a recent report to the Commission on School Construction and Modernization, the Virginia Department of Education analyzed 117 Capital Improvement Plans (CIPs) from school divisions detailing the projects they plan to complete in the next decade. Following plans for new buildings and renovations, school divisions most frequently planned for HVAC repair and replacement projects, with a total of 463 HVAC projects amounting to $623 million. Governor Northam’s investment will secure the completion of nearly all currently planned projects.

“Ensuring there is clean air in our classrooms helps assure staff and students that schools are safe places so they can focus on learning,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “We know high quality ventilation systems reduce the number of virus particles in the air, and this investment means that Virginia schools will have updated HVAC systems for years to come.”

Funding will be allocated to school divisions based on their average daily membership, with a minimum allocation of $200,000 per school division. The funds will be granted as reimbursements to divisions completing HVAC projects.

“This funding is incredibly important for schools across the Commonwealth in dire need of upgrading their ventilation systems,” said Senator Louise Lucas, Chair of the Senate Education and Health Committee. “I’m proud we can provide this necessary support on behalf of teachers, staff, students, and communities.”

“In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools have recognized the need to improve their air quality and HVAC systems,” said Delegate Roslyn Tyler, Chair of the House Education Committee. “Now more than ever, this funding is critical to ensuring we provide a safe and supportive learning environment to students in Virginia schools.”

Every schools in Virginia is required to make in-person instruction available to all students in the 2021-2022 school year, pursuant to Senate Bill 1303 which was passed during Virginia’s 2021 special session.

“When the special session convenes next week, the Commonwealth has the opportunity to invest in its future, beginning with its students,” said Senator Janet Howell, Chair of the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee. “This investment is another prime example of how we will be utilizing American Rescue Plan funding to move Virginia forward and build on the investments of last year’s CARES Act funding.

“Together with the localities, we are working to address school modernization needs across the Commonwealth,” said Delegate Luke Torian, Chair of the House Appropriations Committee. “This partnership will support our collective efforts to create healthy learning environments for all of our students.”

In 2020, Governor Northam directed $492 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to public schools and PreK-12 state-level education initiatives. This year, Virginia received approximately $939 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) II funds under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act of 2021. Ninety percent of the funding was distributed to school divisions in January, with the other 10 percent set aside for targeted state-level initiatives to address the impact of the pandemic on students and schools. Additionally, the American Rescue Plan Act ESSER III funds directly allocate $1.9 billion to school divisions, with an additional state set aside of $211 million.

Virginia Departments of Health and Education Release Updated Guidance for PreK-12 Schools

PreK-12 schools will make locally-informed decisions on masking and prevention measures, as informed by CDC recommendations

RICHMOND — The Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Education today released new guidance for PreK-12 schools for the upcoming 2021-2022 school year. The Interim Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in Virginia PreK-12 Schools reinforces the importance of in-person learning and supports school divisions in making decisions on masking and other prevention measures, as informed by local data and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Virginia has followed the science throughout this pandemic, and that’s what we continue to do,” said Governor Ralph Northam. “This guidance takes into consideration recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics, and will provide necessary flexibility for school divisions while ensuring a safe, healthy, and world-class learning environment for Virginia’s students. Again, I strongly urge every eligible Virginian to get vaccinated. Getting your shot will protect you, your family, and your community—and it is the only way we can beat this pandemic once and for all.”

The State Health Commissioner’s Public Health Order is in effect until July 25, 2021 and will not be extended, giving school divisions the ability to implement local mask policies based on community level conditions and public health recommendations. As informed by recent recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Virginia guidance strongly recommends divisions adopt the following for the 2021-2022 school year:

  • Elementary schools should implement a requirement that students, teachers, and staff wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, until vaccination is available for children under 12 years old and there has been sufficient time to allow for children younger than 12 years old to be fully vaccinated.
  • At a minimum, middle and high schools should implement a requirement that students, teachers and staff who are not fully vaccinated wear masks indoors. While school divisions regularly confirm school-required immunization records of their students, they should consult with their counsel in determining if and how to confirm student and staff COVID-19 vaccinations.
  • All schools may want to consider universal masking for specific reasons as outlined in certain circumstances by the CDC.
  • All schools should be prepared to adjust local mask policies as local public health conditions evolve throughout the year.

The CDC federal order requiring masks be worn on public transportation remains in effect, and applies to buses operated by Virginia public schools.

“The science is clear that vaccinations and masks help keep our communities safe from COVID-19,” said Secretary of Health and Human Resources Daniel Carey, MD, MHCM. “Due to the dedication, expertise, and close partnership of the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Education, the Commonwealth’s children and the individuals that help them learn will be protected by proven strategies, without a one-size-fits-all approach.”

“Schools occupy a special place in the life of our communities, and we need to do everything we can to keep everyone in them safe. This guidance is aimed at protecting students, educators, and staff while also providing localities with flexibility,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A. “We continue to urge eligible Virginians to get vaccinated to protect themselves, their families and their communities.”

All schools in Virginia are required to make in-person instruction available to all students in the 2021-2022 school year, pursuant to Senate Bill 1303 which was passed during Virginia’s 2021 legislative session. According to the updated guidance, physical distancing of at least 3 feet should be maximized to the greatest extent possible but schools should not reduce in-person learning to keep a minimum distance requirement.

“We know that students learn best in school buildings, and this guidance ensures that divisions have the flexibility and support they need to provide access to in-person learning 5 days a week,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “I’m grateful to all of the school administrators, educators, and staff who have gone above and beyond to provide high quality instruction and support to students during this challenging time.”

Prevention strategies are most effective when layered together, and will continue to be necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools. The guidance recommends that divisions work with local health departments to implement mitigation strategies based on information about the levels of community transmission, local vaccine coverage, the occurrence of cases and outbreaks in schools, and the use of screening testing data to detect cases in schools.

Vaccination remains the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Vaccinating teachers, staff, and eligible students is a critical layer of prevention and protection for all.

“As schools prepare to welcome students back for the 2021-2022 school year, our priority is safely providing in-person instruction so that each and every child can learn and thrive in the classroom,” said Dr. James Lane, Superintendent of Public Instruction. “With this latest guidance and ample federal pandemic relief funds available to school divisions, our local school leaders are equipped to implement appropriate mitigation strategies and ensure student and staff safety within the schools in their communities.”

In 2020, Governor Northam directed $492 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to public schools and PreK-12 state-level education initiatives. This year, Virginia received approximately $939 million in ESSER II funds under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act of 2021. Ninety percent of the funding was distributed to school divisions in January, with the other 10 percent set aside for targeted state-level initiatives to address the impact of the pandemic on students and schools. Additionally, the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) III funds directly allocate $1.9 billion to school divisions, with an additional state set aside of $211 million.

This spring, Governor Northam announced $62.7 million in Virginia LEARNS Education Recovery grants to help school divisions expand and implement targeted initiatives to support Virginia students as they continue to recover from the impacts of the pandemic.

Interim Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in Virginia PreK-12 Schools is available here

Virginia Department of Health Confirms Second Age 0 – 9 Fatality with COVID-19

(RICHMOND, Va.)  — Today, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announced that a child in the Rappahannock Area Health District died from complications of COVID-19. VDH will disclose no further information about the child to protect privacy and out of respect for the patient’s family. This is the second reported death in a child under 10 years old with COVID-19 in Virginia.

“We extend our condolences to the family of this child in this time of great loss,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A. “Across the country, COVID-19 continues to cause illness and death. The more contagious Delta variant is now the most predominant strain across the country. We urge everyone age 12 and older who is eligible to get vaccinated to do so as soon as possible. We have made so much progress in these past months against this virus, but a tragic event like the death of this young child is a stark reminder that our work continues. Even as many of the restrictions of the past year on gathering and mask-wearing are no longer in place, we urge everyone to take precautions to protect themselves and those around them.”

This death is reflected on the VDH COVID-19 data dashboard for Thursday, July 8, 2021.

To lower the risk of spreading respiratory infections, including COVID-19, VDH offers the following guidance:

  • Anyone age 12 and older is eligible for free COVID-19 vaccine. To find an appointment, visit vaccinate.virginia.gov or call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682).
  • All Virginians aged two years and older who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated should wear masks (cloth face coverings) over their nose and mouth in indoor public settings and outdoor settings.
  • Fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.
  • Effective July 1, all students, faculty, staff, and visitors aged 5 years and older (regardless of vaccination status) in public and private K-12 indoor school settings in Virginia, are required to wear masks as per the State Health Commissioner’s Public Health Emergency Order and CDC recommendations. This Order will be effective until July 25, 2021.
  • People who are not fully vaccinated should continue to 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.
  • Regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Stay home when you are sick. If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, get tested.
  • 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.
  • For more information on COVID-19 in Virginia, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus and cdc.gov/coronavirus.

Local Kids Get Vaccinated in the Fight Against COVID

South Hill, VA (6/14/21) – On Friday, June 4, kids age 12 and older took advantage of VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital’s (VCU Health CMH) last first-dose COVID vaccine clinic. Pfizer is the only vaccine that is approved for ages 12 - 17 at this time. They’ll be able to come back for the second shot, but no more first doses will be given due to the vaccine being widely available now in so many other places.

Alice Wells, of La Crosse, got her first COVID vaccine dose.

Thirteen-year-old Alice Wells, of La Crosse, said, “It felt great to get the shot and not have to worry about catching COVID anymore. My arm was sore for a day, but that’s about it. I’m ready to get back to in-person school and skeet shooting with the 4-H Club in Chase City.”

She lives in a multi-generational family and her family members all got the shot when it first became available to them.

Her father, Robert Wells, said, “Alice is a ‘no-fear’ child and we didn’t have to do any convincing. We are all ready to get back to some sense of normalcy after the year of lockdown.”

Morgan Evans, of South Hill, got her first COVID vaccine dose.

Fourteen-year-old Morgan Evans, of South Hill, said, “I feel good; my arm was sore for about two days. I’ve been doing virtual school so I’m looking forward to going back in the fall and hanging out with my friends.”

Her grandmother, Carolyn House, said, “Morgan is an honor roll student – kids don’t do as well learning on the computer so I know she’s looking forward to bringing up her grades.”

If you still need to get your shot, it’s not too late. See your primary care provider for more information. If you need a primary care provider, call (434) 584-2273 to make an appointment. COVID Vaccines are readily available at local pharmacies and you can check vaccines.gov to find a location near you.

After ‘overwhelming’ year of remote learning, students welcome return to campus

By Hunter Britt, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Devastated. Drained. Depressed. Those are just a few words college students used to describe the past 15 months since the pandemic hit. 

This past year has been a mixed bag of hybrid and online learning, but many college campuses in Virginia are completely reopening in the fall. Students had different reactions to online learning, but many are excited to transition back to in-person instruction.

Students said their mental health suffered during the two and a half semesters of online learning. Many said it was worse during the first semester when the pandemic hit. Jamareya Thomas, a fashion merchandising and marketing major at Virginia State University in Petersburg, said that her mental health declined as her coursework grew more difficult.

“It definitely went down some, especially when I started taking harder classes,” she said. “This semester has actually been pretty good on my mental health. Last semester it was terrible, but this semester I was a lot more calm and collected.” 

A survey of over 1,000 Virginia college students by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia found that 76% reported challenges to their mental health during the first months of the pandemic. Another survey of more than 2,000 students at Texas A&M University showed that 71% reported increased stress and anxiety levels. Only 43% said they were able to cope with this stress.

Amiya Brady, a nursing major at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, said she endured a lot more stress from virtual learning as opposed to in person.

“I was drained and tired because of the excessive workload,” she said. “We didn’t have as much work in person as we did online, so it was kind of overwhelming at times.”

Nyasia Dozier, a criminal justice major at VSU, said there are merits to both in-person and virtual learning, but she “had a hard time adjusting” to virtual learning. She said she was devastated when classes moved online last spring.

“I'm more of a hands-on learner, so I need to be in class learning versus at home,” Dozier said. “When I’m at home, I'll be lazy and I forget about my work. I’m not nearly as focused now as I was on campus.”

Julie Bernardez, a freshman at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, said virtual learning made the transition between high school and college more difficult.

“The hardest part is trying to figure out what’s OK and what’s not OK,” she said. “When classes are in person, you can raise your hand and go to the bathroom whenever you want, but people aren’t really taught online etiquette.”

Bernardez said tasks that were simple with in-person learning, such as contacting teachers or hearing the lecture, are now much harder.

“There’s a lot of issues that happen with online stuff that throws me off,” she said, “whether it’s trying to get a hold of teachers or Zoom technology, the video or the sound, isn’t working.”

Grana Ali, a biology major at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, stated in an email that while her mental health wasn’t affected too negatively, it was still difficult to adjust to a COVID-19 world.

“I was a bit unmotivated to do things and felt isolated,” she said. “It’s depressing seeing all the horrible things happening in the world around you, and it definitely takes a toll on a person mentally, but I feel like I’m doing pretty OK so far.”

Clinical depression increased 90% among college-aged young adults in the first few months of the pandemic, according to a recently published study. The students’ screen time more than doubled, socialization decreased by over half, and average steps taken declined from 10,000 to 4,600 per day.

Despite the struggles that virtual learning brings, students said that they have ways of boosting their mental health and motivation.

“Sitting in Monroe Park has helped a lot, just relaxing and breathing the fresh air,” Bernardez said. “I'll go grab a smoothie and just sit on the bench with my phone put away.”

Other students take a break from school, but not from computer screens.

“I watch a quick 30 minute show, get a little TV time in, or even just play on my phone for a while to get a break from school,” Brady said.

Ali said Netflix is her go-to for entertainment, but she has also taken up reading more.

“I’ve really enjoyed it and used it as a way to escape from the realities of the world,” she said.

The isolation and struggles are why so many students anticipate returning to campus.

Many colleges and universities are still finalizing plans for the fall semester but have announced plans to be on campus with safety policies in place. A growing list of higher education institutions around the U.S. have announced a COVID-19 vaccine policy for students and employees, including some colleges in Virginia—though many of the state’s major colleges have not made a final determination.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday that vaccinated individuals don’t have to wear masks or social distance unless a law or regulation requires it.

Many college students are excited to return to campus in the fall, while others aren’t sure it’s the best course of action. Ali will likely return to campus.

“A lot of people have been getting vaccinated and abiding by the COVID safety rules,” Ali said. “I’ll most likely be returning to campus and as long as people are aware that COVID is still a risk and continue to do their part in stopping it from spreading.” 

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.

McEachin Announces Tools For Vaccine Accessibility

WASHINGTON – Congressman A. Donald McEachin (VA-04) today highlighted new tools from the White House to help Virginia residents get vaccinated. Virginians sixteen years or older can now input their ZIP code at www.vaccines.gov / www.vacunas.gov or text their ZIP code to GETVAX (438829) / VACUNA (822862) to get help making a vaccine appointment at a nearby location.

“With these new and helpful tools, it’s now easier than ever to find a vaccine near you,” McEachin said.  “Getting vaccinated is the best thing we can do to crush the pandemic, protect ourselves and our loved ones, and help us start to return to normal.  Every Virginian ages sixteen and up is eligible now, so visit vaccines.gov or text your ZIP code to GETVAX today to make your appointment.”

Right now, more than 90 percent of Americans live within five miles of a vaccine site.  Across the country, there are nearly 40,000 local pharmacies, more than 650 community health centers and hundreds of community vaccination centers and mobile clinics where Americans can get a shot.  These new vaccine finder tools make it quicker and more convenient than ever to make an appointment.

Public health officials are urging every eligible person to get vaccinated as quickly as possible.  The vaccines are safe and effective, providing significant protection against severe illness and helping slow the spread of the virus in our communities.  Studies have shown these vaccines to be remarkably effective, causing an 80 percent reduction in deaths and a 70 percent reduction in hospitalizations among seniors.

“Our own doctors tell us that getting vaccinated is the best thing we can do to protect ourselves and our communities,” McEachin added.  “You’re eligible right now, and there are people waiting to give you a shot – so use these new tools to get yourself, your family and your neighbors a vaccine today.”

Under the leadership of President Biden and Democrats in Congress, the pace of vaccination has quickly ramped up over the last three months thanks to the critical resources delivered by the American Rescue Plan.  As of this week, more than 105 million Americans are fully vaccinated.  More than 147 million Americans have received at least one dose of the vaccine, including more than 80 percent of seniors, educators, school staff and childcare workers, as well as 90 percent of doctors.

 

WARNER INTRODUCES BICAMERAL, BIPARTISAN LEGISLATION TO BOOST WORKFORCE TRAINING AS PART OF COVID-19 ECONOMIC RECOVERY EFFORTS

~ With U.S. labor market slowly recovering from devastating economic effect of COVID-19, bill would establish a tax credit for employers who invest in training their workers ~

 WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a member of the Senate Finance and Banking Committees, along with Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Bob Casey (D-PA) reintroduced legislation to promote workers’ long-term economic success and support U.S. economic recovery efforts amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Investing in American Workers Act of 2021 prioritizes workers in U.S. recovery efforts by creating a tax credit to incentivize employers to invest in training tied to recognized postsecondary credentials for lower- and moderate-income workers.

 Companion legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ), Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), Rep. Dan Meuser (R-PA), Rep. Cindy Axne (D-IA), Rep. Susan Wild (D-PA), and Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN).

 “As too many families know, the COVID-19 crisis has taken a major toll on the American workforce, pushing millions of workers into unemployment and decimating jobs that, frankly, may never come back. That’s why we need companies – especially those that employ a lot of low-wage workers – to be equal partners in the recovery effort by stepping in and offering training opportunities that grow workers’ skills for years to come,” said Sen. Warner. “We’re introducing a bill that builds upon the success of the R&D tax credit model and gives companies an incentive to invest in people, like they do R&D, to give more workers a chance to succeed during and after COVID-19.”

 “In Michigan, our workers are the best in the world and investing in them is the right thing to do. Our bipartisan bill does just that by supporting employers who offer training opportunities that grow workers’ skills for years to come,” said Sen. Stabenow.

 “Today’s fast-paced economy demands regular training for our workforce to keep our economy competitive, yet the percentage of American workers receiving employer-sponsored and on-the-job training has decreased dramatically in recent decades,” said Rep. Krishnamoorthi. “The Investing In American Workers Act will ensure our workers are able to develop the in-demand skills they need to build rewarding careers while helping American companies grow and thrive.”

 “The success of our nation’s economic recovery depends on the success of our workforce. But in Central Virginia and across the country, many working families continue to experience significant hardships due to the COVID-19 crisis — and many workers cannot independently afford the skills and training they need to access new opportunities, secure better-paying jobs, and gain peace of mind. In this climate, we need to celebrate and reward companies that make an effort to take care of their employees,” said Rep. Spanberger. “By providing tax incentives for American companies to invest in American workers, the Investing in American Workers Act is commonsense, bipartisan legislation that would recognize in-house workforce training as a key component of our country’s rebound. I’d like to thank my fellow Virginian Senator Warner for his leadership on this issue, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House and Senate to move this legislation forward.”

“Business owners know their employees’ success is their success and they are committed to helping their employees improve their skills to advance and grow in their career. The Investing in American Workers Act helps employers invest in job training, apprenticeships, and continuing education by providing a tax credit for training expenses driving more investment to close the skills gap, advance careers, and ultimately grow the small businesses that drive our economy,” said Rep. Meuser.

“A four-year college degree isn’t the only pathway to prosperity, nor is it the only way to acquire the skills needed to be successful. When a company invests in high-quality skills and workforce training programs for their employees, both the company and the worker succeed,” said Rep. Axne. “I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing the Investing in American Workers Act to encourage companies to get their workers the skills they need to thrive in the modern economy.”

“Now is the time to invest in our workforce and incentivize job training, especially for lower and middle-income workers, ” said Rep. Wild. “The Investing in American Workers Act of 2021 does just that and builds off a proven model of success to create the dynamic workforce our modern economy requires while bringing in valuable industry partners along the way. The pandemic and subsequent economic crisis has devastated families across Pennsylvania, and I’m proud to support this effort to get more Americans back to work in the good-paying jobs of the future.”

“A four-year college degree should not, and cannot, be the only path to a successful career or financial security. This bipartisan legislation will promote apprenticeships and build a stronger American workforce. Although our nation continues to face a skills-gap, on-the-job educational and technical training opportunities will help us bridge the divide while giving Americans opportunities to advance their careers. I am proud to join Rep. Krishnamoorthi in this effort to ensure Americans have access to good-paying jobs when they need it more than ever,” said Rep. Emmer.

Right now, many companies have almost no direct financial incentive to invest in their workers. In fact, the current U.S. tax code offers a Research and Development (R&D) tax credit for employers that make long-term investments in innovation – such as computers, buildings, and machines – but not workers. In order to ensure the nation’s workforce is better prepared for a post-pandemic 21st century economy, tax and accounting systems need to be updated to promote these same kinds of investments in workforce training.

The Investing in American Workers Act of 2021 would make it easier for companies to invest in training their workers by:

Establishing a tax credit for employers who increase their spending on worker training:

  • Employers who spend more on training their workers in a given year than they have on average in the previous three years are eligible to receive a tax credit based on their increase in spending.
  • The amount of the credit is equal to 20 percent of the increased spending. The spending eligible for the credit must be used to provide qualified training to employees earning $82,000 or less per year.
  • For employers who are new to spending on qualified training or have a gap in any of the past three taxable years, the credit is calculated as 10 percent of the qualified training expenditures for the current year, multiplied by a cost-of-living adjustment factor. Requires collecting and reporting of racial, ethnic, and gender demographic

Incentivizing high-quality training by detailing allowable providers and programs:

  • Qualified training may be provided through a nationally or state-recognized registered apprenticeship program; a WIOA-certified training program; a program conducted by an area career and technical education school, community college, or labor organization; or a program sponsored or administered by an employer, industry trade association, industry or sector partnership, or labor organization.
  • Qualified training must result in the completion of a recognized postsecondary credential, including an industry-recognized certificate or certification, a certificate of completion of an apprenticeship, a license recognized by the State or Federal Government, or an associate or bachelor’s degree.

Pursuing clarity on the statutory definition of recognized postsecondary credential:

  • Requires the Secretary of Labor, in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury, to issue regulations or guidance on the definition of “recognized postsecondary credential” within one year.

Encouraging small businesses to upskill their workers by providing a simplified filing process and allowing them to apply the credit against payroll and alternative minimum taxes:

  • Qualified small businesses making less than $5,000,000 for at least six years in a row, as well as qualified tax-exempt entities, can elect to apply up to $250,000 of the credit against payroll taxes.

 “The world of work is changing at a rapid pace and Workday believes a focus on skills is essential to providing workers and employers the agility they need to navigate these changes. We appreciate the reintroduction of the Investing in American Workers Act, helping support the workers who need it most with access to reskilling and providing employers with even more incentive to invest in their most valuable asset: their people,” said Rich Sauer, Workday Chief Legal Officer and Head of Corporate Affairs.

“U.S. businesses – including small and medium sized employers – are investing every day in the skills of their workforce, helping their employees advance their careers and creating new job opportunities in our communities. But today’s tax code doesn’t adequately reward those companies that are willing to make these critical investments, making it harder for businesses to compete in a global economy,” said Katie Spiker, Director of Government Affairs for the National Skills Coalition. “Sen. Warner’s and Rep. Krishnamoorthi’s legislation is an important step in the right direction, and will help expand high quality training that leads to better results for companies and workers alike. We look forward to working with Senator Warner and Rep. Krishnamoorthi to advance this legislation and we applaud his leadership and vision on this vital issue.”

Sen. Warner has been an outspoken advocate of investing in workers and ensuring they are adequately equipped to participate in the 21st century labor force. Earlier this year, Sen. Warner released the first two parts of his 3-part white paper series on the future of American capitalism, which focuses on what the U.S. will need to do to address the chronic under-investment in workers and create an inclusive 21st century economy that does not leave workers behind. Part one of the white paper is available here. Part two is available here.

Bill text is available here. A summary of the bill is available here.

As Vaccinations Rise, Governor Northam Announces Expanded Capacity, Social Gathering Limits to Begin May 15

More than half of all adults in Virginia have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that sports and entertainment venues in Virginia may begin to operate with expanded capacity, and social gathering limits will increase beginning Saturday, May 15th. The announcement comes as vaccinations continue to rise in the Commonwealth, and more than half of all adults have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. All Virginians age 16 and older are now eligible to for the vaccine.

Governor Northam made the announcement in a new video message.

“It’s good news that half of all adults in Virginia have gotten a shot so far,” Governor Northam said. “Vaccination numbers are up, and our COVID-19 case numbers are substantially lower than they were earlier this year. So, we have been able to begin easing some mitigation measures. We took a few more targeted steps this week, and we will do more next month.”

“I’m optimistic that we will be able to take more steps in June. We are working to significantly ramp up vaccinations even further and aim to reduce capacity limits in June, hopefully all the way. But some things need to continue—we all need to keep wearing masks, social distancing, and encouraging each other to get a shot. It’s how we take care of one another.”

The Governor also reminded Virginians that getting vaccinated keeps communities safer, and allows expanded personal activities—for example, people who have been fully vaccinated do not have to quarantine after an exposure, per guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The Commonwealth will continue to mandate mask-wearing and social distancing, even as commercial restrictions are further eased. Key changes in the Sixth Amended Executive Order Seventy-Two will go into effect in about three weeks and include: 

  • Social gatherings: The maximum number of individuals permitted in a social gathering will increase to 100 people for indoor settings and 250 people for outdoor settings. Social gatherings are currently limited to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors. 
  • Entertainment venues: Indoor entertainment and public amusement venues will be able to operate at 50 percent capacity or 1,000 people, up from 30 percent capacity or 500 people. Outdoor venues will be able to operate at 50 percent capacity—up from 30 percent—with no specific cap on the number of attendees.
  • Recreational sporting events: The number of spectators allowed at indoor recreational sporting events will increase from 100 to 250 spectators or 50 percent capacity, whichever is less. Outdoor recreational sporting events will increase from 500 to 1,000 people or 50 percent capacity, whichever is less. 
  • Alcohol sales: Restaurants may return to selling alcohol after midnight, and dining room closures will no longer be required between midnight and 5:00 a.m.

The full text of Sixth Amended Executive Order Seventy-Two and Order of Public Health Emergency Nine is available here. Updated guidelines for specific sectors can be found here.

Earlier this week Governor Northam made minor changes to the existing mitigation measures, including increased accommodations for cross-country events, school-based fine arts performances, and expanded access to bar seating in restaurants with strict social distancing. These changes are reflected in the current Fifth Amended Executive Order Seventy-Two available here.

Visit virginia.gov/coronavirus/forwardvirginia for more information and answers to frequently asked questions.

Virginia has now administered more than 5.5 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and is currently giving almost 77,000 shots per day. Over 3.5 million people have received at least one dose of the vaccine, more than half of all adults in Virginia and more than 40 percent of the total population.

Virginians over the age of 16 can schedule an appointment for vaccination by visiting vaccinate.virginia.gov or calling 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users call 7-1-1).

McEachin Announces Covid-19 Funeral Relie

WASHINGTON  Congressman A. Donald McEachin (VA-04) announced last week that funding is available for assistance for funeral expenses for a death which was likely the result of COVID-19.

“If you paid for funeral expenses after January 20, 2020 for an individual whose death may have been caused by or was likely the result of COVID-19, you may be able to receive some financial assistance.  You can apply for up to $9,000 per funeral through FEMA’s dedicated call center at 844-684-6333; TTY 800-462-7585, Monday-Friday, 9 AM ET - 9 PM ET. Online applications will not be accepted. You may apply for assistance for multiple funerals.”

 Find more information from FEMA HERE

“Every life lost to this pandemic is a tragedy and the loss of a loved one leaves a void that will never be filled. I can only hope that these available resources, thanks to COVID relief monies, will help ease the financial strain.”

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,

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