Covid-19

Among the things that Pearl Barry is excited to do once she’s fully vaccinated: hang out with friends, eat inside at restaurants and visit SkyZone, a sprawling indoor trampoline park.

“I mean, obviously,” said the eight-year-old from Bon Air. “Who wouldn’t be?” She got her first dose of Pfizer’s pediatric vaccine on Wednesday night, and besides the hour-long wait at her local Walgreens, the process went relatively smoothly. The shot itself felt like the smallest pinch ever, Pearl said — more like a mosquito bite. And her dad, Tim Barry, was equally relieved to see both Pearl and her 5-year-old sister, June, take their first steps toward full immunization.

“Pearl probably asks to go to SkyZone two or three times a week,” he said. “So we’re really excited to have this coincide with Christmas and be able to be more free about seeing friends and family.”

Across Virginia, other parents are feeling the same jubilation. In the first week after federal officials authorized Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for 5 to 11-year-olds, more than 35,000 children received their first dose — close to 5 percent of the state’s total population in that age group, according to data from the Virginia Department of Health.

After months of anticipation from families, Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccines for five to 11-year-olds were authorized Tuesday after a sign-off from Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But doctors and local health officials are urging patience even as thousands of vaccines, specially formulated for pediatric patients, flow into Virginia. State vaccine coordinator Dr. Danny Avula said supply isn’t a concern for health officials. But the first shipment of doses will be divided across the state and, in many cases, redistributed to local providers, likely creating some backlogs when it comes to booking appointments.

“The availability is a little constrained because this is a new vial, it’s new packaging, it’s a new buffer,” said Breanne Forbes Hubbard, population health manager for the Mount Rogers Health District in southwestern Virginia. “So, we can’t just draw up from existing adult vials, unfortunately, because we have plenty of those ready to go.”

According to Avula, a total of 377,000 pediatric doses are expected to be delivered to Virginia in the first week of shipments — 252,000 of which will go to health departments, private practices and health systems. Another 125,000 will be delivered to pharmacies through a partnership with the federal government.

COVID booster shots in Va. are outpacing first doses, and nearly all have gone to white residents
Richmond Times-Dispatch, Sabrina MorenoOctober 29, 2021 (Medium)

Fully vaccinated Virginians are receiving COVID-19 booster shots at more than double the rate of people getting their first dose, according to a Richmond Times-Dispatch analysis of Virginia Department of Health data.
Of the nearly 728,000 vaccinations recorded between Sept. 27 and Friday — a time frame that widened the eligibility for Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson booster shots to millions of residents — the majority were third doses or boosters.
Less than a quarter were first jabs against the coronavirus.
The pattern is unsurprising, said Dr. Michael Stevens, interim hospital epidemiologist at VCU Health. But it’s widening the gulf between who faces the least and most severe risk of infection heading into the winter months.

“Every person who gets vaccinated sort of helps the overall population prevent COVID from spreading in the population, but until you get to that magic herd immunity number, which people talk about and no one knows quite exactly what that number is, no. We’re not going to stop seeing spread in the community,” Stevens said. “We’re not going to stop seeing surges.”

Va. health secretary stepping down as Northam term soon ends
Associated PressOctober 26, 2021 (Short)

Virginia’s health secretary, who’s held a key role in the state government response to the COVID-19 pandemic, is leaving his job as Gov. Ralph Northam’s term soon closes to work for a nonprofit health system.

Dan Carey’s last day at the post will be Friday, Northam’s office told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He will become chief medical officer for Providence Physician Enterprise, a collective of affiliated physicians and medical groups based in Washington, D.C.

Carey was named secretary of health and human resources shortly before Northam took office in 2018. He was a key adviser to the governor on pandemic restrictions and public messaging.

In a letter to the governor’s Cabinet, Carey said serving as secretary “has been the greatest privilege of my professional life,” and described the last two years as “immersive and all-consuming.”

Carey is the latest top official in the Northam administration to leave before his term ends in January. Others include finance secretary Aubrey Layne, chief counsel Rita Davis and natural resources secretary Matt Strickler.

Vanessa Walker Harris, the deputy health secretary, will be elevated to the secretary’s post.

RICHMOND, Va. — The health department reported 11,817 more people tested positive for COVID-19 out of the 234,604 total tests processed over the past week. That brings Virginia’s total number of coronavirus cases to 914,755.

As of Friday’s update, 38,269 (+502 from the Friday before) people had been hospitalized and 13,668 (+277) people had died as a result of COVID-19-related illnesses, according to updated Virginia Department of Health (VDH) data.

RELATED: 11,800+ new cases reported this week; 62.3% of Virginians now fully vaccinated

Scroll down for complete city/county-by-county breakdown of COVID-19 cases in Virginia

What’s next for COVID-19 in Virginia?
Virginia Mercury, Kate MastersOctober 18, 2021 (Medium)

Nearly 18 months after Virginia’s first recorded case of COVID-19 — a period that’s seen the virus surge and retreat four different times — new infections are once again on the decline. Once again, many researchers are cautiously optimistic that we’re leaving behind the latest wave, driven by the highly infectious delta variant, which raised hospitalizations in some areas of the state higher than they were last winter.

That doesn’t mean we’ve beaten the virus.

“We still have a very high case rate, like most of the states in the country,” said Bryan Lewis, a computational epidemiologist with the University of Virginia’s Biocomplexity Institute. “We’ve been down for a few weeks, so everybody feels good, but there are still a lot of people going into the hospital.”

As of Friday, Virginia was still recording an average of more than 2,000 new infections a day. More than 1,500 patients are hospitalized with coronavirus in the average week, according to data from the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association. Those figures seem particularly stark compared to this summer, when daily new cases dropped below 150 and COVID hospitalizations reached an all-time low.

In the face of frightening statistics, health officials push pregnant women to get vaccine
Virginian-Pilot, Elisha SauersOctober 13, 2021 (Medium)

At least six pregnant Virginians have died of COVID-19, and 346 have been admitted to hospitals for serious illnesses.
It’s not known what happened to their babies — whether any were lost or if they got sick. Virginia Department of Health officials said they don’t have data on their outcomes.

Pregnant people are more likely to get severely ill if they contract the virus than those who aren’t, state epidemiologists said. If they have underlying health conditions, such as diabetes or obesity, they’re at even greater risk.
With the recent rise in cases, more pregnant patients ended up in the hospital earlier than planned. Lucy Vinson, a Sentara Norfolk General Hospital ICU nurse manager, said her team also has cared for a slew of pregnant coronavirus patients.

“More than we’ve ever treated in probably the history of our unit,” she said.
Virginia’s alarming rate of infections among pregnant people is a pattern throughout the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that COVID-19 deaths in pregnant individuals increased in August. The federal agency recommended urgent action Wednesday to increase vaccination among people who are pregnant, nursing or trying to get pregnant — stressing that data show the shots are safe and effective.

In mid-August, as the delta variant was surging across Virginia, hospitals reached out to Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration for help.

“This rise in infections is once again placing significant stress on general hospitals and nursing facilities within the commonwealth,” wrote Sean Connaughton, president of the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, in a letter to Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver and Health Secretary Dr. Dan Carey. At the time, the seven-day average for new hospitalizations mirrored that of March, when Virginia was still recovering from a massive holiday surge.

Connaughton asked the administration to reinstate emergency waivers that had given hospitals the ability to quickly add bed capacity and hire out-of-state providers, among other regulatory changes that could provide flexibility.

“Staffing levels at these facilities are severely strained by a shortage of health care workers and trained health care professionals, exacerbated by fatigue, personal illness and family needs stemming from this long-term pandemic event,” he wrote. “It is further anticipated that COVID-19 will continue to place increased demands on the commonwealth’s health professional workforce.”

It was far from the only communication between health systems and the Northam administration. Emails from Carey’s office, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, show multiple hospitals began raising concerns over increasing caseloads around the same time. An Aug. 13 email from James Moss, the state hospital coordinator with the Virginia Department of Health’s Office of Emergency Preparedness, noted that facilities in Eastern Virginia were already “getting close” to exhausting their bed space.

Majority of voters support vaccine mandates in schools and more Virginia headlines
Virginia Mercury, Staff ReportSeptember 24, 2021 (Short)

• “About a month into the school year, a clear majority of Virginia voters support coronavirus vaccine mandates in schools, while a smaller majority supports such requirements for in-person workers in the state, according to a Washington Post-Schar School poll.”—Washington Post

Many state employees remain unvaccinated despite mandate
Virginia Mercury, Ned OliverSeptember 22, 2021 (Medium)

Last month, Gov. Ralph Northam gave state employees a choice: get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing for COVID-19.

Many, it appears, have chosen testing.

While comprehensive figures aren’t available yet, a survey of some of the largest state agencies reveals employee vaccination rates range from just over 50 percent at the Department of Corrections to 87 percent at the Virginia Department of Health.

Other agencies, including the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Virginia State Police, reported vaccination rates that roughly mirror the state’s overall vaccination rate of about 60 percent.

Northam wrote in his Aug. 5 executive directive that “vaccination is the only method to protect fully against the virus.” But unlike a similar order issued by President Joe Biden for the federal workforce, Northam’s directive did not actually require state employees to be vaccinated. Instead, it asked them to disclose their vaccination status and, if they are unvaccinated, submit to weekly testing at the state’s expense.

The directive does not require unvaccinated employees to request a formal exemption, but it does allow employees to opt out of the weekly testing if they lodge a religious rejection or have a medical reason — a step few state employees appear to have taken.

The testing required under the mandate has come at a cost to taxpayers.

Judge dismisses nurses' anti-vaxx lawsuit
The Winchester Star, Evan GoodenowSeptember 22, 2021 (Medium)

Three Winchester Medical Center workers who refused to get vaccinated against the coronavirus unsuccessfully sued to keep their jobs.

The lawsuit was filed on Monday against Valley Health System, the six-hospital chain that includes WMC, on behalf of registered nurses Rebecca Ashworth and Kayla Cox and certified nursing assistant Lori Swartz. All Valley Health employees had until midnight Tuesday to get vaccinated or get fired unless they received medical or religious exemptions.

Judge William Warner Eldridge IV on Tuesday in Winchester Circuit Court dismissed the suit. He sided with Valley Health, whose attorneys argued the plaintiffs needed authorization from the Virginia Attorney General’s Office of Civil Rights to sue under the Virginia Human Rights Act.

“The VHRA does not permit a claimant to pursue temporary relief in court until ‘after a notice of a charge of discrimination is issued,’” attorney Andrew S. Baugher wrote, citing a June verdict in Norfolk Circuit Court that ruled in favor of the city of Norfolk. “And then, ‘the petition shall contain a certification by the Office that the particular matter presents exceptional circumstances and irreparable injury will result from unlawful discrimination in the absence of temporary relief.’”

Over the last week, health systems and emergency physicians across Virginia have sounded the alarm over a surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations threatening to overwhelm many emergency rooms.

But the rise of the delta variant, coupled with the start of the new school year, is also creating chaos for pediatricians, who are struggling to treat an unprecedented swell in patients. On Friday, the Virginia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a “call for help,” saying practices have been unable to keep up with “surging demand” for office visits and COVID-19 testing.

“Our volumes are through the roof,” chapter president Dr. Michael Martin said in a phone interview on Friday. “I don’t know anyone who’s not over capacity. This is the worst I’ve seen it, and I’m in my 40s. When you talk to older physicians, they’ve never seen this either.”

According to Martin, a combination of factors have created a “perfect storm” for pediatricians over the last several weeks. First, the end of statewide restrictions and dramatic decline in cases over the spring and summer led more Virginians to return to life as normal. Many children returned to daycare and summer camp — often unmasked — leading to a rise in non-COVID-19 respiratory illnesses.

The COVID-19 surge is overwhelming emergency rooms across Virginia
Virginia Mercury, Kate MastersSeptember 13, 2021 (Medium)

Over the last few weeks, hospital systems across Virginia have been sounding alarms over the latest coronavirus surge, largely driven by the highly infectious delta variant.

In Southwest Virginia, Ballad Health is facing its “worst-case scenario” with more than 700 COVID-19 patients. In Northern Virginia, hospitals already nearing capacity with COVID-19 cases have been overwhelmed by recently arrived Afghan refugees. And on Thursday, the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association issued a statement on behalf of more than three dozen medical groups, pleading for unvaccinated Virginians to get their shots.

“In just two months, hospitalizations have increased by 1,008 percent and new cases have jumped by 1,217 percent,” it read. “With hospital inpatient and ICU beds already filling ahead of a looming fall surge, it is imperative for unvaccinated Virginians to do their part to help save lives and slow the spread of this deadly virus by getting vaccinated.”

Nowhere has the latest spike in cases been more obvious than in Virginia’s beleaguered emergency rooms, where unvaccinated and often seriously ill COVID-19 patients are adding stress to an already maxed-out system. Dr. Todd Parker, president-elect of the Virginia College of Emergency Physicians, said almost every hospital across the state is struggling with overcrowding, widespread staffing shortages and difficulty transferring patients — who frequently require higher levels of care — to facilities experiencing the exact same challenges.

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From your job to your home to your groceries, Covid-19 has disrupted nearly every aspect of life. This dashboard from CNN shows how the economy continues to change as we grapple with life during the pandemic. Some indices below:

The Back-to-Normal Index

Unemployment claims

State unemployment rates

Job postings

30-year mortgage rate

Personal savings

Small business closures

Should my child get the COVID-19 vaccine? 7 questions answered by a pediatric infectious disease expert
Virginia Mercury, Dr. Debbie-Ann Shirley, University of VirginiaMay 18, 2021 (Short)

The Food and Drug Administration expanded emergency use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to include adolescents 12 to 15 years of age on May 10. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention followed with recommendations endorsing use in this age group after their advisory group meeting on May 12. The American Academy of Pediatrics also supports this decision.

Dr. Debbie-Ann Shirley is an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Virginia specializing in pediatric infectious diseases. Here she addresses some of the concerns parents may have about their teen or preteen getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

1. Does the vaccine work in adolescents?
Yes, recently released data from Pfizer-BioNTech shows that the COVID-19 vaccine seems to work really well in this age group. The COVID-19 vaccine was found to be 100 percent efficacious in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 in an ongoing clinical trial of children in the U.S. aged 12 to 15. Adolescents made high levels of antibody in response to the vaccine, and their immune response was just as strong as what has been seen in older teens and young adults 16-25 years of age.

A COVID-19 vaccine mandate is not being ruled out in Virginia but it won’t happen in the near future, if at all. That’s according to the state’s Vaccine Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula, who spoke to 8News via Zoom on Thursday.

In the meantime, Dr. Avula said the use of so-called “vaccine passports” or certifications are a more likely solution for skepticism.

“If our ability to move forward as a society, to open back up businesses, to open back up schools, is contingent on this, then I think we find every way we can to incentivize it and potentially even get to a point where we require it, but I think we’re a long way from that,” Dr. Avula said.

Northam amends Virginia’s mask mandate to match CDC guidance
Virginia Mercury, Kate Masters April 29, 2021 (Short)

Gov. Ralph Northam amended Virginia’s mask mandate to match recently issued guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The changes, announced in a Thursday press release, went into effect immediately, according to Northam’s spokeswoman, Alena Yarmosky. They allow fully vaccinated Virginians to “participate in outdoor activities and recreation without a mask,” based on language from the CDC. Those include solo activities and small outside gatherings of fully vaccinated people.

People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving their second shot (or two weeks after their first, in the case of Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine). Neither the state nor the CDC has specified whether there’s an exact size limit for “small” outdoor gatherings, but Yarmosky said the administration is “asking folks to use their best judgement.”

Will Virginia colleges require COVID-19 vaccinations? Should they?
Capital News Service, Hunter BrittApril 22, 2021 (Short)

Virginia universities plan a return to campuses in the fall, but there are questions if the COVID-19 vaccine can be mandated.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration only authorized the vaccine for emergency purposes, according to Lisa Lee, professor of public health at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. The vaccine does not yet have full FDA approval.

The vaccine was authorized for emergency use, so people have to be given the choice to take it and be informed of the consequences if they don’t, Lee said.

“Many legal scholars have interpreted that as saying that people cannot be required to take a vaccine that is under an emergency use authorization,” Lee said. “They can be when it has full approval, so that’s where the hitch is.”

Starting May 15, Virginia will significantly relax capacity restrictions on social gatherings and entertainment venues as COVID-19 numbers plateau across much of the state.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced the latest rollback in a video message on Thursday, citing the state’s continued progress in vaccinations. Data from the Virginia Department of Health indicates that more than 40 percent of the population has received at least one shot and more than 26 percent are fully vaccinated. Every Virginian 16 and older became eligible for the vaccine on Sunday.

“Vaccination numbers are up, and our COVID case numbers are substantially lower than they were earlier this year,” Northam said in a statement. “So, we have been able to begin easing some mitigation measures.”

Over the last month, state and federal officials have directed thousands of COVID-19 vaccines to large-scale clinics in vulnerable communities with high rates of coronavirus cases — all in areas with significant or majority Black and Latino populations.

The sites have been touted by leaders as a core strategy in expanding access to vaccines among communities of color, where immunization rates are consistently lower than they are for White Virginians. “We have done a very good job in the commonwealth in addressing this issue,” state Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said at a news briefing last month in response to questions over vaccine equity.

“We have brought on staff in our emergency support team that is doing outreach in these communities,” he added. “We’ve put boots on the ground in all 35 of our health districts and those teams are doing your basic sort of community organizing — door to door, working with faith leaders, community-based organizations to bring people from these vulnerable populations to our vaccination sites.”

Virginia doctors worry that pandemic burnout could push providers out of the field
Virginia Mercury, Kate Masters -April 9, 2021 (Short)

National data is shedding new light on how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting medical providers and their mental health as they balance the emotional and physical demands of a sometimes deadly virus. For frontline hospital workers, it’s often the visceral jolt — and exhausting work — of caring for critically ill patients. But primary care physicians are also reporting fears of infection and ongoing stress that comes from a radical shift in how their businesses operate.

In Virginia, there’s growing concern that burnout and extreme stress could lead more providers to leave the field or grapple with long-term mental health problems. On an individual level, it’s bad for doctors and their patients. But on a systemic level, there’s also worry that COVID-19 could make an existing physician shortage worse.

“One of the things we always talk about is physicians, nurses, support staff — they’re taking care of patients every day,” said Taylor Woody, the communications manager for the Medical Society of Virginia. “But who’s focusing on taking care of them?”

Virginia to pilot COVID-19 testing program in public schools
Virginia Mercury, Kate Masters -April 5, 2021 (Medium)

Virginia is one of a growing number of states exploring testing as a way to combat COVID-19 in K-12 schools.

Dr. Laurie Forlano, a deputy commissioner for the Virginia Department of Health, said the agency is launching a pilot program to provide rapid antigen tests to schools across the state. VDH is rolling out the program with Abbott BinaxNOW tests — portable kits, roughly the size of a credit card, that provide results in around 15 minutes.

“We agree that testing can be a layer of prevention,” said Forlano, who oversees population health for the department. The concept of screening students and staff isn’t a new one, and some colleges and private K-12 schools have been testing since the fall. But it’s taken on a new importance since Virginia — like many states across the country — began encouraging local school divisions to reopen for in-person instruction.

As of March 22, only three of Virginia’s 132 school districts were operating fully remotely. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have also issued interim guidance for K-12 testing, which is largely mirrored by VDH in its own reopening guidelines for schools.

Virginia to expand vaccine eligibility to everyone 16 and older by mid-April
Virginia Mercury, Kate Masters -April 1, 2021 (Short)

Gov. Ralph Northam announced Thursday that the state will expand vaccine eligibility to all Virginians 16 and older by April 18.

The news puts Virginia nearly two weeks ahead of the May 1 deadline set by President Joe Biden earlier this month. In a news release, the administration said that nearly every high-risk Virginian who pre-registered for a vaccine has already received a shot, allowing the state to expand eligibility sooner than expected. Those still on the state’s pre-registration list will receive an appointment invitation within the next two weeks.

“Expanding vaccine eligibility to all adults marks an important milestone in our ongoing efforts to put this pandemic behind us,” Northam said in a statement. “I thank all of the public health staff, health care workers, vaccinators, and volunteers who have helped make this possible.”

In late September, when Virginia health officials launched a dashboard that detailed outbreaks in K-12 schools across the state, it was applauded as a long-needed step toward more transparency — and a relief for parents hesitant over the prospect of sending their children back to the classroom.

Six months later, the data on reopening has gained even more importance amid a state and nationwide push to return students to the classroom. But there are limits on what it can and can’t tell officials, parents and others looking for answers on the relative risks of in-person school.

In early February, Gov. Ralph Northam directed local divisions to begin offering in-person instruction by March 15. Three weeks later, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation — with bipartisan support — that mandates a return to the classroom by July 1.

As a result, only three of the state’s 132 local school divisions were operating fully remotely as of March 22, according to data from the Virginia Department of Education. Thirty-eight are fully in-person — defined by the agency as providing at least four days of in-person instruction for all students.

Pandemic deaths fail to shake loose a legislative solution on nursing home staffing
Virginia Mercury, Kate Masters -March 25, 2021 (Short)

Sam Kukich was initially excited to join a workgroup she thought would focus on improving staffing levels at Virginia nursing homes.

The director of Dignity for the Aged, a Poquoson-based nonprofit, Kukich had become an almost inadvertent advocate for reforming standards of care in the nursing home industry. She and her family had already made headlines across the state when they detailed a nearly five-year-long struggle to find care for her mother-in-law, who lost 65 pounds and suffered dozens of falls at multiple facilities in the Hampton Roads region.

When she started Dignity for the Aged in 2018, largely out of frustration, Kukich started hearing from “all sorts of people” about cases of abuse and neglect in Virginia nursing homes. Many of the cases, she said, were linked to understaffing — certified nursing assistants and other health care workers who were simply too overworked and overwhelmed to properly care for residents.

So Kukich was disappointed last year, when a Virginia Senate subcommittee rejected a bill from Sen. Jennifer Kiggans, R-Virginia Beach, that would set minimum staffing ratios for the industry. It was the 16th straight year similar legislation had died, but this time, legislators ordered the state Department of Health to organize a work group to “review and make recommendations” on increasing the nursing home workforce in Virginia.

With COVID-19 cases down after a winter surge, and with nearly a quarter of the population having received at least one dose of vaccine, Gov. Ralph Northam is again rolling back some of Virginia’s pandemic restrictions — cautiously.

At a Tuesday news briefing, the governor announced the expansion of the attendance cap on indoor social gatherings from 10 to 50 people. Outdoor gatherings, currently limited to 25 attendees, will be allowed up to 100.

Alena Yarmosky, the governor’s spokeswoman, said the new guidelines will offer slightly more flexibility to events-oriented businesses — including Virginia’s wedding industry, which has lobbed some of the harshest criticism at Northam’s health and safety guidelines (at least two venue owners have sued over the restrictions).

But the governor is still taking a moderate approach to reopening compared to some neighboring states, including Maryland, where Gov. Larry Hogan lifted all capacity restrictions for the vast majority of businesses earlier this month. Northam’s executive order requiring mask wearing in indoor public areas remains in effect.

More essential workers and Virginians with underlying medical conditions can now access COVID-19 vaccines through major pharmacies across the state, the Virginia Department of Health announced Wednesday.

There are currently eight large chains that offer vaccines through a partnership with the federal government, including CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, Kroger and Albertson’s, which owns Safeway grocery stores.

Some independent pharmacies are also included in the partnership, which provides doses to more than 300 locations across Virginia, according to Stephanie Wheawill, director of VDH’s Division of Pharmacy Services.

While the doses supplied to pharmacies are separate from Virginia’s overall allotment, Wheawill said locations are asked to follow the state’s distribution guidelines. Until this week, state health officials instructed pharmacies to limit doses to residents 65 and older, as well as certain essential worker categories.

Vaccine passports’ that show you’re inoculated are on the way
Virginia Mercury, Laura OlsonMarch 17, 2021 (Short)

More than 70 million Americans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine — and along with that shot, a small paper card with the CDC’s label detailing the timing and manufacturer of the dose.

Those paper cards at the moment are the only proof readily available to Americans of their vaccination against a virus that has upended businesses, schools and most other aspects of daily life.

That could soon change, with multiple companies and nonprofit groups working to create “vaccine passports” — smartphone-based apps that would allow someone to certify that they’ve been vaccinated. The apps so far are aimed at travelers, who may be required to show proof of their vaccination status before boarding a plane or entering another country.

In early January, Gov. Ralph Northam warned that the worst of Virginia’s winter surge may not have happened yet.

“The virus is worse now than it’s ever been,” he said at a news briefing. At the time, the state had reached an all-time high in daily new cases and hospitalizations — a trend that threatened to overwhelm some hospital systems. Many local health departments were forced to suspend contact tracing programs amid the spike, warning residents that winter travel and holiday gatherings had made it impossible to keep up with cases.

“Case numbers are about four times higher than they were last spring, and we can expect them to go higher,” Northam continued. “In fact, the [University of Virginia] model shows cases could keep rising until Valentine’s Day or even later.”

The COVID-19 crisis and senior living: an insider’s perspective
Virginia Mercury, Morris S. Funk, guest columnMarch 17, 2021 (Short)

The pandemic has made this past year unlike any other at Beth Sholom, a senior living center in Henrico.

In late February, it seemed we were facing a typical long-term care viral threat, but I could not shake the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that this was going to be much bigger. In the early, there was so little information available, making it difficult to anticipate and prepare for the reality of what was coming. We were one of the first senior living communities in our area to lock down, and like so many others in our industry, we faced extraordinary daily challenges and heartbreaking losses.

Here is our story.

Our frontline staff put themselves and their families at risk every day simply by coming to work. Once the March lockdown was in place, many of our staff found it difficult to meet the challenges of working and managing their families. When schools closed, they scrambled to find ways to address the needs of their children while continuing to work. Daily, our employees faced the fear of bringing the virus — which was not understood — home to their family.

Participation in Virginia’s Immunization Information System is critical for keeping Virginia healthy
Virginia Mercury, Dr. Michael Martin, commentaryMarch 12, 2021 (Short)

As Virginia continues to combat the public health challenges of COVID-19, the distribution of vaccines in the commonwealth provides a long-needed glimmer of hope.

The complex COVID-19 vaccine distribution process underscores the importance of accurate immunization histories and records. While Virginia had the foresight years ago to invest in an immunization registry for individuals, families, medical providers and public health researchers, recent action by the General Assembly has strengthened the statewide database of vaccine history and distribution. To keep our communities healthy even after the pandemic, all health care providers that administer vaccines, starting in January 2022, will participate in the Virginia Immunization Information System.

VIIS is a free, statewide, digital immunization registry that records reported vaccination doses distributed by health care providers to individuals, thus increasing the ability to appropriately react to vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks. Vaccine registry systems like VIIS are incredibly helpful for improving the public health response to outbreaks of diseases like measles, Hepatitis A, H1N1, and now COVID-19. By sharing the data with the state, appropriate resources can be deployed to counteract outbreaks and help increase community immunization rates. Currently, the Virginia Department of Health reports that 2.1 million children are under-immunized.

For public health experts across Virginia, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was a more-than-welcome addition to the state’s weekly allocation.

The one-dose shot boosted Virginia’s shipments by 69,000 this week, spurring a slew of new mass vaccination events. It doesn’t have the same cold storage requirements, making it easier to ship and redistribute. And at the national level, it’s prompting a new wave of optimism, with President Joe Biden promising a vaccine “for every adult in America by the end of May.”

But state health officials also worry the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has an image problem. When trial data was released, many reports honed in on the numbers: 72 percent effective against COVID-19 infections in the United States, 66 percent effective in South America and 57 percent effective in South Africa. Pfizer’s, by contrast, showed 95 percent effectiveness at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 after two doses. Moderna’s showed 94.1 percent.

Biden urges states to speed up COVID-19 vaccinations for teachers
Virginia Mercury, Laura OlsonMarch 3, 2021 (Short)

President Joe Biden is urging states to prioritize teachers for COVID-19 vaccines, setting a goal of ensuring that every pre-kindergarten through 12th grade educator, school staff member and childcare worker is able to receive at least one shot this month.

At least 34 states and the District of Columbia have some or all teachers eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine, according to tracking data from Education Week.

That tally has been growing in recent weeks, as many students across the country approach the one-year mark for switching to virtual classes due to the pandemic.

Biden’s latest directive to states is the latest step in his administration’s effort to aid schools in safely reopening their buildings to in-person classes. In a televised statement from the White House on Tuesday, Biden described teachers as “essential workers,” and said that accelerating vaccinations can help assuage anxieties about school reopenings.

Big uptick in vaccine supplies for states expected
Virginia Mercury, Laura OlsonFebruary 24, 2021 (Short)

Executives from five COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers told Congress Tuesday that they expect to significantly boost the number of shots delivered to states in the coming weeks.

Pfizer will increase weekly shipments to more than 13 million doses by mid-March, an increase from the 4 to 5 million doses shipped weekly in early February, the company’s chief business officer, John Young, told a U.S. House panel.

Moderna, the other vaccine that has received federal authorization for emergency use, expects to double its monthly vaccine deliveries by April to more than 40 million doses per month.

Fairfax County is ranked as one of the wealthiest communities in Virginia. It’s also one of the healthiest.

As of 2020, Fairfax led the state in measures including length of life, access to exercise opportunities and low rates of poor health indicators such as smoking and adult obesity, according to annual rankings by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. From 2015 to 2019, the county’s median household income was $124,831 (nationally, it’s around $68,703, according to the U.S. Census Bureau).

Currently, Fairfax County is also leading Virginia in vaccine distribution. In late January, health officials shifted the state’s strategy, routing doses through local health districts based on their percentage of the state’s population. As Virginia’s largest locality with more than 1.1 million residents, that left Fairfax with the largest share.

Even before then, the Fairfax County Health Department had requested — and received — more than eight times as many shots as other local health districts, according to data from the Virginia Department of Health. From Dec. 22 to Jan. 23, Fairfax received a total of 74,625 doses. Over the same time period, the Richmond-Henrico Health District, received a total of 19,550 doses for both localities, which have a combined population of nearly 560,000.

In the early weeks of Virginia’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, hospital systems in five local health districts requested, and received, tens of thousands of doses — a disproportionately larger share than pharmacies, community health clinics and even the local health departments charged with overseeing the state’s immunization plan.

In Chesterfield, for example, HCA Virginia requested 27,775 first doses from Dec. 14 to Dec. 20 and ultimately received 18,275 — more than enough to vaccinate what Jeff Caldwell, the system’s vice president of communications, described as more than 17,000 total employees across the state. VCU Health in Richmond requested and received 20,050 first doses within the first three weeks of the state’s rollout — far more than its roughly 13,000 employees (spokeswoman Alex Nowak said the health system also has more than 10,000 “affiliated team members,” which include residents, medical students and food service workers, but not every direct or affiliated employee is involved in patient care.)

The Mercury obtained detailed distribution data for the Richmond, Henrico, Chesterfield, Fairfax and Central Shenandoah health districts from a reader, who noticed that the Virginia Department of Health’s public vaccine dashboard initially allowed the public to download spreadsheets showing how many doses were delivered to individual facilities.

Feds boost state vaccine shipments to 11 million doses next week
Virginia Mercury, Laura OlsonFebruary 9, 2021 (Short)

States will see another increase in the COVID-19 vaccine doses they receive, with President Joe Biden’s administration announcing Tuesday that the federal government will distribute 11 million doses next week.

That’s an increase from 10.5 million doses this week, and 8.6 million during the week President Joe Biden took office last month. Those increases were attributed to boosted production by vaccine manufacturers.

The administration has not published a state-by-state breakdown on how many doses are distributed each week. Iowa Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, both Republicans, have questioned whether Iowa is receiving a fair share of doses under that formula, and wrote to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday, asking CDC officials to release the weekly formula for allocating vaccines to states.

State officials say they’re confident that no COVID-19 vaccines are going to waste in Virginia.

But seven weeks into the state’s vaccine rollout, the Virginia Department of Health won’t release data on wastage, which vaccinators are required to report under a provider agreement distributed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The document, which providers must fill out in order to administer vaccines, requires them to report the number of doses that were “unused, spoiled, expired, or wasted as required by the relevant jurisdiction.” In practice, that means hospitals, pharmacies and other administrators should be reporting the data to VDH, which then passes the information onto the CDC.

The Mercury first requested the data from VDH in late January, after Dr. Danny Avula, the state’s vaccine coordinator, stated in a telebriefing that the reporting was required but that he didn’t have information on wastage in Virginia.

Gov. Ralph Northam speaks at a news conference in August. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Here we go again, Virginia, trailing the pack at yet another critical turn in combating the global coronavirus pandemic — the rollout of the lifesaving vaccine that could finally break the back of COVID-19. And if you’re a Democrat in Virginia, particularly one who’s seeking statewide office this fall, this isn’t what you had hoped to see.

It feels like last March, when the coronavirus caught the commonwealth flat-footed and plodding in its initial mobilization against the novel and then-mysterious plague, forcing Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration to play catch-up.

Yes, catch up Virginia did. Eventually. Northam, the only physician governor of any U.S. state, finally issued forceful and unambiguous orders to kick Virginia’s protective response into the same high gear that Maryland, Ohio, New York and other states had already hit. Schools closed, as did most businesses not deemed essential. Home sheltering, working and learning remotely, social distancing, hand washing and mask wearing were the order of the day. Literally.

City streets fell silent and abandoned. For weeks on end, springtime gusts whistled across sprawling, empty shopping mall parking lots. Small businesses — and even some large ones — took it in the neck, particularly mom-and-pop restaurants, bars, retailers, gyms and cinemas. A chilling number of those shops and offices and eateries died, in many cases taking family livelihoods and life savings with them, and they will never be resurrected. Those were lifesaving steps Virginia had to take and the government was justified in taking them.

Friends Torin Enevoldsen and Taylor Little have a picnic in the parking lot with food they picked up from The Cheesecake Factory at Short Pump Town Center in Henrico, Va., May 16, 2020. Little said her mother originally suggested meeting friends for take-out lunches, while dining in most restaurants is still prohibited. (Parker Michels-Boyce/ For the Virginia Mercury

Even then, just when Northam had emphatically laid down the law on requiring the use of face coverings, he undermined his own messaging when photographs of him laughing it up unmasked and huddled close with others for selfies on Virginia Beach’s Boardwalk began trending across social media.

By summer, Virginia had ramped up testing, plateaued its numbers of COVID-19 cases and related deaths, and driven down the percentages of positive coronavirus tests. Restrictions were eased. By autumn, ours was among the states faring the best with the coronavirus. But getting there was like pulling teeth.

For reasons still not clear, Northam’s Department of Health balked at making public the granular coronavirus testing data for extended care facilities that families of elderly, ailing and vulnerable people could use to make informed decisions about their loved ones. That was particularly galling after an outbreak at a Henrico County nursing home was among the nation’s deadliest in the early weeks of the pandemic. Eventually, faced with withering media coverage and public outrage, the administration relented and, without explanation, made the data available.

The VDH’s reluctance to provide specific, actionable guidance last summer to school districts on whether, when and how to reopen classrooms or continue virtual schooling created chaos and conflict among faculty, administrators and parents within school divisions and resulted in a crazy-quilt patchwork of differing regimens across the state.

And so it goes.

Last Thursday, with the respected Becker’s Hospital Review ranking Virginia’s vaccination effort the fifth least effective in the nation, Northam found himself promising to jump-start a torpid immunization effort one month after Virginia got the first of its nearly 846,000 vaccine doses. According to Becker’s, only about 218,000 — barely over one-fourth — of those doses have been injected into the arms of Virginians.

Compare that to West Virginia, which has dispensed nearly 70 percent of its approximately 161,000 doses — the nation’s best rate. Maryland and North Carolina have each dispensed about 32 percent of their vaccine allotments, while Kentucky and Tennessee have injected 43 percent and 44 percent, respectively, of their doses. Idaho, Hawaii, Alabama and Georgia (the nation’s worst at just under 20 percent) were the only four states that performed worse than Virginia.

At Thursday’s news conference, Dr. Danny Avula, Northam’s newly appointed vaccine czar, said that to achieve a pace that puts the commonwealth ahead of the virus and returns life to normal sooner rather than later, Virginia needs to dispense about 50,000 doses daily. Last week, the state was at about 30 percent of that pace. As of Friday, 88 of the state’s 133 localities remained mired in Phase 1A, the first phase of the vaccine rollout that includes frontline healthcare workers, first-responders and nursing home residents. Only one-third of the localities, clustered mostly in Southwest Virginia, the Eastern Shore and Northern Virginia, had advanced to Phase 1B, which includes people 65 and older, police and firefighters, teachers, grocery workers and essential government workers.

Northam said he was “pleased” with a pace in which only one out of every four doses the state received a month ago has been injected.

“Everyone will need to be patient. It’s going to happen as fast as it can be done and it’s moving faster every day,” he said Thursday. “Monday, we vaccinated more than 15,000 people. Tuesday, it was more than 17,000.”

When Virginia is the laggard behind every one of its contiguous neighbors, isn’t it fair to ask why? Two weeks ago in Tennessee, for instance, officials in Sullivan County opened a max vaccination site at the Bristol Motor Speedway Dragway, a 10-minute drive from the Virginia border. On its first day, Jan. 7, the site ran out of doses by noon. Vaccinations are scheduled for four days starting this week at Richmond’s enormous car-racing venue. The sprawling NASCAR stadium in Martinsville also volunteered to be a mass-vaccination venue if needed, but thus far has no takers.

Patience, your excellency, is in short supply. After a life-altering (and, in more than 5,600 cases in Virginia and nearly 400,000 nationally, life-ending) 11 months of pandemic, a searing summer of racial unrest, an election from hell and an even worse post-election in which a defeated president instigated the attempted violent overthrow of Congress in a vain effort to keep the victor from taking office, this might not be the most opportune time to prescribe a chill pill.

And, boy, did Virginia’s out-of-power, victory-starved Republicans notice.

Del. Kirk Cox, a conservative former House speaker and a declared GOP candidate for governor, assailed the Northam administration’s lethargic response in a statement.

“While … it’s good news that he’s trying to speed up vaccine distribution, the truth is ‘better late than never’ just doesn’t cut it,” Cox said, adding that he urged Northam “to take decisive action over a week ago.”

Northam could still turn around Virginia’s thus-far inauspicious vaccine deployment, just as his administration eventually energized Virginia’s leisurely initial response to the pandemic last spring. But if he doesn’t, it could hand Republicans another significant election-year bouquet.

This year, the GOP won’t run in the shadow of a president so polarizing that he just cost once-ruby-red Georgia both of its Republican U.S. senators, flipping control of the Senate to the Democrats. They’ll also have a raft of brochure issues courtesy of Virginia Democrats, including proposals to end the death penalty and legalize marijuana, plus last year’s parole board debacle. Those issues resonate among conservatives and many centrists and could buttress a GOP argument that Democrats have gone too far left for an electorate that traditionally rewards moderation.

That said, Republicans haven’t found an opportunity over the past dozen years they couldn’t squander. They could do it again by nominating Amanda Chase, a Trump-style nationalist who urged the president to declare martial law to stay in power and whose incendiary claims have gotten her suspended from Facebook and ostracized by her own party.

The vaccine issue is one that voters will remember in November. The vaccine represents a genuine human triumph, our deliverance from the pain and loss that the past year has inflicted upon us. Government must get this right, and those in charge of it should answer for the consequences if it doesn’t.

Exhausted vaccine reserve could unravel plans for Phase 1b expansion in Virginia
Virginia Mercury, Kate MastersJanuary 15, 2021 (Short)
A provider with Augusta Health administers a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine this week. (Courtesy of Augusta Health)

News that the federal government has already exhausted its supply of “reserve” COVID-19 vaccines sent Virginia officials scrambling on Friday — less than 24 hours after Gov. Ralph Northam outlined plans to expand vaccine eligibility.

The Washington Post reported Friday that there was no federal stockpile of additional vaccines, despite an announcement earlier this week by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who told states the Trump administration would begin distributing those doses immediately. Previously, the administration said it was holding back the vaccines to ensure a second dose for everyone who had already received a first shot.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines — the only ones currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — require a two-shot schedule.

Northam, along with multiple other Democratic governors, first asked HHS to begin releasing the reserve doses earlier this month. Virginia, like other states, has attributed its slower-than-expected vaccine rollout in part to the limited supply coming from the federal government.

HHS initially appeared unwilling to acquiesce to the request, according to reporting from Politico. But the administration’s Operation Warp Speed reversed that stance soon after President-elect Joe Biden announced he would begin releasing reserve doses to states after taking office.

Northam was one of many public officials to celebrate the arrival of additional vaccines. In his State of the Commonwealth address Wednesday, the governor announced that Virginia would begin vaccinating residents aged 65 and older — a direct response to Azar, who told states to expand their vaccination eligibility to speed up the pace of administration.

Gov. Ralph Northam at a press conference in October. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

At a news briefing the next day, Northam announced that Virginians aged 65 and older, and those 65 and under with underlying medical conditions (including asthma, heart conditions and obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), would be moved into Phase 1b of the state’s vaccination plan — the second stage of prioritization after health care providers and long-term care residents.

“This means about half of Virginia is now eligible to receive the vaccine,” he said Thursday. “That’s a major logistical effort, and it’s not going to happen overnight.”

But with Friday’s report, the timeline — and whether those expanded populations will still be eligible for Phase 1b — is even more unclear. Last week, the Virginia Department of Health announced that 11 local districts were moving into the second stage of the state’s campaign (two more — Pittsylvania-Danville and Southside — later this week). At his briefing, Northam said the rest of Virginia would move into Phase 1b by the end of January, and some local health districts have already announced plans for delivering vaccines to the expanded population.

The governor’s office couldn’t immediately confirm whether the reported lack of reserve vaccines would affect plans to expand 1b. “Honestly, right now we’re just trying to get clear answers from the federal government,” spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky wrote in an email on Friday.

But the Post reported that vaccine shipments, for all states, would likely stay flat if no additional doses had been held in stockpile. For Virginia, that’s roughly 110,000 doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccine a week.

If that distribution remained the same, it would take around 39 weeks to vaccinate roughly half of all Virginians who fall into the expanded 1b category — which also includes teachers, first responders, and other essential workers. That’s a rough estimate, not accounting for new vaccines that may enter the supply chain and assuming that the state was also administering 110,000 doses a week.

At the same time, Virginia is still struggling to administer the vaccine doses it does have available. As of Friday, the state had only administered about 28 percent of the 943,400 total doses distributed to hospitals, local health departments and other medical facilities, according to date from the Virginia Department of Health’s vaccine reporting dashboard.

State health officials have said the dashboard is undercounting vaccines, partially due to lags or glitches in its electronic reporting system. But the CDC currently ranks Virginia 43 out of 50 states and Washington, D.C., when it comes to the number of doses administered per 100,000 people.

Dr. Danny Avula, the director of the Richmond-Henrico Health District who was recently appointed to head the state’s vaccine efforts, said officials were actively working to speed up the pace of vaccinations — including plans to establish large, free-standing vaccine clinics across the state.

But any mass immunization efforts will be hindered if vaccine supply remains low. Yarmosky said it was just one more frustration in trying to coordinate a COVID-19 response with the federal government.

“Once again, the Trump administration cannot seem to provide basic facts and truths,” she wrote Friday. “On Tuesday, governors were told explicitly that we would be provided additional doses — Virginia immediately pivoted and we moved quickly to expand eligibility and increase access.

“Now, the news media is reporting that the exact opposite may be true,” she said. “We’re frankly trying to gather as much information as possible right now — like every American, we need to understand what is going on, so we can plan accordingly. While astonishing, this is hardly surprising. What we’re seeing is fully in line with the dysfunction that has characterized the Trump administration’s entire response to COVID-19. President-elect Biden cannot be sworn in fast enough.”

Children head to school in Goochland County. (NBC12 via Goochland County Public Schools) Gov. Ralph Northam’s latest message to local school systems is to start thinking about reopening — and soon. “In the short term, all of our school divisions need to be making plans for how to reopen,” he said at a news briefing on Thursday. “It’s not going to happen next week. But I want our schools to come from this starting point: how do we get schools open safely?” Some division leaders said the new directive — accompanied by interim guidance from the Virginia Department of Health and Department of Education — represented a significant departure from the state’s earlier messaging on in-person instruction. Virginia’s initial guidance, released in July, emphasized that the final decision on reopening laid “squarely in the hands of local school boards” amid uncertain evidence on the role of children in COVID-19 transmission. But a new letter from Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane and state Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver assured superintendents, school leadership and local health departments that “data increasingly suggest that school reopenings are unlikely to contribute significantly to community transmission when rates of community transmission are low and schools have infection prevention measures in place.” The accompanying guidance includes a decision-making matrix that elevates individual mitigation measures over levels of community transmission. In a separate briefing later on Thursday, Lane said many divisions have been basing their reopening decisions primarily on top indicators from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which advise schools to consider community case rates and the percentage of positive tests over the last two weeks. New guidance from the Virginia Department of Education urges schools to consider individual COVID-19 mitigation measures over community transmission when making decisions on reopening. But Lane said heavier consideration should go to the ability of local schools to implement mitigation measures such as mask usage, sanitation and social distancing. Other main considerations include whether there’s evidence of spread within school buildings themselves, as well as the impact that school closures have had on the surrounding community. “Even if they’re in the highest category of community transmission — and even more so for low and moderate — we recommend that they maximize in-person learning as much as possible,” Lane said. The recommendations also call on schools to prioritize instruction for more vulnerable students, including young learners, students with disabilities and English language learners. And instead of making district-wide and long-term decisions — opting for remote learning over an entire quarter or semester, for example — officials say schools should have the flexibility to phase out decisions after a few weeks. “If there’s low absenteeism, there’s no case transmission in buildings, your staff capacity isn’t strained — that school should have some in-person options,” Lane said. “If there’s an outbreak in a school, certainly think of closing for some time. But if there are no outbreaks and no transmission in the school community, we’re saying you should open as long as you can do mitigation strategies.” However, as contact tracing resources have grown increasingly strained, most local health departments are prioritizing outbreaks and other cases that pose a significant public health risk. If multiple students or staff members test positive after close contact or sharing a potential exposure, health officials will likely investigate to determine if there was in-school transmission. But there’s little data on how most individual cases were contracted, and many local health officials have warned it’s become increasingly difficult to catch infected students or staff before they enter school buildings. Reopening decisions have sparked fierce debate in local communities since Northam first announced a framework to bring students back to the classroom — four months after becoming one of the first governors in the country to close schools for the remainder of the spring semester. Lane emphasized that the state never required schools to adopt remote instruction after releasing its first round of guidance in July. But those guidelines heavily emphasized CDC recommendations and asked schools to notify VDOE if they planned to deviate from the state’s framework. THE MORNING NEWSLETTER Subscribe now. By early September, the majority of local school divisions — 67 in total — had chosen to begin the fall semester remotely. As of Thursday, that number had dropped to 52. But Keith Perrigan, the superintendent for Bristol Public Schools in Southwest Virginia, said much of the ongoing caution stemmed from the original guidance, which took a more incremental approach to bringing students back to the classroom. “This is a huge change,” he said. “The previous phase guidance, it was probably more of a recommendation to be cautious. And I think the new guidance is to try your very best to reopen. If you can mitigate appropriately, you ought to do what you can to get back in school.” There’s still no mandate for school divisions to follow the state’s revised guidance. Lane said Thursday that the Virginia Constitution left the final decision with local school boards. But education officials also faced heavy criticism from some superintendents earlier this year for allowing local divisions to deviate from the original plan. State Superintendent James Lane in 2016, when he was named superintendent for Chesterfield Public Schools. (NBC12) Some school systems have already made the decision to stay closed until at least the early spring — something Lane said he’d recommend reconsidering in light of the new guidance and the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. But there are also continued debates even in districts that have prioritized in-person learning. In Chesterfield County, which announced plans to bring back elementary students next month, parents launched a petition calling on the school system to reverse the decision and keep schools mostly closed until teachers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Both Northam and Lane faced significant questioning over the timing of the new guidelines, given that many schools have already announced reopening decisions for the spring. Virginia is also experiencing an ongoing surge of COVID-19 which some models suggest could continue until February. Rates of community transmission are consistently higher across Virginia than they’ve been at any other point during the pandemic. Daily new cases have risen in all five geographic regions throughout the early days of January, and hospitalizations are at an all-time high. Many health systems have voluntarily canceled elective surgeries or announced new surge plans to boost capacity for an ongoing influx of cases. Lane said announcing the new guidance would give school districts the opportunity to prepare their plans in the coming weeks — even as Virginia contemplates longer-term changes such as year-round instruction to make up for learning loss during the pandemic. Northam also touted the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines as an important step in returning students safely to the classroom. “While getting everyone vaccinated isn’t necessary to reopening schools, it will make it a lot easier,” he said. Eleven local health districts have begun vaccinating educators — or plan to start soon — after moving into Phase 1b of the state’s vaccine campaign. Students at Watkins Elementary in Chesterfield County attend class wearing masks. Chesterfield returned to all virtual learning after Thanksgiving. (Chesterfield County Public Schools) But the timeline for the rest of the state remains unclear. As of Thursday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked Virginia in the low bottom third of all U.S. states when it came to immunizing residents. The same day, VDH’s vaccine reporting dashboard showed that only about 25 percent of shots distributed across the state had made their way into patients’ arms. And throughout November and December, some health districts advised in-person schools to again close their buildings, warning that the surging cases made it impossible for them to trace and investigate new infections. In Bristol, Perrigan said it was the first dose of vaccines — administered by the local health department earlier this week — that helped reassure teachers more than anything else. “That’s what had the biggest impact — the availability of vaccines,” he said. “I think a lot of pressure was released once our staff was able to get that first round.”
Virginia Mercury, Kate MastersJanuary 15, 2021 (Medium)
Children head to school in Goochland County. (NBC12 via Goochland County Public Schools)

Gov. Ralph Northam’s latest message to local school systems is to start thinking about reopening — and soon.

“In the short term, all of our school divisions need to be making plans for how to reopen,” he said at a news briefing on Thursday. “It’s not going to happen next week. But I want our schools to come from this starting point: how do we get schools open safely?”

Some division leaders said the new directive — accompanied by interim guidance from the Virginia Department of Health and Department of Education — represented a significant departure from the state’s earlier messaging on in-person instruction. Virginia’s initial guidance, released in July, emphasized that the final decision on reopening laid “squarely in the hands of local school boards” amid uncertain evidence on the role of children in COVID-19 transmission.

But a new letter from Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane and state Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver assured superintendents, school leadership and local health departments that “data increasingly suggest that school reopenings are unlikely to contribute significantly to community transmission when rates of community transmission are low and schools have infection prevention measures in place.”

The accompanying guidance includes a decision-making matrix that elevates individual mitigation measures over levels of community transmission. In a separate briefing later on Thursday, Lane said many divisions have been basing their reopening decisions primarily on top indicators from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which advise schools to consider community case rates and the percentage of positive tests over the last two weeks.

New guidance from the Virginia Department of Education urges schools to consider individual COVID-19 mitigation measures over community transmission when making decisions on reopening.

But Lane said heavier consideration should go to the ability of local schools to implement mitigation measures such as mask usage, sanitation and social distancing. Other main considerations include whether there’s evidence of spread within school buildings themselves, as well as the impact that school closures have had on the surrounding community.

“Even if they’re in the highest category of community transmission — and even more so for low and moderate — we recommend that they maximize in-person learning as much as possible,” Lane said.

The recommendations also call on schools to prioritize instruction for more vulnerable students, including young learners, students with disabilities and English language learners. And instead of making district-wide and long-term decisions — opting for remote learning over an entire quarter or semester, for example — officials say schools should have the flexibility to phase out decisions after a few weeks.

“If there’s low absenteeism, there’s no case transmission in buildings, your staff capacity isn’t strained — that school should have some in-person options,” Lane said. “If there’s an outbreak in a school, certainly think of closing for some time. But if there are no outbreaks and no transmission in the school community, we’re saying you should open as long as you can do mitigation strategies.”

However, as contact tracing resources have grown increasingly strained, most local health departments are prioritizing outbreaks and other cases that pose a significant public health risk. If multiple students or staff members test positive after close contact or sharing a potential exposure, health officials will likely investigate to determine if there was in-school transmission. But there’s little data on how most individual cases were contracted, and many local health officials have warned it’s become increasingly difficult to catch infected students or staff before they enter school buildings.

Reopening decisions have sparked fierce debate in local communities since Northam first announced a framework to bring students back to the classroom — four months after becoming one of the first governors in the country to close schools for the remainder of the spring semester.

Lane emphasized that the state never required schools to adopt remote instruction after releasing its first round of guidance in July. But those guidelines heavily emphasized CDC recommendations and asked schools to notify VDOE if they planned to deviate from the state’s framework.

THE MORNING NEWSLETTER
Subscribe now.

By early September, the majority of local school divisions — 67 in total — had chosen to begin the fall semester remotely. As of Thursday, that number had dropped to 52. But Keith Perrigan, the superintendent for Bristol Public Schools in Southwest Virginia, said much of the ongoing caution stemmed from the original guidance, which took a more incremental approach to bringing students back to the classroom.

“This is a huge change,” he said. “The previous phase guidance, it was probably more of a recommendation to be cautious. And I think the new guidance is to try your very best to reopen. If you can mitigate appropriately, you ought to do what you can to get back in school.”

There’s still no mandate for school divisions to follow the state’s revised guidance. Lane said Thursday that the Virginia Constitution left the final decision with local school boards. But education officials also faced heavy criticism from some superintendents earlier this year for allowing local divisions to deviate from the original plan.

State Superintendent James Lane in 2016, when he was named superintendent for Chesterfield Public Schools. (NBC12)

Some school systems have already made the decision to stay closed until at least the early spring — something Lane said he’d recommend reconsidering in light of the new guidance and the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. But there are also continued debates even in districts that have prioritized in-person learning. In Chesterfield County, which announced plans to bring back elementary students next month, parents launched a petition calling on the school system to reverse the decision and keep schools mostly closed until teachers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Both Northam and Lane faced significant questioning over the timing of the new guidelines, given that many schools have already announced reopening decisions for the spring. Virginia is also experiencing an ongoing surge of COVID-19 which some models suggest could continue until February. Rates of community transmission are consistently higher across Virginia than they’ve been at any other point during the pandemic. Daily new cases have risen in all five geographic regions throughout the early days of January, and hospitalizations are at an all-time high. Many health systems have voluntarily canceled elective surgeries or announced new surge plans to boost capacity for an ongoing influx of cases.

Lane said announcing the new guidance would give school districts the opportunity to prepare their plans in the coming weeks — even as Virginia contemplates longer-term changes such as year-round instruction to make up for learning loss during the pandemic. Northam also touted the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines as an important step in returning students safely to the classroom.

“While getting everyone vaccinated isn’t necessary to reopening schools, it will make it a lot easier,” he said. Eleven local health districts have begun vaccinating educators — or plan to start soon — after moving into Phase 1b of the state’s vaccine campaign.

Students at Watkins Elementary in Chesterfield County attend class wearing masks. Chesterfield returned to all virtual learning after Thanksgiving. (Chesterfield County Public Schools)

But the timeline for the rest of the state remains unclear. As of Thursday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked Virginia in the low bottom third of all U.S. states when it came to immunizing residents. The same day, VDH’s vaccine reporting dashboard showed that only about 25 percent of shots distributed across the state had made their way into patients’ arms.

And throughout November and December, some health districts advised in-person schools to again close their buildings, warning that the surging cases made it impossible for them to trace and investigate new infections. In Bristol, Perrigan said it was the first dose of vaccines — administered by the local health department earlier this week — that helped reassure teachers more than anything else.

“That’s what had the biggest impact — the availability of vaccines,” he said. “I think a lot of pressure was released once our staff was able to get that first round.”

Virginia pushes back estimate for vaccinating all residents for COVID-19
Virginia Mercury, Kate Masters January 11, 2021 (Medium)
Gov. Ralph Northam speaks at a news conference in August. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Every Virginian vaccinated by early to mid-summer?

Many experts say it’s no longer likely. Gov. Ralph Northam has also readjusted earlier — and more optimistic — estimates from late November, when he spoke to NPR about the state’s COVID-19 vaccination plans.

“Phase three will be the general population and hopefully by, you know, early to midsummer have everybody in Virginia vaccinated,” he said at the time. But after a slower-than-expected rollout — both in Virginia and across the country — the administration has slightly revised its targets.

“The governor is still hopeful that everyone will have the opportunity to be vaccinated by mid-summer to fall,” spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky wrote in an email on Tuesday. The administration’s prospective timeline includes a few caveats, including the fact that children under 16 — or roughly 2 million Virginians — won’t be included in the overall total because a vaccine hasn’t yet been approved for them.

The goal also assumes that some of the state’s residents will decline the vaccine (“although we’re hopeful that is not a large percentage and will decrease further as this process continues,” Yarmosky wrote). And ultimately, it means Virginia will need to be administering at least 50,000 doses a day, which is contingent on new vaccines entering the market and an increase in federal shipments.

Yarmosky pointed to recent changes that have inspired optimism from state leaders across the country. One, announced Friday, is that the Biden administration plans to begin releasing available vaccines immediately, rather than holding back a second dose from shipments from Pfizer and Moderna.

But even with the change in administration, many experts say there needs to be a rapid shift in how COVID-19 vaccines are distributed and administered in order to meet a late-summer to fall target. Mark Capofari — who worked for Pfizer and spent more than a decade as the director of global logistics at Merck before becoming a full-time lecturer at Penn State — thinks vaccinations will be ongoing well into the third quarter of the year, which stretches from July to September.

Thomas Denny, the chief operating officer of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute, said it might take even longer for most of the public to get inoculated — possibly not until October or November.

“I got a bit more optimistic when it looked like vaccines were coming and we’d have a good number of doses to start out with,” he said. “But then in between late December and so far in January, just about every place has missed its mark with using the amount of doses they’ve gotten.”

“I’m now back to thinking that it’s not likely by the summer that we’ll achieve it,” he continued.

When the vaccine will be accessible to most Virginians has been a major question since the state received its first doses in mid-December. The Northam administration has tentatively predicted that Phase 1a — when vaccines are prioritized for health care providers and long-term care facilities — could conclude by the end of this month. But there’s already been some overlap with Phase 1b, which includes first responders, correction officers and teachers, followed by other frontline personnel such as grocery store clerks and mail carriers.

On Friday, the Virginia Department of Health announced that 11 local districts across the state were beginning Phase 1b early after vaccinating the majority of their medical workers and long-term care residents. Scheduling an appointment would “depend on the supply of vaccine available,” the department warned, and the phase is likely to take “several weeks to months” even with an early start.

But at a briefing last week, Northam also outlined prioritization plans for Phase 1c, the next step of the state’s vaccine campaign, which will include other essential workers in construction, transportation and utilities.

Providing a clear timeline for all the different subgroups can be complicated. VDH guidelines set a clear order for frontline workers in Phase 1b “because there is not sufficient supply at this time to vaccinate everyone at the same time.” But Virginians aged 75 and older are also included in Phase 1b, and it’s unclear where they fall in the order of prioritization.

Northam emphasized flexibility in his briefing last week, saying he’d rather see providers administer more doses than hew strictly to the state’s guidance. But given the state’s current pace, it’s unclear when the next two phases — which cover about half of the state’s roughly 8.5 million residents — will fully get underway.

As of Friday, the state had received 481,550 doses of vaccine and administered nearly 150,000, or about 30 percent of its total allocation. Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said Tuesday that the Virginia Department of Health’s vaccine reporting dashboard could be undercounting anywhere from 35,000 to 55,000, which would push the state’s total closer to 40 percent.

Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker ranks Virginia above nearby states including Pennsylvania, North Carolina and South Carolina, but below neighbors such as Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia (which has an administration rate more than double the Old Dominion’s). And some experts, including Denny and Bruce Y. Lee, a professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy, say the haphazard rollout of vaccines across the country is mainly attributable to poor federal planning.

“When it comes right down to it, very few states have the wherewithal or the resources for the kind of coordination that’s required,” said Lee, who also works as the executive director of CUNY’s Public Health Computational and Operations Research. “That needed to come from the federal government.”

But Capofari said that state planning also played a major role, pointing to sometimes drastically different vaccination rates across the country. Funding makes a major difference, as does intensive planning and coordination between different agencies and providers.

He pointed to hospitals and local health departments — two settings where the state has routed a significant number of vaccines, though the Virginia Department of Health still can’t say which vaccines went where. If hospitals are going to play a role in vaccinating groups other than their own employees, Capofari said they need clear guidance on who to prioritize and how to reach them. And if hospitals are expected to transport any surplus doses to other settings, there needs to be clear communication and a plan of action, from which facility is responsible for transporting the vaccine to the equipment they’ll use to preserve the doses to when the delivery will be made.

“I think there’s still a lot of uncertainty still as to what the plans are and even where to do the inoculations and how to go about it,” he said.

Regulators want to extend Virginia’s expiring pandemic workplace safety rules
Virginia Mercury, Ned OliverJanuary 11, 2021 (Medium)

Brandon

 

Gov. Ralph Northam at a press conference in October. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Gov. Ralph Northam acknowledged Wednesday that Virginia needs to speed up the pace of its COVID-19 vaccinations, announcing a “you use it or you lose it policy” prodding health care providers to administer the shots to more residents.

“I want you to empty those freezers and get shots in arms,” he said. “When you have vials, give out shots until they’re gone. No one wants to see any supplies sitting unused.”

The governor’s news briefing — his first in nearly a month — came as Virginia experiences its worst COVID-19 caseload than at any other point in the pandemic. The statewide percent positivity rate rose to nearly 17 percent on Wednesday, and Northam pointed out that daily case numbers are currently four times higher than they were in the spring — an average of more than 4,700 new infections every day.

At the same time, Virginia has been grappling with a sluggish rollout of a vaccine described by the governor as “the most powerful tool — the one that’s going to literally change things.” Northam has not announced new restrictions since early December, but has described COVID-19 vaccines as a ray of hope in the ongoing pandemic.

Many states have struggled with administering the shots after the federal government shipped out early doses in mid-December. But until recently, Virginia ranked 46th in the country when it came to the percentage of vaccines administered among states, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. The state’s rating has improved, but thousands of vaccines still have yet to make their way into the arms of Virginians.

State health officials also elaborated on reporting issues that have prevented administered doses from appearing on the Virginia Department of Health’s vaccine reporting dashboard. Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said Wednesday that the department updated its internal immunization reporting system in anticipation of the COVID-19 vaccine, but that some providers, as a result, have struggled to enter data in a timely manner. There have also been technical glitches that have prevented some health systems’ vaccines from hitting the dashboard.

Northam’s spokeswoman, Alena Yarmosky, said that in some cases, providers are reporting vaccinations but the data is appearing inaccurately in the state’s system, requiring VDH employees to go back and verify the numbers. As a result of all the problems, Oliver said that the state’s totals could be undercounting anywhere from 35,000 to 55,000 doses.

“We’re actually doing better than we appear,” he said after the briefing. But even if 55,000 was added to the state’s total number of administered vaccines, it would mean that health providers have given out around 171,247 of the 481,550 doses delivered to the state — around 35 percent.

To address the slow rollout, Northam announced several steps the administration plans to take over the next several weeks.

A provider with Augusta Health administers a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine this week. (Courtesy of Augusta Health)

New goals for administering the vaccine

Northam outlined new goals for giving out the vaccine as one of the first steps in his plan to ramp up administration. Currently, he said the state receives roughly 110,000 doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccine a week, which equates to an immediate goal of delivering 14,000 shots a day to fully use up that supply.

On Wednesday, VDH reported that 2,695 doses had been administered in the last 24 hours. That daily increase has been as high as 12,000 in recent days, but Yarmosky said the large jump was the result of backlogged data. Current reporting delays make it difficult for the department to assess daily progress, which is why resolving those issues is an instrumental part of achieving the governor’s goal, she added.

Longer-term, Northam said he’d like to build up to 25,000 daily doses — a number that also depends on federal officials ramping up shipments to states. Oliver later said the goal was achievable if President-elect Joe Biden delivered on his promise to distribute 100 million shots within his first 100 days in office. Yarmosky also said the state’s daily goal would increase with the greater supply.

‘Lose it or lose it’

Northam’s newly announced policy is directed at health systems, local health departments and other clinical settings that receive doses of the vaccine. The governor said with the next shipment of Pfizer and Moderna doses, VDH would expand its reporting so Virginians can see where vaccines are delivered and how quickly they’re being used.

“Virginians, you deserve this transparency,” he said. State officials will also monitor usage, and sites that don’t fully use their allocated doses could face reduced shipments going forward.

“Don’t save anything,” Northam said. “You’re going to get every dose you need because more is coming. But if you’re not using what you receive, you must be getting too much.”

A plan for next phases

The governor also unveiled priority groups for Phase 1b and 1c,  the next stages in the state’s vaccination campaign. According to Yarmosky, the current phase — 1a, which includes medical workers and long-term care facilities — should be finished by late January. VDH spokeswoman Erin Beard told the Mercury yesterday that moving onto later phases is based on whether “vaccine supply significantly increases” and “if vaccine demand is less than supply.”

Phase 1b will include essential and frontline workers — “people who work in jobs that keep society functioning,” Northam said. That includes roughly 285,000 teachers and childcare providers, along with first responders, mail carriers, corrections officers and grocery store workers. Essential workers in manufacturing and food production will also be included, as will public transit employees.

All adults aged 75 or older will also be included in phase 1b.

Phase 1c will cover essential workers in construction, transportation, and food service, such as restaurant servers, as well as adults aged 65 or older and all Virginians between 16 and 65 with high-risk medical conditions. The two groups — phase 1b and 1c — cover about half of the state’s roughly 8.5 million residents, Northam said, before the vaccine will move to the general public.

But the logistics of moving onto different phases — and the details of how state officials will ensure quicker innoculation — are largely unclear. Northam appointed Dr. Danny Avula, the director of the Richmond-Henrico Health Department, to oversee and coordinate statewide vaccination efforts, saying more details would become available in the coming weeks.

Dr. Danny Avula speaks at an event in 2018 during which he was named director of both the Richmond and Henrico County health departments. (Katie O’Connor/Virginia Mercury)

But as the Mercury has reported, some large health systems are vaccinating non-clinical employees who have worked from home since the start of the pandemic — even as some community providers struggle to book appointments with their local health departments.

Northam emphasized Wednesday that distribution sites should err on the side of vaccinating Virginians rather than holding doses based on prioritization. But Oliver also said that sites should follow the state’s guidance whenever possible “because that’s been well thought through” (he later added that VDH advised against giving out doses to Virginians who aren’t frontline workers, including anyone who can work from home).

What’s not clear is how Virginians in phase 1b and 1c will be notified that they’re eligible for the vaccine and when it becomes available. It’s also still unclear how health systems will manage excess doses. Northam said his administration hasn’t heard of vaccines being wasted, but Oliver later said anecdotal data suggests that only 60 percent of EMS workers and nurses have opted for vaccination.

Whether health systems will assist in vaccinating other priority groups remains to be seen. Oliver said it would require close collaboration with local health departments so that hospitals could redistribute unused doses to other settings.

“Maybe they vaccinate, maybe they just provide the supplies,” he said. “And we would shift the allocations if they weren’t using them.”

 

Virginia state senator dies of COVID-19 complications
Virginia Mercury, Robert ZulloJanuary 1, 2021 (Short)
Sen. Ben Chafin, R-Russell. (Photo by Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Virginia State Sen. A. Benton “Ben” Chafin Jr., R-Russell, has died of COVID-19, the Senate Republican leadership announced Friday evening.

“Tonight, as the Senate of Virginia comes to grips with this tremendous and untimely loss caused by COVID-19, our sympathy and prayers are with Ben’s wife, Lora Lee, their children and grandchildren, and Ben’s mother and his sister, Justice Teresa Chafin,” Senate Republican Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, said in a statement.

Chafin, 60, was born in Abingdon and was briefly a member of the House of Delegates before winning a special election to the Senate in 2014. He is the first Virginia lawmaker to die from the virus, though several have had bouts with COVID-19, as has Gov. Ralph Northam and his wife, Pam.

“Ben was deeply and wholeheartedly committed to the commonwealth, and especially to the people of Southwest Virginia. A community leader in Russell, Ben rose to prominence in the fields of law, banking and agriculture long before his neighbors elected him to the General Assembly,” Norment said.

“First as delegate and then senator, Ben relentlessly promoted and fought for the interests and values of Southwest. He put the interests of those he was entrusted to serve first, cherishing the people of the region he proudly called ‘home.’”

Northam, a Democrat and former state senator who also presided over the chamber as lieutenant governor, said Southwest Virginia had “lost a strong advocate — and we have all lost a good man.”

“I knew Ben as a lawmaker, an attorney, a banker, and a farmer raising beef cattle in Moccasin Valley, working the land just as generations of his family had done before him. He loved the outdoors, and he loved serving people even more. He pushed hard to bring jobs and investment to his district, and I will always be grateful for his courageous vote to expand health care for people who need it,” Northam said, referring to Chafin’s vote to expand Medicaid in 2018. Northam has ordered the state flag to be lowered to half-staff.

“Pam and I are praying for Lora and their children. … This is sad news to begin a new year with the loss of a kind and gracious man. May we all recommit to taking extra steps to care for one another,” Northam said.

The Roanoke Times reported that Chafin had tested positive for the virus in December but that his family kept the diagnosis private for weeks.

Democratic House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, said she was “deeply saddened” by Chafin’s death, which comes less than two weeks before the General Assembly is scheduled to convene on Jan. 13.

“I respected his commitment to the people of the 38th senatorial district and his strong advocacy on their behalf,” she said.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, said Chafin “epitomized the Virginia gentleman — he was compassionate, thoughtful and cared deeply for his district and all Virginians. We will miss him dearly.”

The consequences of rugged individualism in a pandemic
Virginia Mercury, Roger Chesley October 29, 2020 (Short)
A masked protester near the Virginia State Capitol during a “Reopen Virginia Rally” in Richmond, Va., April 22, 2020. (Parker Michels-Boyce/ For the Virginia Mercury)

Americans can be a selfish lot. Not everybody, of course. But too many people couldn’t care less about taking the necessary steps to keep deaths and infections from COVID-19 at bay.

It’s not that hard: Stay at home as much as possible. Wear a mask out in public and in buildings. Wash your hands. Avoid situations where you can’t stay at least 6 feet apart. Treat workers with respect and deference who must come into contact with consumers. Limit the number of people at social gatherings.

Folks, none of these are Herculean tasks. We’re not being asked to climb mountains, mine for ore or donate a kidney just to survive.

Yet several months into this raging pandemic, the “me-first” mentality is readily apparent, in the commonwealth and elsewhere:

• The Virginia Department of Health issued a news release last week noting COVID-19 cases were surging in Norton city and Lee, Scott and Wise counties. “Keep in mind that your behavior can help protect yourself and others — or put you and them at increased risk,” said Dr. Sue Cantrell, a director of health districts in the area. (I tried to interview Cantrell about whether resistance to mask-wearing contributed to the numbers, but I couldn’t reach her.)

• A mid-October wedding at Wintergreen Resort forced several employees to quarantine because of possible exposure to COVID-19, an official said. Some staffers tested positive. Weddings are special, but shouldn’t couples limit the number of guests because of the times we’re in? Even then, you don’t know if all the well-wishers had recent tests confirming they were free of the virus.

• Lynchburg General Hospital’s acute care facilities were “strained,” a top official said, because of an influx of coronavirus patients last week.

• Despite new restrictions imposed by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker prohibiting indoor dining in specific communities, a throng of customers showed up and packed a restaurant in defiance of the guidelines, the Chicago Tribune reported. The restaurant’s social media post said it was opening “out of survival and to help our staff pay their bills.” Yet Pritzker this week warned “there seems to be a COVID storm coming.”

The United States has proved the days of exceptionalism are over — unless you’re talking about leading everybody else with more than 226,000 deaths. By mid-October, the United States had the highest numbers of COVID-19 infections and deaths, and officials said we’ve entered a third peak of cases in many states.

We don’t have a vaccine. So why is it so hard for Americans to do what medical experts advise to fight this thing?

University professors I interviewed and scholarly articles suggested several reasons: Partisanship, since many Republicans followed President Donald Trump’s lead in downplaying or even denying the coronavirus’ existence, and they resisted wearing masks. A rugged individualism — baked into the nation’s founding — over working for the common good. And pandemic fatigue, even as there’s no end in sight to the carnage.

“We are a country that values individualism, materialism and wealth over the well-being of our neighbors,” Tim Goler, assistant professor of sociology and urban affairs at Norfolk State University, told me. He’s one of the researchers overseeing a pandemic study of older adults.

Goler added that people are fed up with being at home, especially if they haven’t been directly affected by deaths or illnesses: “They’re willing to sacrifice people dying.” You saw indications of this even earlier this year, when protesters demanded states to reopen their economies — even as spikes of infections continued.

“The pandemic has exposed the extent to which we do not live in a ‘United States of America,’ ” said Ernestine Duncan, a psychology professor at NSU. She noted people in other nations have accepted strong restrictions on movements and behavior, and they’re faring better than the U.S.

Clearly, we’re an individualistic society, Duncan noted.

It made me wonder about the last time our sprawling, populous country really sacrificed as a whole for the common good. Historians might point to World War II, in which food, gasoline and clothes were rationed.

Officials and residents collected scrap metal and rubber for the war effort. Women entered defense plants to work because so many men had joined the military and people grew “Victory Gardens” in large numbers to supplement their meals.

The circumstances, though, aren’t totally analogous. Back then, Americans were forced into rationing because of governmental mandates; that hasn’t always been the case this time. Trump has hesitated to restrict the movements and actions of citizens in spite of the way the coronavirus is transmitted.

In the 21st century, our rugged, go-it-alone mentality has horrific consequences. We shouldn’t be surprised by the ever-rising COVID-19 death toll if we continue to be more concerned about individual comfort rather than our collective safety.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy — an awful one.

Virginia COVID-19 Briefing
October 28, 2020 (59:00)
Virginia health officials issue COVID-19 warning over small gatherings
Adrianna Hargrove and Henry Graff October 28, 2020 (Short)

Virginia Health Officials are warning about small gatherings. It’s part of the concern over rising numbers in southwest Virginia but the message goes to the entire state as we head into the holidays.

“Coming together as an extended family as if you are in one household does present risk,” said Dr. Daniel Carey, Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources.

During a COVID-19 briefing Wednesday, Governor Ralph Northam said those gatherings are the reason behind a percent positivity climb from 5% to 8% in southwest Virginia.

“I know that many people are tired of COVID restrictions. We are all tired of not having social get togethers, not going to see sports or shows, not having the regular interactions that we count on in our lives,” said Northam.

Virginia COVID-19 Briefing
October 13, 2020 (54:00)
Virginia COVID-19 Briefing
September 15, 2020 (40:00)
Virginia COVID-19 Briefing
August 5, 2020 (01:00:00)
Virginia COVID-19 Briefing
July 28, 2020 (55:00)

To understand the mind of a teacher, those of us who do other things for a living must attempt some mental gymnastics.

Let’s imagine a professional passion so acute that when the coronavirus shuttered classrooms, they pivoted with little warning or rehearsal to digitally link dozens of children from home and continue daily instruction remotely.

Close your eyes and comprehend a devotion to students so strong that you spend your personal money to supplement classroom supplies as eclectic as sanitizing wipes and Elmer’s glue, crepe paper and whiteboard markers.

Now, as days start shortening and summer bends toward autumn and a new academic calendar, imagine balancing your innate yearning for the classroom with a well-reasoned fear of a monstrously contagious, potentially deadly virus that medicine still can’t control and science doesn’t fully understand.

Finally, overlay that against the backdrop of political conflict and chaos that multiplies by the day.

Virginia prison system says active COVID-19 cases down to 22
Virginia Mercury, Ned OliverJuly 13, 2020 (Short)

The Virginia Department of Corrections says it’s down to 22 active cases of COVID-19 among inmates in the 40 prisons it operates around the state.

Gov. Ralph Northam’s secretary of public safety, Brian Moran, touted the figures Friday, which include six hospitalized prisoners and 16 still being held at various correctional facilities. He emphasized the latter number in a presentation to lawmakers.

“We have 16, let me repeat, 16 active cases in all of our correctional facilities,” he said during a joint meeting of the Senate’s judiciary and social services committees. “That’s out of 28,000 inmates, 40 correctional facilities. Sixteen — one six — active cases.”

Virginia is refusing to release information on COVID-19 outbreaks at poultry processing plants on the grounds of privacy concerns, despite a June decision to provide such data for long-term care facilities.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Mercury in June after Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration began releasing facility-specific data for nursing homes, the Virginia Department of Health said it would not provide the same information for poultry processing plants “in order to ensure that VDH is able to preserve the anonymity of individuals whose medical records have been examined during the investigation of COVID-19.”

“VDH is considering how to make the information you have requested available at the health district and/or regional level,” wrote VDH Deputy Commissioner for Governmental and Regulatory Affairs Joseph Hilbert in an email.

Neither a followup request to Hilbert nor an inquiry to the governor’s office about the justification for releasing such information for nursing homes but not poultry plants were answered.

News & Events

Among the things that Pearl Barry is excited to do once she’s fully vaccinated: hang out with friends, eat inside at restaurants and visit SkyZone, a sprawling indoor trampoline park.

“I mean, obviously,” said the eight-year-old from Bon Air. “Who wouldn’t be?” She got her first dose of Pfizer’s pediatric vaccine on Wednesday night, and besides the hour-long wait at her local Walgreens, the process went relatively smoothly. The shot itself felt like the smallest pinch ever, Pearl said — more like a mosquito bite. And her dad, Tim Barry, was equally relieved to see both Pearl and her 5-year-old sister, June, take their first steps toward full immunization.

“Pearl probably asks to go to SkyZone two or three times a week,” he said. “So we’re really excited to have this coincide with Christmas and be able to be more free about seeing friends and family.”

Across Virginia, other parents are feeling the same jubilation. In the first week after federal officials authorized Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for 5 to 11-year-olds, more than 35,000 children received their first dose — close to 5 percent of the state’s total population in that age group, according to data from the Virginia Department of Health.

After months of anticipation from families, Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccines for five to 11-year-olds were authorized Tuesday after a sign-off from Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But doctors and local health officials are urging patience even as thousands of vaccines, specially formulated for pediatric patients, flow into Virginia. State vaccine coordinator Dr. Danny Avula said supply isn’t a concern for health officials. But the first shipment of doses will be divided across the state and, in many cases, redistributed to local providers, likely creating some backlogs when it comes to booking appointments.

“The availability is a little constrained because this is a new vial, it’s new packaging, it’s a new buffer,” said Breanne Forbes Hubbard, population health manager for the Mount Rogers Health District in southwestern Virginia. “So, we can’t just draw up from existing adult vials, unfortunately, because we have plenty of those ready to go.”

According to Avula, a total of 377,000 pediatric doses are expected to be delivered to Virginia in the first week of shipments — 252,000 of which will go to health departments, private practices and health systems. Another 125,000 will be delivered to pharmacies through a partnership with the federal government.

COVID booster shots in Va. are outpacing first doses, and nearly all have gone to white residents
Richmond Times-Dispatch, Sabrina MorenoOctober 29, 2021 (Medium)

Fully vaccinated Virginians are receiving COVID-19 booster shots at more than double the rate of people getting their first dose, according to a Richmond Times-Dispatch analysis of Virginia Department of Health data.
Of the nearly 728,000 vaccinations recorded between Sept. 27 and Friday — a time frame that widened the eligibility for Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson booster shots to millions of residents — the majority were third doses or boosters.
Less than a quarter were first jabs against the coronavirus.
The pattern is unsurprising, said Dr. Michael Stevens, interim hospital epidemiologist at VCU Health. But it’s widening the gulf between who faces the least and most severe risk of infection heading into the winter months.

“Every person who gets vaccinated sort of helps the overall population prevent COVID from spreading in the population, but until you get to that magic herd immunity number, which people talk about and no one knows quite exactly what that number is, no. We’re not going to stop seeing spread in the community,” Stevens said. “We’re not going to stop seeing surges.”

Va. health secretary stepping down as Northam term soon ends
Associated PressOctober 26, 2021 (Short)

Virginia’s health secretary, who’s held a key role in the state government response to the COVID-19 pandemic, is leaving his job as Gov. Ralph Northam’s term soon closes to work for a nonprofit health system.

Dan Carey’s last day at the post will be Friday, Northam’s office told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He will become chief medical officer for Providence Physician Enterprise, a collective of affiliated physicians and medical groups based in Washington, D.C.

Carey was named secretary of health and human resources shortly before Northam took office in 2018. He was a key adviser to the governor on pandemic restrictions and public messaging.

In a letter to the governor’s Cabinet, Carey said serving as secretary “has been the greatest privilege of my professional life,” and described the last two years as “immersive and all-consuming.”

Carey is the latest top official in the Northam administration to leave before his term ends in January. Others include finance secretary Aubrey Layne, chief counsel Rita Davis and natural resources secretary Matt Strickler.

Vanessa Walker Harris, the deputy health secretary, will be elevated to the secretary’s post.

RICHMOND, Va. — The health department reported 11,817 more people tested positive for COVID-19 out of the 234,604 total tests processed over the past week. That brings Virginia’s total number of coronavirus cases to 914,755.

As of Friday’s update, 38,269 (+502 from the Friday before) people had been hospitalized and 13,668 (+277) people had died as a result of COVID-19-related illnesses, according to updated Virginia Department of Health (VDH) data.

RELATED: 11,800+ new cases reported this week; 62.3% of Virginians now fully vaccinated

Scroll down for complete city/county-by-county breakdown of COVID-19 cases in Virginia

What’s next for COVID-19 in Virginia?
Virginia Mercury, Kate MastersOctober 18, 2021 (Medium)

Nearly 18 months after Virginia’s first recorded case of COVID-19 — a period that’s seen the virus surge and retreat four different times — new infections are once again on the decline. Once again, many researchers are cautiously optimistic that we’re leaving behind the latest wave, driven by the highly infectious delta variant, which raised hospitalizations in some areas of the state higher than they were last winter.

That doesn’t mean we’ve beaten the virus.

“We still have a very high case rate, like most of the states in the country,” said Bryan Lewis, a computational epidemiologist with the University of Virginia’s Biocomplexity Institute. “We’ve been down for a few weeks, so everybody feels good, but there are still a lot of people going into the hospital.”

As of Friday, Virginia was still recording an average of more than 2,000 new infections a day. More than 1,500 patients are hospitalized with coronavirus in the average week, according to data from the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association. Those figures seem particularly stark compared to this summer, when daily new cases dropped below 150 and COVID hospitalizations reached an all-time low.

In the face of frightening statistics, health officials push pregnant women to get vaccine
Virginian-Pilot, Elisha SauersOctober 13, 2021 (Medium)

At least six pregnant Virginians have died of COVID-19, and 346 have been admitted to hospitals for serious illnesses.
It’s not known what happened to their babies — whether any were lost or if they got sick. Virginia Department of Health officials said they don’t have data on their outcomes.

Pregnant people are more likely to get severely ill if they contract the virus than those who aren’t, state epidemiologists said. If they have underlying health conditions, such as diabetes or obesity, they’re at even greater risk.
With the recent rise in cases, more pregnant patients ended up in the hospital earlier than planned. Lucy Vinson, a Sentara Norfolk General Hospital ICU nurse manager, said her team also has cared for a slew of pregnant coronavirus patients.

“More than we’ve ever treated in probably the history of our unit,” she said.
Virginia’s alarming rate of infections among pregnant people is a pattern throughout the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that COVID-19 deaths in pregnant individuals increased in August. The federal agency recommended urgent action Wednesday to increase vaccination among people who are pregnant, nursing or trying to get pregnant — stressing that data show the shots are safe and effective.

In mid-August, as the delta variant was surging across Virginia, hospitals reached out to Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration for help.

“This rise in infections is once again placing significant stress on general hospitals and nursing facilities within the commonwealth,” wrote Sean Connaughton, president of the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, in a letter to Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver and Health Secretary Dr. Dan Carey. At the time, the seven-day average for new hospitalizations mirrored that of March, when Virginia was still recovering from a massive holiday surge.

Connaughton asked the administration to reinstate emergency waivers that had given hospitals the ability to quickly add bed capacity and hire out-of-state providers, among other regulatory changes that could provide flexibility.

“Staffing levels at these facilities are severely strained by a shortage of health care workers and trained health care professionals, exacerbated by fatigue, personal illness and family needs stemming from this long-term pandemic event,” he wrote. “It is further anticipated that COVID-19 will continue to place increased demands on the commonwealth’s health professional workforce.”

It was far from the only communication between health systems and the Northam administration. Emails from Carey’s office, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, show multiple hospitals began raising concerns over increasing caseloads around the same time. An Aug. 13 email from James Moss, the state hospital coordinator with the Virginia Department of Health’s Office of Emergency Preparedness, noted that facilities in Eastern Virginia were already “getting close” to exhausting their bed space.

Majority of voters support vaccine mandates in schools and more Virginia headlines
Virginia Mercury, Staff ReportSeptember 24, 2021 (Short)

• “About a month into the school year, a clear majority of Virginia voters support coronavirus vaccine mandates in schools, while a smaller majority supports such requirements for in-person workers in the state, according to a Washington Post-Schar School poll.”—Washington Post

Many state employees remain unvaccinated despite mandate
Virginia Mercury, Ned OliverSeptember 22, 2021 (Medium)

Last month, Gov. Ralph Northam gave state employees a choice: get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing for COVID-19.

Many, it appears, have chosen testing.

While comprehensive figures aren’t available yet, a survey of some of the largest state agencies reveals employee vaccination rates range from just over 50 percent at the Department of Corrections to 87 percent at the Virginia Department of Health.

Other agencies, including the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Virginia State Police, reported vaccination rates that roughly mirror the state’s overall vaccination rate of about 60 percent.

Northam wrote in his Aug. 5 executive directive that “vaccination is the only method to protect fully against the virus.” But unlike a similar order issued by President Joe Biden for the federal workforce, Northam’s directive did not actually require state employees to be vaccinated. Instead, it asked them to disclose their vaccination status and, if they are unvaccinated, submit to weekly testing at the state’s expense.

The directive does not require unvaccinated employees to request a formal exemption, but it does allow employees to opt out of the weekly testing if they lodge a religious rejection or have a medical reason — a step few state employees appear to have taken.

The testing required under the mandate has come at a cost to taxpayers.

Judge dismisses nurses’ anti-vaxx lawsuit
The Winchester Star, Evan GoodenowSeptember 22, 2021 (Medium)

Three Winchester Medical Center workers who refused to get vaccinated against the coronavirus unsuccessfully sued to keep their jobs.

The lawsuit was filed on Monday against Valley Health System, the six-hospital chain that includes WMC, on behalf of registered nurses Rebecca Ashworth and Kayla Cox and certified nursing assistant Lori Swartz. All Valley Health employees had until midnight Tuesday to get vaccinated or get fired unless they received medical or religious exemptions.

Judge William Warner Eldridge IV on Tuesday in Winchester Circuit Court dismissed the suit. He sided with Valley Health, whose attorneys argued the plaintiffs needed authorization from the Virginia Attorney General’s Office of Civil Rights to sue under the Virginia Human Rights Act.

“The VHRA does not permit a claimant to pursue temporary relief in court until ‘after a notice of a charge of discrimination is issued,’” attorney Andrew S. Baugher wrote, citing a June verdict in Norfolk Circuit Court that ruled in favor of the city of Norfolk. “And then, ‘the petition shall contain a certification by the Office that the particular matter presents exceptional circumstances and irreparable injury will result from unlawful discrimination in the absence of temporary relief.’”

Over the last week, health systems and emergency physicians across Virginia have sounded the alarm over a surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations threatening to overwhelm many emergency rooms.

But the rise of the delta variant, coupled with the start of the new school year, is also creating chaos for pediatricians, who are struggling to treat an unprecedented swell in patients. On Friday, the Virginia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a “call for help,” saying practices have been unable to keep up with “surging demand” for office visits and COVID-19 testing.

“Our volumes are through the roof,” chapter president Dr. Michael Martin said in a phone interview on Friday. “I don’t know anyone who’s not over capacity. This is the worst I’ve seen it, and I’m in my 40s. When you talk to older physicians, they’ve never seen this either.”

According to Martin, a combination of factors have created a “perfect storm” for pediatricians over the last several weeks. First, the end of statewide restrictions and dramatic decline in cases over the spring and summer led more Virginians to return to life as normal. Many children returned to daycare and summer camp — often unmasked — leading to a rise in non-COVID-19 respiratory illnesses.

The COVID-19 surge is overwhelming emergency rooms across Virginia
Virginia Mercury, Kate MastersSeptember 13, 2021 (Medium)

Over the last few weeks, hospital systems across Virginia have been sounding alarms over the latest coronavirus surge, largely driven by the highly infectious delta variant.

In Southwest Virginia, Ballad Health is facing its “worst-case scenario” with more than 700 COVID-19 patients. In Northern Virginia, hospitals already nearing capacity with COVID-19 cases have been overwhelmed by recently arrived Afghan refugees. And on Thursday, the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association issued a statement on behalf of more than three dozen medical groups, pleading for unvaccinated Virginians to get their shots.

“In just two months, hospitalizations have increased by 1,008 percent and new cases have jumped by 1,217 percent,” it read. “With hospital inpatient and ICU beds already filling ahead of a looming fall surge, it is imperative for unvaccinated Virginians to do their part to help save lives and slow the spread of this deadly virus by getting vaccinated.”

Nowhere has the latest spike in cases been more obvious than in Virginia’s beleaguered emergency rooms, where unvaccinated and often seriously ill COVID-19 patients are adding stress to an already maxed-out system. Dr. Todd Parker, president-elect of the Virginia College of Emergency Physicians, said almost every hospital across the state is struggling with overcrowding, widespread staffing shortages and difficulty transferring patients — who frequently require higher levels of care — to facilities experiencing the exact same challenges.

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From your job to your home to your groceries, Covid-19 has disrupted nearly every aspect of life. This dashboard from CNN shows how the economy continues to change as we grapple with life during the pandemic. Some indices below:

The Back-to-Normal Index

Unemployment claims

State unemployment rates

Job postings

30-year mortgage rate

Personal savings

Small business closures

Should my child get the COVID-19 vaccine? 7 questions answered by a pediatric infectious disease expert
Virginia Mercury, Dr. Debbie-Ann Shirley, University of VirginiaMay 18, 2021 (Short)

The Food and Drug Administration expanded emergency use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to include adolescents 12 to 15 years of age on May 10. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention followed with recommendations endorsing use in this age group after their advisory group meeting on May 12. The American Academy of Pediatrics also supports this decision.

Dr. Debbie-Ann Shirley is an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Virginia specializing in pediatric infectious diseases. Here she addresses some of the concerns parents may have about their teen or preteen getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

1. Does the vaccine work in adolescents?
Yes, recently released data from Pfizer-BioNTech shows that the COVID-19 vaccine seems to work really well in this age group. The COVID-19 vaccine was found to be 100 percent efficacious in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 in an ongoing clinical trial of children in the U.S. aged 12 to 15. Adolescents made high levels of antibody in response to the vaccine, and their immune response was just as strong as what has been seen in older teens and young adults 16-25 years of age.

A COVID-19 vaccine mandate is not being ruled out in Virginia but it won’t happen in the near future, if at all. That’s according to the state’s Vaccine Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula, who spoke to 8News via Zoom on Thursday.

In the meantime, Dr. Avula said the use of so-called “vaccine passports” or certifications are a more likely solution for skepticism.

“If our ability to move forward as a society, to open back up businesses, to open back up schools, is contingent on this, then I think we find every way we can to incentivize it and potentially even get to a point where we require it, but I think we’re a long way from that,” Dr. Avula said.

Northam amends Virginia’s mask mandate to match CDC guidance
Virginia Mercury, Kate Masters April 29, 2021 (Short)

Gov. Ralph Northam amended Virginia’s mask mandate to match recently issued guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The changes, announced in a Thursday press release, went into effect immediately, according to Northam’s spokeswoman, Alena Yarmosky. They allow fully vaccinated Virginians to “participate in outdoor activities and recreation without a mask,” based on language from the CDC. Those include solo activities and small outside gatherings of fully vaccinated people.

People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving their second shot (or two weeks after their first, in the case of Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine). Neither the state nor the CDC has specified whether there’s an exact size limit for “small” outdoor gatherings, but Yarmosky said the administration is “asking folks to use their best judgement.”

Will Virginia colleges require COVID-19 vaccinations? Should they?
Capital News Service, Hunter BrittApril 22, 2021 (Short)

Virginia universities plan a return to campuses in the fall, but there are questions if the COVID-19 vaccine can be mandated.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration only authorized the vaccine for emergency purposes, according to Lisa Lee, professor of public health at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. The vaccine does not yet have full FDA approval.

The vaccine was authorized for emergency use, so people have to be given the choice to take it and be informed of the consequences if they don’t, Lee said.

“Many legal scholars have interpreted that as saying that people cannot be required to take a vaccine that is under an emergency use authorization,” Lee said. “They can be when it has full approval, so that’s where the hitch is.”

Starting May 15, Virginia will significantly relax capacity restrictions on social gatherings and entertainment venues as COVID-19 numbers plateau across much of the state.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced the latest rollback in a video message on Thursday, citing the state’s continued progress in vaccinations. Data from the Virginia Department of Health indicates that more than 40 percent of the population has received at least one shot and more than 26 percent are fully vaccinated. Every Virginian 16 and older became eligible for the vaccine on Sunday.

“Vaccination numbers are up, and our COVID case numbers are substantially lower than they were earlier this year,” Northam said in a statement. “So, we have been able to begin easing some mitigation measures.”

Over the last month, state and federal officials have directed thousands of COVID-19 vaccines to large-scale clinics in vulnerable communities with high rates of coronavirus cases — all in areas with significant or majority Black and Latino populations.

The sites have been touted by leaders as a core strategy in expanding access to vaccines among communities of color, where immunization rates are consistently lower than they are for White Virginians. “We have done a very good job in the commonwealth in addressing this issue,” state Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said at a news briefing last month in response to questions over vaccine equity.

“We have brought on staff in our emergency support team that is doing outreach in these communities,” he added. “We’ve put boots on the ground in all 35 of our health districts and those teams are doing your basic sort of community organizing — door to door, working with faith leaders, community-based organizations to bring people from these vulnerable populations to our vaccination sites.”

Virginia doctors worry that pandemic burnout could push providers out of the field
Virginia Mercury, Kate Masters –April 9, 2021 (Short)

National data is shedding new light on how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting medical providers and their mental health as they balance the emotional and physical demands of a sometimes deadly virus. For frontline hospital workers, it’s often the visceral jolt — and exhausting work — of caring for critically ill patients. But primary care physicians are also reporting fears of infection and ongoing stress that comes from a radical shift in how their businesses operate.

In Virginia, there’s growing concern that burnout and extreme stress could lead more providers to leave the field or grapple with long-term mental health problems. On an individual level, it’s bad for doctors and their patients. But on a systemic level, there’s also worry that COVID-19 could make an existing physician shortage worse.

“One of the things we always talk about is physicians, nurses, support staff — they’re taking care of patients every day,” said Taylor Woody, the communications manager for the Medical Society of Virginia. “But who’s focusing on taking care of them?”

Virginia to pilot COVID-19 testing program in public schools
Virginia Mercury, Kate Masters –April 5, 2021 (Medium)

Virginia is one of a growing number of states exploring testing as a way to combat COVID-19 in K-12 schools.

Dr. Laurie Forlano, a deputy commissioner for the Virginia Department of Health, said the agency is launching a pilot program to provide rapid antigen tests to schools across the state. VDH is rolling out the program with Abbott BinaxNOW tests — portable kits, roughly the size of a credit card, that provide results in around 15 minutes.

“We agree that testing can be a layer of prevention,” said Forlano, who oversees population health for the department. The concept of screening students and staff isn’t a new one, and some colleges and private K-12 schools have been testing since the fall. But it’s taken on a new importance since Virginia — like many states across the country — began encouraging local school divisions to reopen for in-person instruction.

As of March 22, only three of Virginia’s 132 school districts were operating fully remotely. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have also issued interim guidance for K-12 testing, which is largely mirrored by VDH in its own reopening guidelines for schools.

Virginia to expand vaccine eligibility to everyone 16 and older by mid-April
Virginia Mercury, Kate Masters –April 1, 2021 (Short)

Gov. Ralph Northam announced Thursday that the state will expand vaccine eligibility to all Virginians 16 and older by April 18.

The news puts Virginia nearly two weeks ahead of the May 1 deadline set by President Joe Biden earlier this month. In a news release, the administration said that nearly every high-risk Virginian who pre-registered for a vaccine has already received a shot, allowing the state to expand eligibility sooner than expected. Those still on the state’s pre-registration list will receive an appointment invitation within the next two weeks.

“Expanding vaccine eligibility to all adults marks an important milestone in our ongoing efforts to put this pandemic behind us,” Northam said in a statement. “I thank all of the public health staff, health care workers, vaccinators, and volunteers who have helped make this possible.”

In late September, when Virginia health officials launched a dashboard that detailed outbreaks in K-12 schools across the state, it was applauded as a long-needed step toward more transparency — and a relief for parents hesitant over the prospect of sending their children back to the classroom.

Six months later, the data on reopening has gained even more importance amid a state and nationwide push to return students to the classroom. But there are limits on what it can and can’t tell officials, parents and others looking for answers on the relative risks of in-person school.

In early February, Gov. Ralph Northam directed local divisions to begin offering in-person instruction by March 15. Three weeks later, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation — with bipartisan support — that mandates a return to the classroom by July 1.

As a result, only three of the state’s 132 local school divisions were operating fully remotely as of March 22, according to data from the Virginia Department of Education. Thirty-eight are fully in-person — defined by the agency as providing at least four days of in-person instruction for all students.

Pandemic deaths fail to shake loose a legislative solution on nursing home staffing
Virginia Mercury, Kate Masters –March 25, 2021 (Short)

Sam Kukich was initially excited to join a workgroup she thought would focus on improving staffing levels at Virginia nursing homes.

The director of Dignity for the Aged, a Poquoson-based nonprofit, Kukich had become an almost inadvertent advocate for reforming standards of care in the nursing home industry. She and her family had already made headlines across the state when they detailed a nearly five-year-long struggle to find care for her mother-in-law, who lost 65 pounds and suffered dozens of falls at multiple facilities in the Hampton Roads region.

When she started Dignity for the Aged in 2018, largely out of frustration, Kukich started hearing from “all sorts of people” about cases of abuse and neglect in Virginia nursing homes. Many of the cases, she said, were linked to understaffing — certified nursing assistants and other health care workers who were simply too overworked and overwhelmed to properly care for residents.

So Kukich was disappointed last year, when a Virginia Senate subcommittee rejected a bill from Sen. Jennifer Kiggans, R-Virginia Beach, that would set minimum staffing ratios for the industry. It was the 16th straight year similar legislation had died, but this time, legislators ordered the state Department of Health to organize a work group to “review and make recommendations” on increasing the nursing home workforce in Virginia.

With COVID-19 cases down after a winter surge, and with nearly a quarter of the population having received at least one dose of vaccine, Gov. Ralph Northam is again rolling back some of Virginia’s pandemic restrictions — cautiously.

At a Tuesday news briefing, the governor announced the expansion of the attendance cap on indoor social gatherings from 10 to 50 people. Outdoor gatherings, currently limited to 25 attendees, will be allowed up to 100.

Alena Yarmosky, the governor’s spokeswoman, said the new guidelines will offer slightly more flexibility to events-oriented businesses — including Virginia’s wedding industry, which has lobbed some of the harshest criticism at Northam’s health and safety guidelines (at least two venue owners have sued over the restrictions).

But the governor is still taking a moderate approach to reopening compared to some neighboring states, including Maryland, where Gov. Larry Hogan lifted all capacity restrictions for the vast majority of businesses earlier this month. Northam’s executive order requiring mask wearing in indoor public areas remains in effect.

More essential workers and Virginians with underlying medical conditions can now access COVID-19 vaccines through major pharmacies across the state, the Virginia Department of Health announced Wednesday.

There are currently eight large chains that offer vaccines through a partnership with the federal government, including CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, Kroger and Albertson’s, which owns Safeway grocery stores.

Some independent pharmacies are also included in the partnership, which provides doses to more than 300 locations across Virginia, according to Stephanie Wheawill, director of VDH’s Division of Pharmacy Services.

While the doses supplied to pharmacies are separate from Virginia’s overall allotment, Wheawill said locations are asked to follow the state’s distribution guidelines. Until this week, state health officials instructed pharmacies to limit doses to residents 65 and older, as well as certain essential worker categories.

Vaccine passports’ that show you’re inoculated are on the way
Virginia Mercury, Laura OlsonMarch 17, 2021 (Short)

More than 70 million Americans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine — and along with that shot, a small paper card with the CDC’s label detailing the timing and manufacturer of the dose.

Those paper cards at the moment are the only proof readily available to Americans of their vaccination against a virus that has upended businesses, schools and most other aspects of daily life.

That could soon change, with multiple companies and nonprofit groups working to create “vaccine passports” — smartphone-based apps that would allow someone to certify that they’ve been vaccinated. The apps so far are aimed at travelers, who may be required to show proof of their vaccination status before boarding a plane or entering another country.

In early January, Gov. Ralph Northam warned that the worst of Virginia’s winter surge may not have happened yet.

“The virus is worse now than it’s ever been,” he said at a news briefing. At the time, the state had reached an all-time high in daily new cases and hospitalizations — a trend that threatened to overwhelm some hospital systems. Many local health departments were forced to suspend contact tracing programs amid the spike, warning residents that winter travel and holiday gatherings had made it impossible to keep up with cases.

“Case numbers are about four times higher than they were last spring, and we can expect them to go higher,” Northam continued. “In fact, the [University of Virginia] model shows cases could keep rising until Valentine’s Day or even later.”

The COVID-19 crisis and senior living: an insider’s perspective
Virginia Mercury, Morris S. Funk, guest columnMarch 17, 2021 (Short)

The pandemic has made this past year unlike any other at Beth Sholom, a senior living center in Henrico.

In late February, it seemed we were facing a typical long-term care viral threat, but I could not shake the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that this was going to be much bigger. In the early, there was so little information available, making it difficult to anticipate and prepare for the reality of what was coming. We were one of the first senior living communities in our area to lock down, and like so many others in our industry, we faced extraordinary daily challenges and heartbreaking losses.

Here is our story.

Our frontline staff put themselves and their families at risk every day simply by coming to work. Once the March lockdown was in place, many of our staff found it difficult to meet the challenges of working and managing their families. When schools closed, they scrambled to find ways to address the needs of their children while continuing to work. Daily, our employees faced the fear of bringing the virus — which was not understood — home to their family.

Participation in Virginia’s Immunization Information System is critical for keeping Virginia healthy
Virginia Mercury, Dr. Michael Martin, commentaryMarch 12, 2021 (Short)

As Virginia continues to combat the public health challenges of COVID-19, the distribution of vaccines in the commonwealth provides a long-needed glimmer of hope.

The complex COVID-19 vaccine distribution process underscores the importance of accurate immunization histories and records. While Virginia had the foresight years ago to invest in an immunization registry for individuals, families, medical providers and public health researchers, recent action by the General Assembly has strengthened the statewide database of vaccine history and distribution. To keep our communities healthy even after the pandemic, all health care providers that administer vaccines, starting in January 2022, will participate in the Virginia Immunization Information System.

VIIS is a free, statewide, digital immunization registry that records reported vaccination doses distributed by health care providers to individuals, thus increasing the ability to appropriately react to vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks. Vaccine registry systems like VIIS are incredibly helpful for improving the public health response to outbreaks of diseases like measles, Hepatitis A, H1N1, and now COVID-19. By sharing the data with the state, appropriate resources can be deployed to counteract outbreaks and help increase community immunization rates. Currently, the Virginia Department of Health reports that 2.1 million children are under-immunized.

For public health experts across Virginia, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was a more-than-welcome addition to the state’s weekly allocation.

The one-dose shot boosted Virginia’s shipments by 69,000 this week, spurring a slew of new mass vaccination events. It doesn’t have the same cold storage requirements, making it easier to ship and redistribute. And at the national level, it’s prompting a new wave of optimism, with President Joe Biden promising a vaccine “for every adult in America by the end of May.”

But state health officials also worry the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has an image problem. When trial data was released, many reports honed in on the numbers: 72 percent effective against COVID-19 infections in the United States, 66 percent effective in South America and 57 percent effective in South Africa. Pfizer’s, by contrast, showed 95 percent effectiveness at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 after two doses. Moderna’s showed 94.1 percent.

Biden urges states to speed up COVID-19 vaccinations for teachers
Virginia Mercury, Laura OlsonMarch 3, 2021 (Short)

President Joe Biden is urging states to prioritize teachers for COVID-19 vaccines, setting a goal of ensuring that every pre-kindergarten through 12th grade educator, school staff member and childcare worker is able to receive at least one shot this month.

At least 34 states and the District of Columbia have some or all teachers eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine, according to tracking data from Education Week.

That tally has been growing in recent weeks, as many students across the country approach the one-year mark for switching to virtual classes due to the pandemic.

Biden’s latest directive to states is the latest step in his administration’s effort to aid schools in safely reopening their buildings to in-person classes. In a televised statement from the White House on Tuesday, Biden described teachers as “essential workers,” and said that accelerating vaccinations can help assuage anxieties about school reopenings.

Big uptick in vaccine supplies for states expected
Virginia Mercury, Laura OlsonFebruary 24, 2021 (Short)

Executives from five COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers told Congress Tuesday that they expect to significantly boost the number of shots delivered to states in the coming weeks.

Pfizer will increase weekly shipments to more than 13 million doses by mid-March, an increase from the 4 to 5 million doses shipped weekly in early February, the company’s chief business officer, John Young, told a U.S. House panel.

Moderna, the other vaccine that has received federal authorization for emergency use, expects to double its monthly vaccine deliveries by April to more than 40 million doses per month.

Fairfax County is ranked as one of the wealthiest communities in Virginia. It’s also one of the healthiest.

As of 2020, Fairfax led the state in measures including length of life, access to exercise opportunities and low rates of poor health indicators such as smoking and adult obesity, according to annual rankings by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. From 2015 to 2019, the county’s median household income was $124,831 (nationally, it’s around $68,703, according to the U.S. Census Bureau).

Currently, Fairfax County is also leading Virginia in vaccine distribution. In late January, health officials shifted the state’s strategy, routing doses through local health districts based on their percentage of the state’s population. As Virginia’s largest locality with more than 1.1 million residents, that left Fairfax with the largest share.

Even before then, the Fairfax County Health Department had requested — and received — more than eight times as many shots as other local health districts, according to data from the Virginia Department of Health. From Dec. 22 to Jan. 23, Fairfax received a total of 74,625 doses. Over the same time period, the Richmond-Henrico Health District, received a total of 19,550 doses for both localities, which have a combined population of nearly 560,000.

In the early weeks of Virginia’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, hospital systems in five local health districts requested, and received, tens of thousands of doses — a disproportionately larger share than pharmacies, community health clinics and even the local health departments charged with overseeing the state’s immunization plan.

In Chesterfield, for example, HCA Virginia requested 27,775 first doses from Dec. 14 to Dec. 20 and ultimately received 18,275 — more than enough to vaccinate what Jeff Caldwell, the system’s vice president of communications, described as more than 17,000 total employees across the state. VCU Health in Richmond requested and received 20,050 first doses within the first three weeks of the state’s rollout — far more than its roughly 13,000 employees (spokeswoman Alex Nowak said the health system also has more than 10,000 “affiliated team members,” which include residents, medical students and food service workers, but not every direct or affiliated employee is involved in patient care.)

The Mercury obtained detailed distribution data for the Richmond, Henrico, Chesterfield, Fairfax and Central Shenandoah health districts from a reader, who noticed that the Virginia Department of Health’s public vaccine dashboard initially allowed the public to download spreadsheets showing how many doses were delivered to individual facilities.

Feds boost state vaccine shipments to 11 million doses next week
Virginia Mercury, Laura OlsonFebruary 9, 2021 (Short)

States will see another increase in the COVID-19 vaccine doses they receive, with President Joe Biden’s administration announcing Tuesday that the federal government will distribute 11 million doses next week.

That’s an increase from 10.5 million doses this week, and 8.6 million during the week President Joe Biden took office last month. Those increases were attributed to boosted production by vaccine manufacturers.

The administration has not published a state-by-state breakdown on how many doses are distributed each week. Iowa Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, both Republicans, have questioned whether Iowa is receiving a fair share of doses under that formula, and wrote to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday, asking CDC officials to release the weekly formula for allocating vaccines to states.

State officials say they’re confident that no COVID-19 vaccines are going to waste in Virginia.

But seven weeks into the state’s vaccine rollout, the Virginia Department of Health won’t release data on wastage, which vaccinators are required to report under a provider agreement distributed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The document, which providers must fill out in order to administer vaccines, requires them to report the number of doses that were “unused, spoiled, expired, or wasted as required by the relevant jurisdiction.” In practice, that means hospitals, pharmacies and other administrators should be reporting the data to VDH, which then passes the information onto the CDC.

The Mercury first requested the data from VDH in late January, after Dr. Danny Avula, the state’s vaccine coordinator, stated in a telebriefing that the reporting was required but that he didn’t have information on wastage in Virginia.

Gov. Ralph Northam speaks at a news conference in August. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Here we go again, Virginia, trailing the pack at yet another critical turn in combating the global coronavirus pandemic — the rollout of the lifesaving vaccine that could finally break the back of COVID-19. And if you’re a Democrat in Virginia, particularly one who’s seeking statewide office this fall, this isn’t what you had hoped to see.

It feels like last March, when the coronavirus caught the commonwealth flat-footed and plodding in its initial mobilization against the novel and then-mysterious plague, forcing Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration to play catch-up.

Yes, catch up Virginia did. Eventually. Northam, the only physician governor of any U.S. state, finally issued forceful and unambiguous orders to kick Virginia’s protective response into the same high gear that Maryland, Ohio, New York and other states had already hit. Schools closed, as did most businesses not deemed essential. Home sheltering, working and learning remotely, social distancing, hand washing and mask wearing were the order of the day. Literally.

City streets fell silent and abandoned. For weeks on end, springtime gusts whistled across sprawling, empty shopping mall parking lots. Small businesses — and even some large ones — took it in the neck, particularly mom-and-pop restaurants, bars, retailers, gyms and cinemas. A chilling number of those shops and offices and eateries died, in many cases taking family livelihoods and life savings with them, and they will never be resurrected. Those were lifesaving steps Virginia had to take and the government was justified in taking them.

Friends Torin Enevoldsen and Taylor Little have a picnic in the parking lot with food they picked up from The Cheesecake Factory at Short Pump Town Center in Henrico, Va., May 16, 2020. Little said her mother originally suggested meeting friends for take-out lunches, while dining in most restaurants is still prohibited. (Parker Michels-Boyce/ For the Virginia Mercury

Even then, just when Northam had emphatically laid down the law on requiring the use of face coverings, he undermined his own messaging when photographs of him laughing it up unmasked and huddled close with others for selfies on Virginia Beach’s Boardwalk began trending across social media.

By summer, Virginia had ramped up testing, plateaued its numbers of COVID-19 cases and related deaths, and driven down the percentages of positive coronavirus tests. Restrictions were eased. By autumn, ours was among the states faring the best with the coronavirus. But getting there was like pulling teeth.

For reasons still not clear, Northam’s Department of Health balked at making public the granular coronavirus testing data for extended care facilities that families of elderly, ailing and vulnerable people could use to make informed decisions about their loved ones. That was particularly galling after an outbreak at a Henrico County nursing home was among the nation’s deadliest in the early weeks of the pandemic. Eventually, faced with withering media coverage and public outrage, the administration relented and, without explanation, made the data available.

The VDH’s reluctance to provide specific, actionable guidance last summer to school districts on whether, when and how to reopen classrooms or continue virtual schooling created chaos and conflict among faculty, administrators and parents within school divisions and resulted in a crazy-quilt patchwork of differing regimens across the state.

And so it goes.

Last Thursday, with the respected Becker’s Hospital Review ranking Virginia’s vaccination effort the fifth least effective in the nation, Northam found himself promising to jump-start a torpid immunization effort one month after Virginia got the first of its nearly 846,000 vaccine doses. According to Becker’s, only about 218,000 — barely over one-fourth — of those doses have been injected into the arms of Virginians.

Compare that to West Virginia, which has dispensed nearly 70 percent of its approximately 161,000 doses — the nation’s best rate. Maryland and North Carolina have each dispensed about 32 percent of their vaccine allotments, while Kentucky and Tennessee have injected 43 percent and 44 percent, respectively, of their doses. Idaho, Hawaii, Alabama and Georgia (the nation’s worst at just under 20 percent) were the only four states that performed worse than Virginia.

At Thursday’s news conference, Dr. Danny Avula, Northam’s newly appointed vaccine czar, said that to achieve a pace that puts the commonwealth ahead of the virus and returns life to normal sooner rather than later, Virginia needs to dispense about 50,000 doses daily. Last week, the state was at about 30 percent of that pace. As of Friday, 88 of the state’s 133 localities remained mired in Phase 1A, the first phase of the vaccine rollout that includes frontline healthcare workers, first-responders and nursing home residents. Only one-third of the localities, clustered mostly in Southwest Virginia, the Eastern Shore and Northern Virginia, had advanced to Phase 1B, which includes people 65 and older, police and firefighters, teachers, grocery workers and essential government workers.

Northam said he was “pleased” with a pace in which only one out of every four doses the state received a month ago has been injected.

“Everyone will need to be patient. It’s going to happen as fast as it can be done and it’s moving faster every day,” he said Thursday. “Monday, we vaccinated more than 15,000 people. Tuesday, it was more than 17,000.”

When Virginia is the laggard behind every one of its contiguous neighbors, isn’t it fair to ask why? Two weeks ago in Tennessee, for instance, officials in Sullivan County opened a max vaccination site at the Bristol Motor Speedway Dragway, a 10-minute drive from the Virginia border. On its first day, Jan. 7, the site ran out of doses by noon. Vaccinations are scheduled for four days starting this week at Richmond’s enormous car-racing venue. The sprawling NASCAR stadium in Martinsville also volunteered to be a mass-vaccination venue if needed, but thus far has no takers.

Patience, your excellency, is in short supply. After a life-altering (and, in more than 5,600 cases in Virginia and nearly 400,000 nationally, life-ending) 11 months of pandemic, a searing summer of racial unrest, an election from hell and an even worse post-election in which a defeated president instigated the attempted violent overthrow of Congress in a vain effort to keep the victor from taking office, this might not be the most opportune time to prescribe a chill pill.

And, boy, did Virginia’s out-of-power, victory-starved Republicans notice.

Del. Kirk Cox, a conservative former House speaker and a declared GOP candidate for governor, assailed the Northam administration’s lethargic response in a statement.

“While … it’s good news that he’s trying to speed up vaccine distribution, the truth is ‘better late than never’ just doesn’t cut it,” Cox said, adding that he urged Northam “to take decisive action over a week ago.”

Northam could still turn around Virginia’s thus-far inauspicious vaccine deployment, just as his administration eventually energized Virginia’s leisurely initial response to the pandemic last spring. But if he doesn’t, it could hand Republicans another significant election-year bouquet.

This year, the GOP won’t run in the shadow of a president so polarizing that he just cost once-ruby-red Georgia both of its Republican U.S. senators, flipping control of the Senate to the Democrats. They’ll also have a raft of brochure issues courtesy of Virginia Democrats, including proposals to end the death penalty and legalize marijuana, plus last year’s parole board debacle. Those issues resonate among conservatives and many centrists and could buttress a GOP argument that Democrats have gone too far left for an electorate that traditionally rewards moderation.

That said, Republicans haven’t found an opportunity over the past dozen years they couldn’t squander. They could do it again by nominating Amanda Chase, a Trump-style nationalist who urged the president to declare martial law to stay in power and whose incendiary claims have gotten her suspended from Facebook and ostracized by her own party.

The vaccine issue is one that voters will remember in November. The vaccine represents a genuine human triumph, our deliverance from the pain and loss that the past year has inflicted upon us. Government must get this right, and those in charge of it should answer for the consequences if it doesn’t.

Exhausted vaccine reserve could unravel plans for Phase 1b expansion in Virginia
Virginia Mercury, Kate MastersJanuary 15, 2021 (Short)
A provider with Augusta Health administers a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine this week. (Courtesy of Augusta Health)

News that the federal government has already exhausted its supply of “reserve” COVID-19 vaccines sent Virginia officials scrambling on Friday — less than 24 hours after Gov. Ralph Northam outlined plans to expand vaccine eligibility.

The Washington Post reported Friday that there was no federal stockpile of additional vaccines, despite an announcement earlier this week by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who told states the Trump administration would begin distributing those doses immediately. Previously, the administration said it was holding back the vaccines to ensure a second dose for everyone who had already received a first shot.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines — the only ones currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — require a two-shot schedule.

Northam, along with multiple other Democratic governors, first asked HHS to begin releasing the reserve doses earlier this month. Virginia, like other states, has attributed its slower-than-expected vaccine rollout in part to the limited supply coming from the federal government.

HHS initially appeared unwilling to acquiesce to the request, according to reporting from Politico. But the administration’s Operation Warp Speed reversed that stance soon after President-elect Joe Biden announced he would begin releasing reserve doses to states after taking office.

Northam was one of many public officials to celebrate the arrival of additional vaccines. In his State of the Commonwealth address Wednesday, the governor announced that Virginia would begin vaccinating residents aged 65 and older — a direct response to Azar, who told states to expand their vaccination eligibility to speed up the pace of administration.

Gov. Ralph Northam at a press conference in October. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

At a news briefing the next day, Northam announced that Virginians aged 65 and older, and those 65 and under with underlying medical conditions (including asthma, heart conditions and obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), would be moved into Phase 1b of the state’s vaccination plan — the second stage of prioritization after health care providers and long-term care residents.

“This means about half of Virginia is now eligible to receive the vaccine,” he said Thursday. “That’s a major logistical effort, and it’s not going to happen overnight.”

But with Friday’s report, the timeline — and whether those expanded populations will still be eligible for Phase 1b — is even more unclear. Last week, the Virginia Department of Health announced that 11 local districts were moving into the second stage of the state’s campaign (two more — Pittsylvania-Danville and Southside — later this week). At his briefing, Northam said the rest of Virginia would move into Phase 1b by the end of January, and some local health districts have already announced plans for delivering vaccines to the expanded population.

The governor’s office couldn’t immediately confirm whether the reported lack of reserve vaccines would affect plans to expand 1b. “Honestly, right now we’re just trying to get clear answers from the federal government,” spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky wrote in an email on Friday.

But the Post reported that vaccine shipments, for all states, would likely stay flat if no additional doses had been held in stockpile. For Virginia, that’s roughly 110,000 doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccine a week.

If that distribution remained the same, it would take around 39 weeks to vaccinate roughly half of all Virginians who fall into the expanded 1b category — which also includes teachers, first responders, and other essential workers. That’s a rough estimate, not accounting for new vaccines that may enter the supply chain and assuming that the state was also administering 110,000 doses a week.

At the same time, Virginia is still struggling to administer the vaccine doses it does have available. As of Friday, the state had only administered about 28 percent of the 943,400 total doses distributed to hospitals, local health departments and other medical facilities, according to date from the Virginia Department of Health’s vaccine reporting dashboard.

State health officials have said the dashboard is undercounting vaccines, partially due to lags or glitches in its electronic reporting system. But the CDC currently ranks Virginia 43 out of 50 states and Washington, D.C., when it comes to the number of doses administered per 100,000 people.

Dr. Danny Avula, the director of the Richmond-Henrico Health District who was recently appointed to head the state’s vaccine efforts, said officials were actively working to speed up the pace of vaccinations — including plans to establish large, free-standing vaccine clinics across the state.

But any mass immunization efforts will be hindered if vaccine supply remains low. Yarmosky said it was just one more frustration in trying to coordinate a COVID-19 response with the federal government.

“Once again, the Trump administration cannot seem to provide basic facts and truths,” she wrote Friday. “On Tuesday, governors were told explicitly that we would be provided additional doses — Virginia immediately pivoted and we moved quickly to expand eligibility and increase access.

“Now, the news media is reporting that the exact opposite may be true,” she said. “We’re frankly trying to gather as much information as possible right now — like every American, we need to understand what is going on, so we can plan accordingly. While astonishing, this is hardly surprising. What we’re seeing is fully in line with the dysfunction that has characterized the Trump administration’s entire response to COVID-19. President-elect Biden cannot be sworn in fast enough.”

Children head to school in Goochland County. (NBC12 via Goochland County Public Schools) Gov. Ralph Northam’s latest message to local school systems is to start thinking about reopening — and soon. “In the short term, all of our school divisions need to be making plans for how to reopen,” he said at a news briefing on Thursday. “It’s not going to happen next week. But I want our schools to come from this starting point: how do we get schools open safely?” Some division leaders said the new directive — accompanied by interim guidance from the Virginia Department of Health and Department of Education — represented a significant departure from the state’s earlier messaging on in-person instruction. Virginia’s initial guidance, released in July, emphasized that the final decision on reopening laid “squarely in the hands of local school boards” amid uncertain evidence on the role of children in COVID-19 transmission. But a new letter from Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane and state Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver assured superintendents, school leadership and local health departments that “data increasingly suggest that school reopenings are unlikely to contribute significantly to community transmission when rates of community transmission are low and schools have infection prevention measures in place.” The accompanying guidance includes a decision-making matrix that elevates individual mitigation measures over levels of community transmission. In a separate briefing later on Thursday, Lane said many divisions have been basing their reopening decisions primarily on top indicators from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which advise schools to consider community case rates and the percentage of positive tests over the last two weeks. New guidance from the Virginia Department of Education urges schools to consider individual COVID-19 mitigation measures over community transmission when making decisions on reopening. But Lane said heavier consideration should go to the ability of local schools to implement mitigation measures such as mask usage, sanitation and social distancing. Other main considerations include whether there’s evidence of spread within school buildings themselves, as well as the impact that school closures have had on the surrounding community. “Even if they’re in the highest category of community transmission — and even more so for low and moderate — we recommend that they maximize in-person learning as much as possible,” Lane said. The recommendations also call on schools to prioritize instruction for more vulnerable students, including young learners, students with disabilities and English language learners. And instead of making district-wide and long-term decisions — opting for remote learning over an entire quarter or semester, for example — officials say schools should have the flexibility to phase out decisions after a few weeks. “If there’s low absenteeism, there’s no case transmission in buildings, your staff capacity isn’t strained — that school should have some in-person options,” Lane said. “If there’s an outbreak in a school, certainly think of closing for some time. But if there are no outbreaks and no transmission in the school community, we’re saying you should open as long as you can do mitigation strategies.” However, as contact tracing resources have grown increasingly strained, most local health departments are prioritizing outbreaks and other cases that pose a significant public health risk. If multiple students or staff members test positive after close contact or sharing a potential exposure, health officials will likely investigate to determine if there was in-school transmission. But there’s little data on how most individual cases were contracted, and many local health officials have warned it’s become increasingly difficult to catch infected students or staff before they enter school buildings. Reopening decisions have sparked fierce debate in local communities since Northam first announced a framework to bring students back to the classroom — four months after becoming one of the first governors in the country to close schools for the remainder of the spring semester. Lane emphasized that the state never required schools to adopt remote instruction after releasing its first round of guidance in July. But those guidelines heavily emphasized CDC recommendations and asked schools to notify VDOE if they planned to deviate from the state’s framework. THE MORNING NEWSLETTER Subscribe now. By early September, the majority of local school divisions — 67 in total — had chosen to begin the fall semester remotely. As of Thursday, that number had dropped to 52. But Keith Perrigan, the superintendent for Bristol Public Schools in Southwest Virginia, said much of the ongoing caution stemmed from the original guidance, which took a more incremental approach to bringing students back to the classroom. “This is a huge change,” he said. “The previous phase guidance, it was probably more of a recommendation to be cautious. And I think the new guidance is to try your very best to reopen. If you can mitigate appropriately, you ought to do what you can to get back in school.” There’s still no mandate for school divisions to follow the state’s revised guidance. Lane said Thursday that the Virginia Constitution left the final decision with local school boards. But education officials also faced heavy criticism from some superintendents earlier this year for allowing local divisions to deviate from the original plan. State Superintendent James Lane in 2016, when he was named superintendent for Chesterfield Public Schools. (NBC12) Some school systems have already made the decision to stay closed until at least the early spring — something Lane said he’d recommend reconsidering in light of the new guidance and the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. But there are also continued debates even in districts that have prioritized in-person learning. In Chesterfield County, which announced plans to bring back elementary students next month, parents launched a petition calling on the school system to reverse the decision and keep schools mostly closed until teachers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Both Northam and Lane faced significant questioning over the timing of the new guidelines, given that many schools have already announced reopening decisions for the spring. Virginia is also experiencing an ongoing surge of COVID-19 which some models suggest could continue until February. Rates of community transmission are consistently higher across Virginia than they’ve been at any other point during the pandemic. Daily new cases have risen in all five geographic regions throughout the early days of January, and hospitalizations are at an all-time high. Many health systems have voluntarily canceled elective surgeries or announced new surge plans to boost capacity for an ongoing influx of cases. Lane said announcing the new guidance would give school districts the opportunity to prepare their plans in the coming weeks — even as Virginia contemplates longer-term changes such as year-round instruction to make up for learning loss during the pandemic. Northam also touted the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines as an important step in returning students safely to the classroom. “While getting everyone vaccinated isn’t necessary to reopening schools, it will make it a lot easier,” he said. Eleven local health districts have begun vaccinating educators — or plan to start soon — after moving into Phase 1b of the state’s vaccine campaign. Students at Watkins Elementary in Chesterfield County attend class wearing masks. Chesterfield returned to all virtual learning after Thanksgiving. (Chesterfield County Public Schools) But the timeline for the rest of the state remains unclear. As of Thursday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked Virginia in the low bottom third of all U.S. states when it came to immunizing residents. The same day, VDH’s vaccine reporting dashboard showed that only about 25 percent of shots distributed across the state had made their way into patients’ arms. And throughout November and December, some health districts advised in-person schools to again close their buildings, warning that the surging cases made it impossible for them to trace and investigate new infections. In Bristol, Perrigan said it was the first dose of vaccines — administered by the local health department earlier this week — that helped reassure teachers more than anything else. “That’s what had the biggest impact — the availability of vaccines,” he said. “I think a lot of pressure was released once our staff was able to get that first round.”
Virginia Mercury, Kate MastersJanuary 15, 2021 (Medium)
Children head to school in Goochland County. (NBC12 via Goochland County Public Schools)

Gov. Ralph Northam’s latest message to local school systems is to start thinking about reopening — and soon.

“In the short term, all of our school divisions need to be making plans for how to reopen,” he said at a news briefing on Thursday. “It’s not going to happen next week. But I want our schools to come from this starting point: how do we get schools open safely?”

Some division leaders said the new directive — accompanied by interim guidance from the Virginia Department of Health and Department of Education — represented a significant departure from the state’s earlier messaging on in-person instruction. Virginia’s initial guidance, released in July, emphasized that the final decision on reopening laid “squarely in the hands of local school boards” amid uncertain evidence on the role of children in COVID-19 transmission.

But a new letter from Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane and state Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver assured superintendents, school leadership and local health departments that “data increasingly suggest that school reopenings are unlikely to contribute significantly to community transmission when rates of community transmission are low and schools have infection prevention measures in place.”

The accompanying guidance includes a decision-making matrix that elevates individual mitigation measures over levels of community transmission. In a separate briefing later on Thursday, Lane said many divisions have been basing their reopening decisions primarily on top indicators from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which advise schools to consider community case rates and the percentage of positive tests over the last two weeks.

New guidance from the Virginia Department of Education urges schools to consider individual COVID-19 mitigation measures over community transmission when making decisions on reopening.

But Lane said heavier consideration should go to the ability of local schools to implement mitigation measures such as mask usage, sanitation and social distancing. Other main considerations include whether there’s evidence of spread within school buildings themselves, as well as the impact that school closures have had on the surrounding community.

“Even if they’re in the highest category of community transmission — and even more so for low and moderate — we recommend that they maximize in-person learning as much as possible,” Lane said.

The recommendations also call on schools to prioritize instruction for more vulnerable students, including young learners, students with disabilities and English language learners. And instead of making district-wide and long-term decisions — opting for remote learning over an entire quarter or semester, for example — officials say schools should have the flexibility to phase out decisions after a few weeks.

“If there’s low absenteeism, there’s no case transmission in buildings, your staff capacity isn’t strained — that school should have some in-person options,” Lane said. “If there’s an outbreak in a school, certainly think of closing for some time. But if there are no outbreaks and no transmission in the school community, we’re saying you should open as long as you can do mitigation strategies.”

However, as contact tracing resources have grown increasingly strained, most local health departments are prioritizing outbreaks and other cases that pose a significant public health risk. If multiple students or staff members test positive after close contact or sharing a potential exposure, health officials will likely investigate to determine if there was in-school transmission. But there’s little data on how most individual cases were contracted, and many local health officials have warned it’s become increasingly difficult to catch infected students or staff before they enter school buildings.

Reopening decisions have sparked fierce debate in local communities since Northam first announced a framework to bring students back to the classroom — four months after becoming one of the first governors in the country to close schools for the remainder of the spring semester.

Lane emphasized that the state never required schools to adopt remote instruction after releasing its first round of guidance in July. But those guidelines heavily emphasized CDC recommendations and asked schools to notify VDOE if they planned to deviate from the state’s framework.

THE MORNING NEWSLETTER
Subscribe now.

By early September, the majority of local school divisions — 67 in total — had chosen to begin the fall semester remotely. As of Thursday, that number had dropped to 52. But Keith Perrigan, the superintendent for Bristol Public Schools in Southwest Virginia, said much of the ongoing caution stemmed from the original guidance, which took a more incremental approach to bringing students back to the classroom.

“This is a huge change,” he said. “The previous phase guidance, it was probably more of a recommendation to be cautious. And I think the new guidance is to try your very best to reopen. If you can mitigate appropriately, you ought to do what you can to get back in school.”

There’s still no mandate for school divisions to follow the state’s revised guidance. Lane said Thursday that the Virginia Constitution left the final decision with local school boards. But education officials also faced heavy criticism from some superintendents earlier this year for allowing local divisions to deviate from the original plan.

State Superintendent James Lane in 2016, when he was named superintendent for Chesterfield Public Schools. (NBC12)

Some school systems have already made the decision to stay closed until at least the early spring — something Lane said he’d recommend reconsidering in light of the new guidance and the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. But there are also continued debates even in districts that have prioritized in-person learning. In Chesterfield County, which announced plans to bring back elementary students next month, parents launched a petition calling on the school system to reverse the decision and keep schools mostly closed until teachers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Both Northam and Lane faced significant questioning over the timing of the new guidelines, given that many schools have already announced reopening decisions for the spring. Virginia is also experiencing an ongoing surge of COVID-19 which some models suggest could continue until February. Rates of community transmission are consistently higher across Virginia than they’ve been at any other point during the pandemic. Daily new cases have risen in all five geographic regions throughout the early days of January, and hospitalizations are at an all-time high. Many health systems have voluntarily canceled elective surgeries or announced new surge plans to boost capacity for an ongoing influx of cases.

Lane said announcing the new guidance would give school districts the opportunity to prepare their plans in the coming weeks — even as Virginia contemplates longer-term changes such as year-round instruction to make up for learning loss during the pandemic. Northam also touted the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines as an important step in returning students safely to the classroom.

“While getting everyone vaccinated isn’t necessary to reopening schools, it will make it a lot easier,” he said. Eleven local health districts have begun vaccinating educators — or plan to start soon — after moving into Phase 1b of the state’s vaccine campaign.

Students at Watkins Elementary in Chesterfield County attend class wearing masks. Chesterfield returned to all virtual learning after Thanksgiving. (Chesterfield County Public Schools)

But the timeline for the rest of the state remains unclear. As of Thursday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked Virginia in the low bottom third of all U.S. states when it came to immunizing residents. The same day, VDH’s vaccine reporting dashboard showed that only about 25 percent of shots distributed across the state had made their way into patients’ arms.

And throughout November and December, some health districts advised in-person schools to again close their buildings, warning that the surging cases made it impossible for them to trace and investigate new infections. In Bristol, Perrigan said it was the first dose of vaccines — administered by the local health department earlier this week — that helped reassure teachers more than anything else.

“That’s what had the biggest impact — the availability of vaccines,” he said. “I think a lot of pressure was released once our staff was able to get that first round.”

Virginia pushes back estimate for vaccinating all residents for COVID-19
Virginia Mercury, Kate Masters January 11, 2021 (Medium)
Gov. Ralph Northam speaks at a news conference in August. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Every Virginian vaccinated by early to mid-summer?

Many experts say it’s no longer likely. Gov. Ralph Northam has also readjusted earlier — and more optimistic — estimates from late November, when he spoke to NPR about the state’s COVID-19 vaccination plans.

“Phase three will be the general population and hopefully by, you know, early to midsummer have everybody in Virginia vaccinated,” he said at the time. But after a slower-than-expected rollout — both in Virginia and across the country — the administration has slightly revised its targets.

“The governor is still hopeful that everyone will have the opportunity to be vaccinated by mid-summer to fall,” spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky wrote in an email on Tuesday. The administration’s prospective timeline includes a few caveats, including the fact that children under 16 — or roughly 2 million Virginians — won’t be included in the overall total because a vaccine hasn’t yet been approved for them.

The goal also assumes that some of the state’s residents will decline the vaccine (“although we’re hopeful that is not a large percentage and will decrease further as this process continues,” Yarmosky wrote). And ultimately, it means Virginia will need to be administering at least 50,000 doses a day, which is contingent on new vaccines entering the market and an increase in federal shipments.

Yarmosky pointed to recent changes that have inspired optimism from state leaders across the country. One, announced Friday, is that the Biden administration plans to begin releasing available vaccines immediately, rather than holding back a second dose from shipments from Pfizer and Moderna.

But even with the change in administration, many experts say there needs to be a rapid shift in how COVID-19 vaccines are distributed and administered in order to meet a late-summer to fall target. Mark Capofari — who worked for Pfizer and spent more than a decade as the director of global logistics at Merck before becoming a full-time lecturer at Penn State — thinks vaccinations will be ongoing well into the third quarter of the year, which stretches from July to September.

Thomas Denny, the chief operating officer of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute, said it might take even longer for most of the public to get inoculated — possibly not until October or November.

“I got a bit more optimistic when it looked like vaccines were coming and we’d have a good number of doses to start out with,” he said. “But then in between late December and so far in January, just about every place has missed its mark with using the amount of doses they’ve gotten.”

“I’m now back to thinking that it’s not likely by the summer that we’ll achieve it,” he continued.

When the vaccine will be accessible to most Virginians has been a major question since the state received its first doses in mid-December. The Northam administration has tentatively predicted that Phase 1a — when vaccines are prioritized for health care providers and long-term care facilities — could conclude by the end of this month. But there’s already been some overlap with Phase 1b, which includes first responders, correction officers and teachers, followed by other frontline personnel such as grocery store clerks and mail carriers.

On Friday, the Virginia Department of Health announced that 11 local districts across the state were beginning Phase 1b early after vaccinating the majority of their medical workers and long-term care residents. Scheduling an appointment would “depend on the supply of vaccine available,” the department warned, and the phase is likely to take “several weeks to months” even with an early start.

But at a briefing last week, Northam also outlined prioritization plans for Phase 1c, the next step of the state’s vaccine campaign, which will include other essential workers in construction, transportation and utilities.

Providing a clear timeline for all the different subgroups can be complicated. VDH guidelines set a clear order for frontline workers in Phase 1b “because there is not sufficient supply at this time to vaccinate everyone at the same time.” But Virginians aged 75 and older are also included in Phase 1b, and it’s unclear where they fall in the order of prioritization.

Northam emphasized flexibility in his briefing last week, saying he’d rather see providers administer more doses than hew strictly to the state’s guidance. But given the state’s current pace, it’s unclear when the next two phases — which cover about half of the state’s roughly 8.5 million residents — will fully get underway.

As of Friday, the state had received 481,550 doses of vaccine and administered nearly 150,000, or about 30 percent of its total allocation. Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said Tuesday that the Virginia Department of Health’s vaccine reporting dashboard could be undercounting anywhere from 35,000 to 55,000, which would push the state’s total closer to 40 percent.

Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker ranks Virginia above nearby states including Pennsylvania, North Carolina and South Carolina, but below neighbors such as Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia (which has an administration rate more than double the Old Dominion’s). And some experts, including Denny and Bruce Y. Lee, a professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy, say the haphazard rollout of vaccines across the country is mainly attributable to poor federal planning.

“When it comes right down to it, very few states have the wherewithal or the resources for the kind of coordination that’s required,” said Lee, who also works as the executive director of CUNY’s Public Health Computational and Operations Research. “That needed to come from the federal government.”

But Capofari said that state planning also played a major role, pointing to sometimes drastically different vaccination rates across the country. Funding makes a major difference, as does intensive planning and coordination between different agencies and providers.

He pointed to hospitals and local health departments — two settings where the state has routed a significant number of vaccines, though the Virginia Department of Health still can’t say which vaccines went where. If hospitals are going to play a role in vaccinating groups other than their own employees, Capofari said they need clear guidance on who to prioritize and how to reach them. And if hospitals are expected to transport any surplus doses to other settings, there needs to be clear communication and a plan of action, from which facility is responsible for transporting the vaccine to the equipment they’ll use to preserve the doses to when the delivery will be made.

“I think there’s still a lot of uncertainty still as to what the plans are and even where to do the inoculations and how to go about it,” he said.

Regulators want to extend Virginia’s expiring pandemic workplace safety rules
Virginia Mercury, Ned OliverJanuary 11, 2021 (Medium)

Brandon

 

Gov. Ralph Northam at a press conference in October. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Gov. Ralph Northam acknowledged Wednesday that Virginia needs to speed up the pace of its COVID-19 vaccinations, announcing a “you use it or you lose it policy” prodding health care providers to administer the shots to more residents.

“I want you to empty those freezers and get shots in arms,” he said. “When you have vials, give out shots until they’re gone. No one wants to see any supplies sitting unused.”

The governor’s news briefing — his first in nearly a month — came as Virginia experiences its worst COVID-19 caseload than at any other point in the pandemic. The statewide percent positivity rate rose to nearly 17 percent on Wednesday, and Northam pointed out that daily case numbers are currently four times higher than they were in the spring — an average of more than 4,700 new infections every day.

At the same time, Virginia has been grappling with a sluggish rollout of a vaccine described by the governor as “the most powerful tool — the one that’s going to literally change things.” Northam has not announced new restrictions since early December, but has described COVID-19 vaccines as a ray of hope in the ongoing pandemic.

Many states have struggled with administering the shots after the federal government shipped out early doses in mid-December. But until recently, Virginia ranked 46th in the country when it came to the percentage of vaccines administered among states, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. The state’s rating has improved, but thousands of vaccines still have yet to make their way into the arms of Virginians.

State health officials also elaborated on reporting issues that have prevented administered doses from appearing on the Virginia Department of Health’s vaccine reporting dashboard. Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said Wednesday that the department updated its internal immunization reporting system in anticipation of the COVID-19 vaccine, but that some providers, as a result, have struggled to enter data in a timely manner. There have also been technical glitches that have prevented some health systems’ vaccines from hitting the dashboard.

Northam’s spokeswoman, Alena Yarmosky, said that in some cases, providers are reporting vaccinations but the data is appearing inaccurately in the state’s system, requiring VDH employees to go back and verify the numbers. As a result of all the problems, Oliver said that the state’s totals could be undercounting anywhere from 35,000 to 55,000 doses.

“We’re actually doing better than we appear,” he said after the briefing. But even if 55,000 was added to the state’s total number of administered vaccines, it would mean that health providers have given out around 171,247 of the 481,550 doses delivered to the state — around 35 percent.

To address the slow rollout, Northam announced several steps the administration plans to take over the next several weeks.

A provider with Augusta Health administers a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine this week. (Courtesy of Augusta Health)

New goals for administering the vaccine

Northam outlined new goals for giving out the vaccine as one of the first steps in his plan to ramp up administration. Currently, he said the state receives roughly 110,000 doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccine a week, which equates to an immediate goal of delivering 14,000 shots a day to fully use up that supply.

On Wednesday, VDH reported that 2,695 doses had been administered in the last 24 hours. That daily increase has been as high as 12,000 in recent days, but Yarmosky said the large jump was the result of backlogged data. Current reporting delays make it difficult for the department to assess daily progress, which is why resolving those issues is an instrumental part of achieving the governor’s goal, she added.

Longer-term, Northam said he’d like to build up to 25,000 daily doses — a number that also depends on federal officials ramping up shipments to states. Oliver later said the goal was achievable if President-elect Joe Biden delivered on his promise to distribute 100 million shots within his first 100 days in office. Yarmosky also said the state’s daily goal would increase with the greater supply.

‘Lose it or lose it’

Northam’s newly announced policy is directed at health systems, local health departments and other clinical settings that receive doses of the vaccine. The governor said with the next shipment of Pfizer and Moderna doses, VDH would expand its reporting so Virginians can see where vaccines are delivered and how quickly they’re being used.

“Virginians, you deserve this transparency,” he said. State officials will also monitor usage, and sites that don’t fully use their allocated doses could face reduced shipments going forward.

“Don’t save anything,” Northam said. “You’re going to get every dose you need because more is coming. But if you’re not using what you receive, you must be getting too much.”

A plan for next phases

The governor also unveiled priority groups for Phase 1b and 1c,  the next stages in the state’s vaccination campaign. According to Yarmosky, the current phase — 1a, which includes medical workers and long-term care facilities — should be finished by late January. VDH spokeswoman Erin Beard told the Mercury yesterday that moving onto later phases is based on whether “vaccine supply significantly increases” and “if vaccine demand is less than supply.”

Phase 1b will include essential and frontline workers — “people who work in jobs that keep society functioning,” Northam said. That includes roughly 285,000 teachers and childcare providers, along with first responders, mail carriers, corrections officers and grocery store workers. Essential workers in manufacturing and food production will also be included, as will public transit employees.

All adults aged 75 or older will also be included in phase 1b.

Phase 1c will cover essential workers in construction, transportation, and food service, such as restaurant servers, as well as adults aged 65 or older and all Virginians between 16 and 65 with high-risk medical conditions. The two groups — phase 1b and 1c — cover about half of the state’s roughly 8.5 million residents, Northam said, before the vaccine will move to the general public.

But the logistics of moving onto different phases — and the details of how state officials will ensure quicker innoculation — are largely unclear. Northam appointed Dr. Danny Avula, the director of the Richmond-Henrico Health Department, to oversee and coordinate statewide vaccination efforts, saying more details would become available in the coming weeks.

Dr. Danny Avula speaks at an event in 2018 during which he was named director of both the Richmond and Henrico County health departments. (Katie O’Connor/Virginia Mercury)

But as the Mercury has reported, some large health systems are vaccinating non-clinical employees who have worked from home since the start of the pandemic — even as some community providers struggle to book appointments with their local health departments.

Northam emphasized Wednesday that distribution sites should err on the side of vaccinating Virginians rather than holding doses based on prioritization. But Oliver also said that sites should follow the state’s guidance whenever possible “because that’s been well thought through” (he later added that VDH advised against giving out doses to Virginians who aren’t frontline workers, including anyone who can work from home).

What’s not clear is how Virginians in phase 1b and 1c will be notified that they’re eligible for the vaccine and when it becomes available. It’s also still unclear how health systems will manage excess doses. Northam said his administration hasn’t heard of vaccines being wasted, but Oliver later said anecdotal data suggests that only 60 percent of EMS workers and nurses have opted for vaccination.

Whether health systems will assist in vaccinating other priority groups remains to be seen. Oliver said it would require close collaboration with local health departments so that hospitals could redistribute unused doses to other settings.

“Maybe they vaccinate, maybe they just provide the supplies,” he said. “And we would shift the allocations if they weren’t using them.”

 

Virginia state senator dies of COVID-19 complications
Virginia Mercury, Robert ZulloJanuary 1, 2021 (Short)
Sen. Ben Chafin, R-Russell. (Photo by Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Virginia State Sen. A. Benton “Ben” Chafin Jr., R-Russell, has died of COVID-19, the Senate Republican leadership announced Friday evening.

“Tonight, as the Senate of Virginia comes to grips with this tremendous and untimely loss caused by COVID-19, our sympathy and prayers are with Ben’s wife, Lora Lee, their children and grandchildren, and Ben’s mother and his sister, Justice Teresa Chafin,” Senate Republican Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, said in a statement.

Chafin, 60, was born in Abingdon and was briefly a member of the House of Delegates before winning a special election to the Senate in 2014. He is the first Virginia lawmaker to die from the virus, though several have had bouts with COVID-19, as has Gov. Ralph Northam and his wife, Pam.

“Ben was deeply and wholeheartedly committed to the commonwealth, and especially to the people of Southwest Virginia. A community leader in Russell, Ben rose to prominence in the fields of law, banking and agriculture long before his neighbors elected him to the General Assembly,” Norment said.

“First as delegate and then senator, Ben relentlessly promoted and fought for the interests and values of Southwest. He put the interests of those he was entrusted to serve first, cherishing the people of the region he proudly called ‘home.’”

Northam, a Democrat and former state senator who also presided over the chamber as lieutenant governor, said Southwest Virginia had “lost a strong advocate — and we have all lost a good man.”

“I knew Ben as a lawmaker, an attorney, a banker, and a farmer raising beef cattle in Moccasin Valley, working the land just as generations of his family had done before him. He loved the outdoors, and he loved serving people even more. He pushed hard to bring jobs and investment to his district, and I will always be grateful for his courageous vote to expand health care for people who need it,” Northam said, referring to Chafin’s vote to expand Medicaid in 2018. Northam has ordered the state flag to be lowered to half-staff.

“Pam and I are praying for Lora and their children. … This is sad news to begin a new year with the loss of a kind and gracious man. May we all recommit to taking extra steps to care for one another,” Northam said.

The Roanoke Times reported that Chafin had tested positive for the virus in December but that his family kept the diagnosis private for weeks.

Democratic House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, said she was “deeply saddened” by Chafin’s death, which comes less than two weeks before the General Assembly is scheduled to convene on Jan. 13.

“I respected his commitment to the people of the 38th senatorial district and his strong advocacy on their behalf,” she said.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, said Chafin “epitomized the Virginia gentleman — he was compassionate, thoughtful and cared deeply for his district and all Virginians. We will miss him dearly.”

The consequences of rugged individualism in a pandemic
Virginia Mercury, Roger Chesley October 29, 2020 (Short)
A masked protester near the Virginia State Capitol during a “Reopen Virginia Rally” in Richmond, Va., April 22, 2020. (Parker Michels-Boyce/ For the Virginia Mercury)

Americans can be a selfish lot. Not everybody, of course. But too many people couldn’t care less about taking the necessary steps to keep deaths and infections from COVID-19 at bay.

It’s not that hard: Stay at home as much as possible. Wear a mask out in public and in buildings. Wash your hands. Avoid situations where you can’t stay at least 6 feet apart. Treat workers with respect and deference who must come into contact with consumers. Limit the number of people at social gatherings.

Folks, none of these are Herculean tasks. We’re not being asked to climb mountains, mine for ore or donate a kidney just to survive.

Yet several months into this raging pandemic, the “me-first” mentality is readily apparent, in the commonwealth and elsewhere:

• The Virginia Department of Health issued a news release last week noting COVID-19 cases were surging in Norton city and Lee, Scott and Wise counties. “Keep in mind that your behavior can help protect yourself and others — or put you and them at increased risk,” said Dr. Sue Cantrell, a director of health districts in the area. (I tried to interview Cantrell about whether resistance to mask-wearing contributed to the numbers, but I couldn’t reach her.)

• A mid-October wedding at Wintergreen Resort forced several employees to quarantine because of possible exposure to COVID-19, an official said. Some staffers tested positive. Weddings are special, but shouldn’t couples limit the number of guests because of the times we’re in? Even then, you don’t know if all the well-wishers had recent tests confirming they were free of the virus.

• Lynchburg General Hospital’s acute care facilities were “strained,” a top official said, because of an influx of coronavirus patients last week.

• Despite new restrictions imposed by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker prohibiting indoor dining in specific communities, a throng of customers showed up and packed a restaurant in defiance of the guidelines, the Chicago Tribune reported. The restaurant’s social media post said it was opening “out of survival and to help our staff pay their bills.” Yet Pritzker this week warned “there seems to be a COVID storm coming.”

The United States has proved the days of exceptionalism are over — unless you’re talking about leading everybody else with more than 226,000 deaths. By mid-October, the United States had the highest numbers of COVID-19 infections and deaths, and officials said we’ve entered a third peak of cases in many states.

We don’t have a vaccine. So why is it so hard for Americans to do what medical experts advise to fight this thing?

University professors I interviewed and scholarly articles suggested several reasons: Partisanship, since many Republicans followed President Donald Trump’s lead in downplaying or even denying the coronavirus’ existence, and they resisted wearing masks. A rugged individualism — baked into the nation’s founding — over working for the common good. And pandemic fatigue, even as there’s no end in sight to the carnage.

“We are a country that values individualism, materialism and wealth over the well-being of our neighbors,” Tim Goler, assistant professor of sociology and urban affairs at Norfolk State University, told me. He’s one of the researchers overseeing a pandemic study of older adults.

Goler added that people are fed up with being at home, especially if they haven’t been directly affected by deaths or illnesses: “They’re willing to sacrifice people dying.” You saw indications of this even earlier this year, when protesters demanded states to reopen their economies — even as spikes of infections continued.

“The pandemic has exposed the extent to which we do not live in a ‘United States of America,’ ” said Ernestine Duncan, a psychology professor at NSU. She noted people in other nations have accepted strong restrictions on movements and behavior, and they’re faring better than the U.S.

Clearly, we’re an individualistic society, Duncan noted.

It made me wonder about the last time our sprawling, populous country really sacrificed as a whole for the common good. Historians might point to World War II, in which food, gasoline and clothes were rationed.

Officials and residents collected scrap metal and rubber for the war effort. Women entered defense plants to work because so many men had joined the military and people grew “Victory Gardens” in large numbers to supplement their meals.

The circumstances, though, aren’t totally analogous. Back then, Americans were forced into rationing because of governmental mandates; that hasn’t always been the case this time. Trump has hesitated to restrict the movements and actions of citizens in spite of the way the coronavirus is transmitted.

In the 21st century, our rugged, go-it-alone mentality has horrific consequences. We shouldn’t be surprised by the ever-rising COVID-19 death toll if we continue to be more concerned about individual comfort rather than our collective safety.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy — an awful one.

Virginia COVID-19 Briefing
October 28, 2020 (59:00)
Virginia health officials issue COVID-19 warning over small gatherings
Adrianna Hargrove and Henry Graff October 28, 2020 (Short)

Virginia Health Officials are warning about small gatherings. It’s part of the concern over rising numbers in southwest Virginia but the message goes to the entire state as we head into the holidays.

“Coming together as an extended family as if you are in one household does present risk,” said Dr. Daniel Carey, Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources.

During a COVID-19 briefing Wednesday, Governor Ralph Northam said those gatherings are the reason behind a percent positivity climb from 5% to 8% in southwest Virginia.

“I know that many people are tired of COVID restrictions. We are all tired of not having social get togethers, not going to see sports or shows, not having the regular interactions that we count on in our lives,” said Northam.

Virginia COVID-19 Briefing
October 13, 2020 (54:00)
Virginia COVID-19 Briefing
September 15, 2020 (40:00)
Virginia COVID-19 Briefing
August 5, 2020 (01:00:00)
Virginia COVID-19 Briefing
July 28, 2020 (55:00)

To understand the mind of a teacher, those of us who do other things for a living must attempt some mental gymnastics.

Let’s imagine a professional passion so acute that when the coronavirus shuttered classrooms, they pivoted with little warning or rehearsal to digitally link dozens of children from home and continue daily instruction remotely.

Close your eyes and comprehend a devotion to students so strong that you spend your personal money to supplement classroom supplies as eclectic as sanitizing wipes and Elmer’s glue, crepe paper and whiteboard markers.

Now, as days start shortening and summer bends toward autumn and a new academic calendar, imagine balancing your innate yearning for the classroom with a well-reasoned fear of a monstrously contagious, potentially deadly virus that medicine still can’t control and science doesn’t fully understand.

Finally, overlay that against the backdrop of political conflict and chaos that multiplies by the day.

Virginia prison system says active COVID-19 cases down to 22
Virginia Mercury, Ned OliverJuly 13, 2020 (Short)

The Virginia Department of Corrections says it’s down to 22 active cases of COVID-19 among inmates in the 40 prisons it operates around the state.

Gov. Ralph Northam’s secretary of public safety, Brian Moran, touted the figures Friday, which include six hospitalized prisoners and 16 still being held at various correctional facilities. He emphasized the latter number in a presentation to lawmakers.

“We have 16, let me repeat, 16 active cases in all of our correctional facilities,” he said during a joint meeting of the Senate’s judiciary and social services committees. “That’s out of 28,000 inmates, 40 correctional facilities. Sixteen — one six — active cases.”

Virginia is refusing to release information on COVID-19 outbreaks at poultry processing plants on the grounds of privacy concerns, despite a June decision to provide such data for long-term care facilities.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Mercury in June after Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration began releasing facility-specific data for nursing homes, the Virginia Department of Health said it would not provide the same information for poultry processing plants “in order to ensure that VDH is able to preserve the anonymity of individuals whose medical records have been examined during the investigation of COVID-19.”

“VDH is considering how to make the information you have requested available at the health district and/or regional level,” wrote VDH Deputy Commissioner for Governmental and Regulatory Affairs Joseph Hilbert in an email.

Neither a followup request to Hilbert nor an inquiry to the governor’s office about the justification for releasing such information for nursing homes but not poultry plants were answered.

About

Web

VA Dept of Health Covid-19 webiste

Virginia

Congress

Virginia Republicans and Democrats Call for Bipartisan COVID-19 Relief Bill
By Erik Burk, reporter for the Virginia Star on December 9, 2020

As Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia) signals that a $908 billion relief bill will be ready for the Senate to consider soon, Virginia Republicans are calling for a similar bill in the House of Representatives. But Congressman Morgan Griffith (R-VA-09) is warning leadership not to bundle it with a budget appropriations bill.

“Once again, congressional leadership finds itself expecting one enormous appropriations bill to address all the needs of the moment. The House should have followed regular order earlier and passed individual spending bills as the law demands,” Griffith said in a Tuesday press release.
More VA congressional member views in article.

Beyer Introduces Legislation To Support Research Into Long Term Effects Of Coronavirus Infection

ep. Don Beyer this week introduced the COVID-19 Long Haulers Act, which would authorize and fund research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PICORI) to benefit so-called “long haulers,” people who experience long term effects of COVID-19 infections. From the beginning of the pandemic medical researchers have documented a wide array of lingering conditions affecting patients long after they recover from initial infection, but leading public health officials say more research is needed to fully understand and respond to the phenomenon.

“Over ten months after coronavirus was first documented in the United States, some of the worst suffering is still being borne by people who got sick and recovered from their initial infections early in the year,” said Beyer. “Given the alarming pace of the virus’ spread right now, we may see significant proliferation of individuals suffering long term effects of coronavirus infections. We need to do everything we can as soon as we can to help those people, and to get a handle on this problem. My bill would make major investments in research funding at leading institutions, and make this a major priority for American medical research.”

Beyer serves on the House Committee on Ways and Means, which has partial jurisdiction over health care. He previously led successful efforts to reauthorize and fund the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), spearheaded a House push to fund the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), and is the sponsor of legislation to ensure data transparency at the CDC during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Text of the COVID-19 Long Haulers Act is available here.

General Assembly

COVID-19 Relief Fund

Last April Gov. Ralph Northam and lawmakers created the COVID-19 Relief Fund. The goal is to help the commonwealth push through its revenue losses without drastically cutting programs or increasing taxes. The fund also sends 12 percent of its revenue straight to localities.

In December the governor shifted the focus of the relief money, saying it will target struggling small businesses. Virginia is estimated to reap $140 million from the fund this fiscal year through a $1,200-a-month tax on skill game machines, the type found in bars, gas stations, convenience stores and restaurants.

Prevention

Frequently Asked Questions – Coronavirus

From Virginia Department of Health

All FAQ’s PDF (updated biweekly)
VDH FAQs are searchable in PDF format, using the keys Ctrl-F

Topics include:
COVID-19 Basics
Public Health Actions
Vaccination
Schools, Workplaces & Community Locations
Special Populations
Travelers
Animals & Veterinarians

Containment Measures

Governor Northam Announces New Statewide Measures to Contain COVID-19
Nov. 13, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Economic Recovery

Governor Northam Announces Over $6 Million in GO Virginia Grants to Stimulate Economic Growth, Address Ongoing Impacts of Pandemic

Funding supports 11 projects that foster innovation, expand workforce development programs, and grow portfolio of business-ready sites

“GO Virginia has succeeded in creating a framework for strategic thinking in at the regional level,” said GO Virginia Board Vice Chair Nancy Howell Agee. “The mission of the program is perhaps even more relevant today than it was when we announced our first grant. Growing and diversifying regional economies while creating high quality jobs for Virginians is a goal we share with our partners across the Commonwealth.”

Since the program began in 2017, GO Virginia has funded 149 projects and awarded approximately $52.2 million to support regional economic development efforts. The 24-person GO Virginia Board includes members of the Governor’s cabinet, the business community, and the General Assembly. Additional information about the GO Virginia program is available at dhcd.virginia.gov/gova.

X
Finance CommitteeVirginia 2020 News
The strange, roller-coaster term of Virginia’s improbable governor, Ralph Northam
Virginia Mercury, Bob LewisJanuary 10, 2022 (Short)

Happy trails, Governor Northam.

By the end of this week, the strange, improbable four-year tour of Virginia’s 73rd governor, His Excellency Ralph Shearer Northam, will be over.

In a time-honored ceremony on Saturday morning, surrounded by living former governors dressed befitting a high-society church wedding, the mild-mannered Eastern Shore-raised country doctor who ambled into the Virginia Senate for the first time just 14 years ago literally turns the keys to the Executive Mansion over to the 74th governor, His soon-to-be-Excellency Glenn Youngkin.

(Yes, they really do use that royal-sounding honorific in official introductions of Virginia governors. It’s been a thing since Jamestown.)

Gov. Northam, fare thee well in your return to civilian life. Whether it’s resuming your work as a pediatric neurologist, becoming a high-profile rainmaker for one of the white-shoe lobbying shops that dot Richmond’s cityscape between Canal and Main streets, or just tending your garden, I wish you well, sir.

One thing about your single, non-renewable term that Virginia’s Constitution uniquely affords its chief executives: It wasn’t boring, much as you might have wished it to be. Yours were theme-park years for the press corps.

Youngkin and Miyares announce plans to challenge federal vaccine mandates
Virginia Mercury, Kate MastersJanuary 7, 2022 (Short)

Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin and incoming Attorney General Jason Miyares will “challenge” vaccine mandates passed down by the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and other federal agencies.

The plans, announced in a Friday news release, come as the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments on whether the mandates should go into effect even while they’re challenged by at least two dozen states in federal appeals courts. Both Miyares and Youngkin openly opposed state and federal mandates on the campaign trail, but the announcement solidifies their policy stance as the requirement continues to face legal challenges.

President Joe Biden first announced the mandate in November. Under federal emergency regulations, any health care facilities that accepted CMS funding would have been required to implement a staff vaccine mandate by this month. A similar regulation, adopted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, would have required companies with 100 or more employees to adopt vaccine or weekly testing mandates for workers.

Supreme Court of Virginia - Public Hearing on Regional Redistricting
Virginia Mercury, Sarah VogelsongNovember 8, 2021 (Short)

On the weekend of Oct. 9, with the incoming fall and a new moon swelling tides along the Mid-Atlantic coast, water gushed up from the Chesapeake Bay onto Ron Robinson’s property in Mathews County.

The so-called “king tide” wasn’t unexpected: the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had earlier in the season issued a bulletin predicting higher than normal tides for the region during the period. But the real water levels outstripped NOAA predictions, hitting the agency’s “moderate flooding” stage on Oct. 10.

“This time,” said Robinson, his dock “was completely underwater and the erosion was terrible. It was just massive waves crashing into our yard.”

Robinson, like many other property owners on the rural Middle Peninsula, has been seeking a way to hold back the waters that with sea level rise keep rising ever higher. Since he bought his house in Mathews in August 2020, he estimates he’s lost between 20 and 30 feet of his yard to the seas.

For these property owners, the new Community Flood Preparedness Fund, flush with $64 million from Virginia’s participation in a regional carbon market, represents a lifeline. But after Virginia announced the first round of $7.8 million in local flood protection grants, some residents say the state is unfairly imposing more stringent standards on projects in rural areas, where shorelines are overwhelmingly in private hands.

“The fund is here to help communities deal with flooding challenges, and yet all the private (projects) are lock-boxed,” said Lewie Lawrence, executive director of the Middle Peninsula Planning Commission.

Middle Peninsula property owners say Flood Fund disadvantages rural coastal dwellers
Virginia Mercury, Sarah VogelsongNovember 8, 2021 (Short)

On the weekend of Oct. 9, with the incoming fall and a new moon swelling tides along the Mid-Atlantic coast, water gushed up from the Chesapeake Bay onto Ron Robinson’s property in Mathews County.

The so-called “king tide” wasn’t unexpected: the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had earlier in the season issued a bulletin predicting higher than normal tides for the region during the period. But the real water levels outstripped NOAA predictions, hitting the agency’s “moderate flooding” stage on Oct. 10.

“This time,” said Robinson, his dock “was completely underwater and the erosion was terrible. It was just massive waves crashing into our yard.”

Robinson, like many other property owners on the rural Middle Peninsula, has been seeking a way to hold back the waters that with sea level rise keep rising ever higher. Since he bought his house in Mathews in August 2020, he estimates he’s lost between 20 and 30 feet of his yard to the seas.

For these property owners, the new Community Flood Preparedness Fund, flush with $64 million from Virginia’s participation in a regional carbon market, represents a lifeline. But after Virginia announced the first round of $7.8 million in local flood protection grants, some residents say the state is unfairly imposing more stringent standards on projects in rural areas, where shorelines are overwhelmingly in private hands.

“The fund is here to help communities deal with flooding challenges, and yet all the private (projects) are lock-boxed,” said Lewie Lawrence, executive director of the Middle Peninsula Planning Commission.

GOP agenda takes shape in Richmond
Virginia Mercury, Ned OliverNovember 4, 2021 (Medium)

A friendly meeting between the governor and the governor elect. A preview of the new House majority’s agenda. Promises to refocus the attorney general’s office on law enforcement.

The transition of power from Democrats to Republicans in Richmond began in earnest Thursday after the GOP’s electoral sweep earlier this week, which handed the party control of all three statewide offices and the House of Delegates after two years of unified Democratic control.

At the Executive Mansion, Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin and Gov. Ralph Northam dined on beef tenderloin together before emerging to address the press, promising a smooth transition between administrations.

“I just want to thank you for the incredibly cooperative way that you’ve expressed you’re going to help us,” Youngkin said, calling the meeting the beginning of a friendship. “It’s important. We have a lot of work to do.”

Youngkin also promised to be “incredibly open and accessible,” though neither he nor Northam took questions at the event.

Republicans say that behind the scenes, GOP leaders in the House are beginning to work with Youngkin to develop an agenda that might have a chance in the Senate, where Democrats still hold a one-seat majority.

Democrats struggle to find message on culture wars amid GOP success in Virginia
CNN, Manu Raju, Alex Rogers and Melanie ZanonaNovember 4, 2021 (Medium)

A week before their party endured deep losses in Virginia, some of the most vulnerable House Democrats privately debated how to respond to pointed GOP attacks on an issue that has been percolating in districts across the country: critical race theory.

With Republicans again embracing the culture wars, a year after successfully attacking Democrats over the defund the police movement in House races nationwide, leaders of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last week presented research and debated how to handle the once-obscure topic that is primarily taught at the university level but has become a focus on the right, according to multiple people familiar with the matter.

And a split emerged between two of the party’s frontline Democrats: Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux of Georgia, who is White, and Lauren Underwood of Illinois, who is Black. Underwood wanted to forcefully counter the GOP’s misinformation head-on, while Bourdeaux was leery about elevating the issue, according to sources familiar with the matter. Rep. Jahana Hayes of Connecticut, another Black woman, sided with Underwood during the meeting.

“We have a rising American electorate that are Black and brown people,” Underwood told CNN when asked about the episode. “We should be able to speak to their issues, their experiences as Americans in this country, without feeling like it’s a liability for other audiences.”

Biden says Virginia race wasn’t blowback against him
Associated Press, Colleen Long and Aamer MadhaniNovember 4, 2021 (Medium)

President Joe Biden said Wednesday the Democrats’ setbacks in Tuesday’s elections underscore that the party needs to “produce for the American people,” but he pushed back against the notion that the off-year election results were a repudiation of his presidency.

Biden suggested that his inability to get Congress to pass a $1 trillion infrastructure deal and a $1.75 trillion package of social and climate programs ahead of the voting didn’t make a difference.

In Virginia’s governor’s race Democrat Terry McAuliffe lost to first-time Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin in a state that Biden won by 10 percentage points a year ago.

“I think we should have passed it before Election Day,” Biden said. ”But I’m not sure that I would have been able to change” people’s minds in Republican-leaning areas either way.

He added that, “people are upset and uncertain about a lot of things” including the pandemic, the job market and the price of a gallon of gasoline.

Biden made the comments to reporters after delivering remarks to highlight what he said was a “great day” in the fight against coronavirus pandemic as children 5 to 11 became eligible to begin receiving the preventive vaccine.

Youngkin wins major upset as GOP roars back in Virginia
Virginia Mercury, Graham Moomaw and Ned OliverNovember 3, 2021 (Medium)

Republican Glenn Youngkin narrowly defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe in Tuesday’s election for governor, a major upset on a night that saw the Virginia GOP make sweeping gains after a nearly decade-long losing streak in statewide elections. Several news outlets called the race for Youngkin shortly after 12:30 a.m.

Republicans Winsome Sears and Jason Miyares also held leads over their opponents in the races for lieutenant governor and attorney general and the GOP appeared on pace to take the House of Delegates, where they lost their majority just two years ago, according to preliminary results.  The GOP appears to have captured 52 seats, obliterating Democrats’ 55-45 majority.

Youngkin, a Northern Virginia businessman few had heard of a year ago, seized on parents’ various frustrations over K-12 schools, including hyping the incursion of “critical race theory” to overtake McAuliffe, a well-connected former governor who sought to win a second term largely by stoking fears about the lingering presence of former President Donald Trump.

Speaking to a crowd of supporters at a hotel in Chantilly, Youngkin said his victory is a defining moment in Virginia politics.

“Together we will change the trajectory of this commonwealth, and friends, we are going to start that transformation on day one,” he said. “Our kids can’t wait. We work in real-people time, not government time.”

Virginia Beach voters approve $567 million bond referendum to deal with flooding
Virginia Mercury, Sarah VogelsongNovember 2, 2021 (Short)

Virginia Beach residents approved a referendum Tuesday that will allow the city to issue up to $567 million in bonds to cover the cost of accelerating a flood protection program designed to deal with stormwater and sea level rise problems.

More than two-thirds of voters were in favor of the issuance, which is expected to increase real estate taxes over the next decade by 4.3 to 6.4 cents per $100 of assessed value.

The city is among Virginia’s most hard-hit localities in terms of sea level rise, which is impacting the Hampton Roads region — home to the nation’s largest naval base and a host of military installations — faster than any other area on the East Coast.

The 21 projects the city proposes to fund through a three-phase bond issuance were specifically identified in the referendum and cover everything from the conversion of a city-owned golf course into a park with stormwater storage to extensive storm drain improvements and road elevation to the construction of flood barriers.

While all of the projects were expected to be carried out regardless of whether the referendum passed, the bond issuances will allow Virginia Beach to accelerate its timeline for their rollout from 20 or 25 years to 10 years.

Election Day is here: What’s at stake in Virginia today
Virginia MercuryNovember 2, 2021 (Long)

More than one million of Virginia’s nearly 6 million registered voters have taken advantage of early voting to cast ballots for today’s election, when voters will select a governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and all 100 members of the House of Delegates.  For those voting today, polls open 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. (If you’re in line by 7, you can still vote.) To find your polling place and access other information, go here.

The main event

The campaign for governor has been particularly combative, with former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe battling GOP nominee Glenn Youngkin, a former private equity executive, in a race that has narrowed dramatically over the final months and is being closely watched across the country because of what it might portend for national politics, particularly next year’s congressional midterm elections.

 Former U.S. President Barack Obama campaigns with Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe at Virginia Commonwealth University October 23, 2021 in Richmond, Virginia. The Virginia gubernatorial election, pitting McAuliffe against Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin, is November 2. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

McAuliffe has been determined to try to make the contest about former President Donald Trump, whose deep unpopularity with voters here proved devastating for Virginia Republicans, who lost control of the state Senate and House of Delegates during his four years in the White House. With Youngkin, though, a first-time candidate who has lasered in on culture war debates, particularly racial equity controversies gripping school systems, they see themselves within striking distance of the executive mansion for the first time since Bob McDonnell was elected in 2009.

COMMENTARY: Virginia’s toxic campaign season: life in the Divided States of America
Virginia Mercury, Bob LewisNovember 1, 2021 (Medium)

In school board meetings, city council sessions and public hearings across the country – including here in Virginia – you see due process dissolve into red-faced rants, threats and arrests.

On the grounds of the university Thomas Jefferson founded and in Charlottesville, we saw it explode in blood and death four years ago – a prelude to even more stunning violence at the U.S. Capitol in a failed Jan. 6 bid to halt the next president’s inauguration on the site two weeks later.

Peaceful marches in protest of manifest racial injustice – the broad-daylight police murder of a Black man on a street in Minneapolis – were hijacked by malign interests who fomented violence that burned the very communities where the most oppressed lived.

Spread across the slick cardstock mailings and the even slicker attack ads pervading the airwaves and your online portals are bitter, cutting words – distortions usually and often outright mistruths – as candidates in a deadlocked governor’s race finish their scorched-earth, damn-the-consequences campaigns.

Coalfield stalwart Appalachian Power adds first solar projects to generation portfolio
Virginia Mercury, Sarah VogelsongOctober 28, 2021 (Medium)

Appalachian Power, the primary electric utility supplying Virginia’s coalfields region, has begun drawing power from solar.

On Thursday, the utility announced it has added 20 megawatts of solar power from Leatherwood Solar in Henry County to the portfolio of facilities it relies on to generate energy for Virginia customers. Leatherwood, which began supplying the utility at the end of August, is expected to produce enough energy to power approximately 3,600 homes.

Appalachian Power also announced it plans to add another 35 megawatts from solar farms in Campbell and Wythe counties in the next few months.

Company spokesperson Teresa Hall confirmed that the projects are the first solar to be added to Appalachian Power’s generation portfolio.

The utility is acquiring the power from all three of the facilities through power purchase agreements.

After years of bipartisan giving, Dominion Energy leans into Democratic control
Virginia Mercury, Ned OliverOctober 26, 2021 (Short)

Dominion Energy’s political giving in Virginia has surged into the millions this year, and Democrats are the biggest beneficiaries, with donations totaling more than $1.8 million so far this cycle, according to campaign finance records compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project.

Republicans, meanwhile, have received just over $1 million from the influential electric utility, the records show.

The figures represent a substantial increase over past donations — which for two decades have typically hovered in the $300,000-per-year range — and a break from the company’s old approach of generally giving similar amounts of money to Republicans and Democrats, especially in gubernatorial election years.

The shift comes even as the vast majority of Democrats running for office this year have pledged to reject Dominion’s donations, prompting the company to go to lengths to direct money to candidates who have publicly said they would not solicit or accept the energy utility’s contributions.

Siemens Gamesa chooses Virginia for offshore wind turbine blade factory
Virginia Mercury, Sarah VogelsongOctober 25, 2021 (Medium)

Siemens Gamesa announced Monday that it plans to build the United States’ first offshore wind turbine blade facility at the Portsmouth Marine Terminal, notching a major win for Virginia as it strives to become a hub for the nation’s fledgling offshore wind energy industry.

The announcement was made Monday at the terminal by U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.

The Spanish-German wind engineering company said it plans to invest more than $200 million in the Portsmouth Marine Terminal facility, which will produce blades for offshore wind projects throughout North America, per Northam’s office.

The facility is expected to create over 300 jobs.

Virginia’s largest electric utility, Dominion Energy, previously selected Siemens Gamesa as the turbine supplier for its 2.6 gigawatt Virginia Coastal Offshore Wind project being developed 27 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach. A 12 megawatt pilot constructed by Dominion became the nation’s first offshore wind installation in federal waters and began delivering energy to customers in January 2021.

Virginia Democrats sue USPS over delayed delivery of election-related material
CNN, Kiely Westhoff and Veronica StracqualursiOctober 23, 2021 (Medium)

The Virginia Democratic Party filed a lawsuit against the US Postal Service on Friday, alleging local branches failed to deliver and process election-related material ahead of its high-stakes gubernatorial race, thereby “threatening to disenfranchise thousands of Virginia voters.”

The organization says delays in election-related mail across Albemarle County, which includes the city of Charlottesville, James City County, which is adjacent to Williamsburg, and the area of Portsmouth near Norfolk, are “particularly egregious,” according to the lawsuit.

Friday’s lawsuit was filed less than two weeks before the closely watched governor’s race between Terry McAuliffe and Glenn Youngkin. Democrats are hoping to hold onto the governor’s mansion and maintain control of the state legislature, while Youngkin seeks to be Virginia’s first Republican to win a statewide election since 2009.

“Thousands of ballots delivered to postal facilities by the general registrars weeks ago are still outstanding and, weeks later, have not yet even been scanned into USPS’s system. Even if these voters do eventually receive their ballots before Election Day, the slowdowns promise that they will not have sufficient time to send them back with assurance that they will arrive in time to be counted,” the lawsuit filed in US District Court says.

How the tobacco commission is paying off student loans
Cardinal News, Amy TrebtOctober 19, 2021 (Medium)

This was not the plan.

When Amber Kelly graduated from Emory and Henry College in 2018 with about $10,000 in school debt she knew she didn’t have time to waste.

She needed and wanted, a good job anywhere within a two-hour radius of her childhood home.

When her mom told her about the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission’s Talent Attraction Program ― which helps new graduates pay off school debt in exchange for their commitment to work and play in Southwest or Southside Virginia ― she was thrilled.

The program was designed specifically to attract recent college graduates to one of the 40 localities in Virginia’s tobacco country which stretches from Lee County on the western end of the state to Sussex County in the east.

Awardees must agree to take hard-to-fill jobs ― think science, math, and special education ― and get involved in the community for two years. In exchange, graduates can receive up to $12,000 annually to put toward their college debt.

Students who successfully complete the first two years become eligible to apply for another two years.

So Kelly, one of the first 92 to be granted a TAP award, took a job with Wise Primary School and moved home.

“I wasn’t excited to go back home. But, knowing what I know now I’m really glad I made that decision,” said Kelly who bought a house, got married this summer and is now expecting her first child.

Northam announces $2 billion investment with local, private partners to expand broadband
Richmond Times-Dispatch, Michael MartzOctober 19, 2021 (Medium)

Virginia is partnering with local governments and private operators for an investment of up to $2 billion to expand high-speed internet access to more than 250,000 homes and businesses, as the state uses federal emergency aid to close a glaring gap in opportunity for remote work and study during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday that the state has received requests for $943 million in grants to fund 57 projects to expand broadband telecommunications access in 84 localities across Virginia. The state expects to have $850 million in federal and state budget funds for the effort, drawn mostly from aid under the American Rescue Plan Act. It would be matched by $1.15 billion in private and local government funds.

The state will vet the requested projects for eligibility. Not all of the projects will be funded this year, but the state expects to award grants by the end of the year to put Virginia in position to achieve universal broadband coverage for all parts of Virginia by 2024, four years earlier than the governor had hoped.

“Broadband is as critical today as electricity was in the last century,” said Northam, a native of the Eastern Shore. “Making sure more Virginians can get access to it has been a priority since I took office, and the pandemic has pushed us all to move even faster.”
“Virginia is now on track to achieve universal broadband by 2024, which means more connections, more investments, more online learning and expanded telehealth options, especially in rural Virginia,” he said.

Evaluating Virginia’s redistricting reforms
Virginia Mercury, Alex KeenaOctober 19, 2021 (Medium)

Last year, Virginia voters approved a sweeping set of changes to the redistricting process in the form of a constitutional amendment proposed by the General Assembly. The centerpiece of these reforms is a bipartisan redistricting commission comprised of eight legislators and eight citizens tasked with drawing state legislative and congressional election maps.

Despite delays in the 2020 census caused by the global pandemic, the once-a-decade redistricting process is currently underway.

How have the new redistricting reforms fared so far?

While the commission is currently tackling the congressional maps, it missed a key deadline for approving state legislative maps. It was widely reported that the commissioners have split into political camps, and earlier this month three Democratic commissioners walked out of meetings in frustration.

That the commission has yet to find common ground is not surprising, because the design of the commission balances the power of Republicans and Democrats and gives legislators equal representation with citizens. Although the commission must approve a plan by a supermajority, there are few incentives for commissioners to divorce themselves from partisan interests and work together.

If the commission doesn’t approve the state and federal maps — which seems a likely scenario at this point — the Supreme Court of Virginia (SCOVA) will take over the process.

Can SCOVA draw fair maps?

The common wealth of water
Virginia Mercury, Karenna GoreOctober 18, 2021 (Medium)

In the final months of 2021, a decision is looming in Virginia about the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would carry fracked gas on a 303-mile route that crosses hundreds of bodies of water and traverses steep slopes that are prone to erosion.

The State Water Control Board will vote on whether to grant the company the water quality certification required under the Clean Water Act after a public comment period that closes on Oct. 27.

The company behind the pipeline has already been cited for more than 350 violations along this route. Local communities and landowners are objecting to the use of eminent domain for a project averse to the public interest. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has recommended that the Army Corps of Engineers deny the section 404 permit due to “substantial concerns” about the project’s impact on streams and rivers.

And, on top of all that, this pipeline is not even needed. As the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis wrote in a report in March 2021, “in the seven years since the project was first proposed, the rationale for the Mountain Valley Pipeline has largely disappeared.”

We are also marking the 49th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, which was enacted on Oct. 18, 1972, after Congress overrode President Richard Nixon’s midnight veto. A close look at the origins of that act can help us understand what is at stake in this pipeline decision.

The Virginia Redistricting Commission’s first-ever attempt to draw fair political maps collapsed in spectacular fashion Friday, when frustrated Democrats walked out of a meeting after Republicans rebuffed their suggestions for reaching a compromise.

The commission, which has been holding regular meetings for more than a month, never came close to reaching an agreement on final General Assembly maps. Partisanship dominated the process from the start, with the commission hiring two teams of overtly partisan consultants and repeatedly failing to agree on how to merge two sets of maps.

The process now appears headed to the Supreme Court of Virginia, unless the three Democratic walkouts change their minds and agree to meet again. But that appears unlikely based on how Friday’s meeting ended.

The gridlock reached a breaking point as the commission failed to agree on which maps to use as a starting point for its final push for a deal. The commission’s eight Democrats voted to begin with a Republican-drawn House of Delegates map and Democratic-drawn Senate map. Republicans voted against that offer and suggested keeping both a GOP and Democratic Senate map alive — a proposal all eight Democrats voted down.

That prompted Democratic co-chair Greta Harris to call it quits. If the commission is going to work in 2031, she said, it shouldn’t have any legislators on it and all members should be required to take a history class to understand why Black commissioners felt so strongly about protecting minority voting power.

“I think our work is done,” Harris said. “And what a shame it is.”

The Virginia Redistricting Commission’s recent meetings have taken on a gloomy tone, with many predicting it’s all but certain to fail and leave it to the Supreme Court of Virginia to redraw the state’s political maps.

But experts at the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, which is grading redistricting proposals from numerous states based on criteria like political fairness, competitiveness and geography, say that with a few minor changes to draft maps, the commission can still deliver on the expectation of a fairer result.

“The Virginia Redistricting Commission’s deliberations have been contentious, and according to some spectators, a fraught process. But from a distance, things don’t look that bad,” Princeton professor Sam Wang wrote in a Wednesday memo addressed “to interested parties in Virginia.”

The memo suggests a final round of edits to a Republican-drawn House of Delegates map and an attempted compromise Senate map, all of which it says would make a few Republican-leaning districts more competitive and improve the maps’ fairness overall.

“Although the Redistricting Commission may be feeling fatigued, they are closer to success than they realize,” Wang wrote.

Proposed Chickahominy Pipeline map released; county officials complain about lack of information
Virginia Mercury, Sarah VogelsongSeptember 24, 2021 (Medium)

A map of the proposed Chickahominy Pipeline through Louisa, Hanover, Henrico, New Kent and Charles City County was released this week, although officials from several counties complained they have been unable to obtain more details about the project.

“We have attempted to reach out to the company’s representatives to get no response, and the only information that we have received from the company is what was required by the State Corporation Commission,” said Cari Tretina, chief of staff for Henrico County Manager John Vithoulkas. “The only way Henrico County actually received any information about the pipeline was either from our residents who made us aware and also Louisa County.”

Louisa County supervisors also described a dearth of information about the proposal at a Sept. 20 board meeting.

“When I look at this map, little to none of the pipeline goes through my district, but I’ve already had plenty of people calling me anyway concerned about it, and rightfully so, because they don’t know who’s doing what and where they are and what they are,” said Louisa Supervisor Eric Purcell during the meeting.

Supervisor Fitzgerald Barnes said his biggest concern was whether the pipeline would be able to exercise eminent domain.

“Do they have eminent domain or not?” he asked. “That’s a huge question that has to be answered … because that’s really going to affect our citizens.”

As Youngkin rejects Texas-style ban, GOP ticket steers clear of anti-abortion rally in Richmond
Virginia Mercury, GRAHAM MOOMAW AND JACKIE LLANOS HERNANDEZ September 18, 2021 (Medium)

If it didn’t count as a banned weapon, she would have brought her sledgehammer, anti-abortion activist Victoria Cobb told the March for Life crowd Friday from the steps of the Virginia Capitol.

The hammer, she said, is a symbol of what the pro-life movement hopes to do to former Gov. Terry McAulffe’s “brick wall” for abortion rights.

“You are going to break down that wall,” Cobb, president of the socially conservative Family Foundation, told the group gathered on Capitol Square. “You are going to be the ones that do whatever it takes.”

Legal developments outside Virginia have pushed abortion to the forefront of this year’s elections, with activists on both sides stressing the high stakes in the gubernatorial contest between McAuliffe, a Democrat, and Republican Glenn Youngkin.

Three Republican lawmakers spoke at the third annual March for Life in Richmond, where marchers shouted chants against the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that established abortion as a constitutional right and booed at the mention of recent Democratic governors. The Family Foundation described the crowd as being in the thousands. Capitol Police estimated there were 600 attendees.

None of the three Republicans running for statewide office this year spoke at the event, forgoing a chance to speak to a sizable crowd to campaign elsewhere. Earlier this year, Youngkin was caught on camera expressing sympathy for the anti-abortion cause but adding he couldn’t press the issue to avoid turning off independent voters.

Legal challenge slows rural broadband plans in Virginia
Virginia Mercury, Ned OliverSeptember 15, 2021 (Medium)

Supporters call it a commonsense way to get broadband internet into more homes in rural Virginia. A Culpeper County couple calls it an unconstitutional infringement on their property rights.

The fight, which has already halted an $600 million broadband expansion project, does not appear to be going away anytime soon.

At issue is a 2020 law allowing electric and communications utilities to string fiber along their existing poles, lines and conduit — an extensive network of infrastructure that already cuts through the far-flung mountains, fields and woodlands where the state is hoping to get residents and businesses hooked up to high speed internet by 2024.

The legislation allows the utility companies to sidestep the trouble and expense of negotiating with property owners along the routes, who otherwise would be entitled to compensation for the additional use of their property, even if it’s just a new strand of wire on a pole that’s been there for decades.

The law passed with near unanimous, bipartisan support, but when the Rappahannock Electric Cooperative attempted to invoke the provisions, it got hit with a lawsuit by the owners of a farm in Culpeper County, John and Cynthia Grano.

Sen. Mark Warner, the self-described “only so-called Democratic moderate” on the Senate Budget Committee, described how he will work with Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders to craft a spending bill that could be passed by reconciliation along with a bipartisan infrastructure bill.

“I think I’m the only so-called Democratic moderate on the Budget Committee,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Monday. “I’m prepared to work with Senator Sanders and others to start down the path on a budget reconciliation process.”

Warner said he would be happy for the reconciliation package to include tax increases.

Mark Warner emerges as moderates' dealmaker-in-chief
Axios, Jonathan SwanJune 27, 2021 (Short)

As Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain navigate the legislative minefield of the next few months, they’ll often turn to a moderate Democrat who gets far less ink than Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) or Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

The big picture: Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) has become a pivotal player in the multi-trillion-dollar negotiations that will shape the Democrats’ electoral prospects, Joe Biden’s presidency and the future of the country.

Behind the scenes: Centrist Democrats and Republicans involved in the negotiations tell Axios that Warner is well-positioned for this dealmaking role.

Governance via Zoom is coming to an end in Virginia. Should it?
Virginia Mercury, Graham Moomaw| Sarah Vogelsong June 28, 2021 (Short)

For more than a year, policymakers across Virginia have been able to log on and conduct public business from whatever room, or car, they happen to be in.

But public bodies will have to transition back to in-person meetings after June 30, the expiration date of the state of emergency Gov. Ralph Northam declared at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis.

That declaration gave all state and local boards more leeway to meet electronically and avoid rules requiring officials to conduct most business in person and in direct view of the public.

The return to normal operations is also sparking discussion about transparency and civic engagement, and whether some aspects of virtual meetings should be kept once the pandemic’s over.

Winning elections for the past five years has been low-hanging fruit for Democrats in Virginia, and the reason can be summed up in two words: Donald Trump.

The divisive former president’s unpopularity in the commonwealth has had the net effect of turning Virginia – where no Republican has won a statewide race since 2009 – from deep purple to a bright cobalt blue.

Consider that since 2016, the year Trump led his party’s ticket and won the presidency, the GOP in Virginia has lost: two U.S. Senate races; the 2017 gubernatorial race; its U.S. House of Representatives majority; its majority in the Virginia Senate and; its House of Delegates majority. The last time the Republican Party found itself so shut out of Virginia political power was 1969.

Del. Hala Ayala, the newly minted Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, drew harsh criticism in the final days of the campaign for flipping on a promise to refuse campaign donations from state-regulated monopolies.

Her campaign ducked questions about the decision last week after finance reports revealed she had accepted a $100,000 donation from Dominion Energy, but in an interview at a polling place in Prince William on Tuesday, she suggested the decision came down to being able to fund her campaign’s voter outreach.

“It’s about talking to voters, right? And making sure we communicate and get our message out because it overwhelmingly resonates, as you’ve seen,” she said.

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From your job to your home to your groceries, Covid-19 has disrupted nearly every aspect of life. This dashboard from CNN shows how the economy continues to change as we grapple with life during the pandemic. Some indices below:

The Back-to-Normal Index

Unemployment claims

State unemployment rates

Job postings

30-year mortgage rate

Personal savings

Small business closures

Primary voters in Virginia delivered a rebuke to the left wing of the Democratic party on Tuesday, sweeping three outspoken incumbents from office and rejecting progressive challengers in all but one race.

By the end of the night, voters had booted Dels. Lee Carter, D-Prince William, the General Assembly’s only socialist; Ibraheem Samirah, D-Fairfax, a progressive activist who protested Trump during an official visit; and Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, one of the chamber’s most forceful proponents of gun control.

“We just need to be on the same team as much as possible,” said Lisa Giovanini, a stay-at-home mom in Fairfax who said she had supported Samirah in years prior but said she disliked his confrontational style and unwillingness to cooperate with party leadership.

McAuliffe’s sweep beat expectations that were already sky-high
Virginia Mercury, Graham Moomaw| Ned OliverJune 9, 2021 (Short)

Terry McAuliffe won Petersburg, the hometown of one of his top opponents, former delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, who had accused him of neglecting the majority-Black city during his first term. 

He won in Richmond, where Sen. Jennifer McClellan had an advantage due to her strong local following.

He won in Nelson County, a hotbed of opposition to the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline project that earned McAuliffe the ire of activists who pressed unsuccessfully for him to block it during his first term.

He got almost 65 percent support in Fairfax County, the biggest prize in prosperous Northern Virginia. He did just as well or better in far Southwest Virginia, a region with some of the lowest per-capita incomes in the state.

He won everywhere. Literally.

McAuliffe crushes competitors in Democratic primary for governor
Virginia Mercury, Graham Moomaw -June 8, 2021 (Short)

For anyone wondering how Terry McAuliffe was feeling before Virginia’s gubernatorial primary, his election-eve shimmying spree was a solid indicator.

The almost-victory dance became the real thing Tuesday as the former governor and prolific Democratic fundraiser cruised to a lopsided win in a split field, setting up a general-election matchup with deep-pocketed Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin.

Tuesday’s victory cements McAuliffe’s return to the forefront of Virginia politics after serving as governor from 2014 to 2018. He had to leave office due to Virginia’s ban on governors serving consecutive terms, but there was nothing stopping him running again after a brief hiatus in which he explored the idea of a presidential run or a potential post in President Joe Biden’s cabinet.

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe will be the commonwealth’s Democratic gubernatorial nominee, CNN projected on Tuesday, besting four other primary challengers as he seeks to become the first person in decades to serve multiple terms as top executive of a commonwealth that bars governors from consecutive terms.

McAuliffe’s win sets a general election between the former governor and Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin. The race in Virginia, one of two states that hold off-year elections for governor after presidential elections, will be closely watched in Washington, DC, and beyond as it is often seen as a bellwether for the subsequent midterms.

McAuliffe wasted no time going after the Republican nominee on Tuesday, using part of his victory speech to link Youngkin to former President Donald Trump — a preview of what will be most of the former governor’s general election message.

As he runs for a second term, Terry McAuliffe is presenting himself as a policy-heavy candidate, talking up the 130 pages of “big bold plans” listed on his website. But the former governor, seen as a strong favorite to win his party’s nomination for governor in next week’s primary, has studiously avoided taking a clear position on one of his party’s major policy divides: repealing Virginia’s longstanding right-to-work law.

Three of five candidates in the Democratic gubernatorial field — former delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Del. Lee Carter — support repealing the law, which impedes the power of organized labor by allowing workers to avoid paying mandatory union dues. Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, has said she supports pro-union policies but doesn’t support compulsory union fees.

Cheap labor has long been part of Virginia’s pitch to prospective businesses, owing partly to the right-to-work law that’s been on the books since 1947.

 

With Republicans and Democrats alike reluctant to put limits on Virginia’s wide-open campaign finance system, money has been pouring into primary contests in what’s going to be a high-stakes election year.

And the batch of campaign finance numbers released this week seemed to have something for everyone not to like.

One week out from the June 8 primaries, here are four things that stood out in the latest reports, covering April 1 through May 27, as compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project.

The fourth and final debate of Virginia’s Democratic primary for governor was the most contentious yet as progressive candidates tried to portray frontrunner Terry McAuliffe as out of step with the type of message the party needs to deliver to keep the state blue.

One week out from the primary, it remains to be seen whether the attacks on the former governor will dramatically alter the race, which McAuliffe seems to have dominated ever since he announced he was making the rare move of seeking a second term after leaving office in early 2018.

But the last debate, held at Christopher Newport University in Newport News and televised by Hampton Roads-based TV station WVEC, showed McAuliffe’s opponents weren’t interested in a sleepy primary finish even as McAuliffe signaled that he’s looking ahead to the general-election matchup against Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin.

Mapping alliances in the Democratic primary
Virginia Mercury, Ned Oliver June 1, 2021 (Short)

Endorsements don’t necessarily mean a whole lot when it comes to determining who’s going to win an election. But they can illustrate alliances, partnerships and factions that develop over time. To that end, the chart below traces 70 endorsements by sitting state and federal elected officials in Virginia in next month’s Democratic primary for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.

Manipulate the visualization by clicking and dragging candidates (big circles) or their supporters (small circles); select or deselect races by clicking the legend. For best results, view on a desktop or tablet.

Election officials begin $20-29M project to replace Virginia’s voter system
Virginia Mercury, Graham MoomawMay 28, 2021 (Short)

For years, local officials have been complaining that Virginia’s all-encompassing election software — which powers everything from voter registration to absentee ballots to list maintenance to transmission of results — is slow and hard to use.

A 2018 report from state auditors verified those frustrations, concluding the Virginia Election and Registration Information System, or VERIS, was “not sufficiently functional or reliable.”

Election administrators are planning to fix that by by replacing the IT system, a project estimated to cost between $20 million and $29 million.

Though voters may not notice a major change, officials said, the workers assisting them will hopefully have a much smoother time calling up information in the new system and making changes to a voter’s status.

The Democrats’ New Trump Problem
The Atlantic, Elaine GodfreyMay 26, 2021 (Short)

LEESBURG, Va.—I smelled their perfume before I saw them, the small troop of middle-aged women marching toward the park pavilion one night last week, with their flowy blouses and short blond bobs and oversize black sunglasses. They sat around picnic tables with a handful of other volunteers, mostly women, and awaited instruction. They were not here to mess around. They were here for democracy.

The evening’s project: the first door-knocking event of the election season for the Virginia state delegate Wendy Gooditis, a 61-year-old Democrat and former real-estate agent first elected in 2017. Gooditis, like many other women across the country, ran for office that year because she was angry about Donald Trump’s election. Similarly angry suburbanites helped her unseat the district’s two-term Republican incumbent. In 2019, she defeated him again as part of a wave of anti-Trump backlash that helped Virginia Democrats take back the House of Delegates. But now, with her third campaign ramping up and Trump no longer in office, Gooditis needs to figure out a way to keep the enthusiasm alive.

 

“I know it is early to knock on doors, but we just have to keep people awake,” Gooditis said, standing in front of the picnic tables and addressing her volunteers. She wore pink skinny jeans, and her long brown hair hung down her back. “Our job tonight is to remind people that there’s a long way to go.”

The Virginia House Democratic Caucus authorized and funded attack mailers that falsely imply two of the state’s top donors to Democrats are right-wing “dark money billionaires,” according to an image of the mailer obtained by The Virginia Mercury.

The caucus-backed messages were sent in support of new Del. Candi King, D-Prince William, who has accepted money from Dominion Energy, against primary challenger Pam Montgomery, who is backed by the advocacy group Clean Virginia, which presses Virginia legislators to refuse campaign donations from Dominion.

The mailers include a picture of a book labeled “RIGHT WING PLAYBOOK,” call Montgomery “a distraction, not a Democrat” and include an unexplained photo of Montgomery with former New York Mayor and occasional Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, an image that appeared to be taken from an old website for an investment company Montgomery ran with her husband. Montgomery works as the chief of staff for a Democratic member of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors.

This could get ugly
Virginia Mercury, Richard Meagher, OpinionMay 20, 2021 (Short)

Virginia Republicans are flying high right now. After an unprecedented but ultimately successful “unassembled convention,” the party’s ticket for statewide office is set. Party leaders are especially excited about their nominee for governor, Glenn Youngkin, a tall and telegenic newcomer to politics with especially deep pockets.

With lieutenant governor nominee Winsome Sears, a veteran and Jamaican immigrant, and Cuban-American Jason Miyares for attorney general, the Republicans have rightly crowed that their ticket will likely end up featuring more diversity than the Democrats. (Although just like last year’s national election, both party’s tickets look to be led by rich White dudes, so let’s not get too excited.)

Republicans in Virginia also are hopeful that history is on their side. In the past, the national mood often swings against the party in power after a presidential election. Since Virginia unusually runs statewide elections in odd years, 2021 offers an early test of whether the country is turning towards Republicans.

Why you? In third debate, Democratic candidates for governor answer the question.
Virginia Mercury, Graham MoomawMay 20, 2021 (Short)

The five Democratic candidates for governor in Virginia squared off in a virtual debate Thursday night, the third of four debates scheduled before the June 8 primary.

The hourlong event hosted by NBC4 Washington covered much of the same territory as the first two debates, with former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Sen. Jennifer McClellan, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, former delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy and Del. Lee Carter laying out their plans for COVID-19 recovery, education, police reform and health care with few opportunities for extended back-and-forth between candidates.

Some of the most direct answers of the night came when moderator Chuck Todd of NBC News asked questions about electability and qualifications tailored specifically to each candidate.

Change the culture of contempt for FOIA
Virginia Mercury, Robert ZulloMay 20, 2021 (Short)

One of the coverage areas the Mercury set out to focus on when we launched nearly three years ago was Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act and the issues that perennially swirl around it like the constant cloud of dirt that follows Pigpen from “Peanuts.”

Virginia’s open records law doesn’t just suffer from problems with its text — in the form of loopholes, exemptions and provisions allowing exorbitant charges for records that belong to the taxpayers — but also from a general culture of contempt for the concept on the part of some government officials.

That much was apparent Tuesday during a subcommittee meeting of Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act Advisory Council, which was hearing testimony on one bill that would attempt to curb the high costs some public bodies impose for records and another that opens up police disciplinary records to public scrutiny.

General Laws Committee - Host, Delegate David Bulova
May 20, 2021 – 6:00 pm (ET)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VlJRa1hht9g

Aircast on the recent activities of the General Laws committee during this winter’s General Assembly.

These aircasts will be focused on the recent activities of House and Senate committees  during the 2021 General Assembly. Committee chairs will host these aircasts with members of their committees and their invited audience.

Aircasts are Zoom meetings with a host, featured guests, and an online audience livestreamed to the public and archived as YouTube videos.

A recording of the livestreams will be archived in the Virginia onAir Hub and in our Virginia onAir YouTube channel.

For more information:General Laws Committee Post

Curator:

  • Jordan Toledo

Host:

  • Committee Chair, Delegate David Bulova

Featured Guest(s):

  • Delegate Betsy Carr, Chair, Open Government/Procurement Subcommittee

  • Delegate Chris Hurst, Chair, Professions/Occupations and Administrative Process Subcommittee

Producer:

  • Shuaib Ahmed, Democracy onAir – shuaib.ahmed@onair.cc

Archived Locations: YouTube Channel, General Laws Committee post, David Bulova post, Chris Hurst post

If the last public poll was any indicator, Virginia Democrats still have lots of homework to do before making their picks in the primary for lieutenant governor.

A Christopher Newport University poll conducted in mid-April found 64 percent of likely primary voters undecided in the race, with Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, the apparent leader with 12 percent support.

“We’re glad to see the way things are trending,” Rasoul said in an interview, attributing his leading status to a “values-based campaign” focused on in-person trips to cities and counties throughout Virginia, including areas where voters “feel forgotten.”

The numbers suggest there’s still lots of room for movement in an open field that once stood at eight candidates but has shrunk to six heading into the final month before the June 8 primary.

As lawmakers prepare to study the prospects for campaign finance reform in Virginia, the sheer size of some checks flowing to Democratic candidates for statewide office has renewed debate about the boosts offered by a wealthy Charlottesville couple topping charts as the biggest donors in state politics.

Though they backed opposing candidates in the 2017 Democratic primary for governor, donations connected to Michael Bills, a hedge fund manager and primary backer of the advocacy group Clean Virginia, and Sonjia Smith, a philanthropist and former lawyer married to Bills, are working in tandem this year in a big way.

Smith and Clean Virginia have given a combined $1.1 million, $600,000 from Clean Virginia and $500,000 from Smith, to former delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, whom they believe has the best shot at challenging former Gov. Terry McAuliffe in a five-person Democratic primary field. That’s almost a third of the roughly $3.6 million in cash contributions Carroll Foy reported raising as of March 31.

Dimmerling is among thousands of Virginians who have lived for months with the daily panic of impending financial doom because of the Virginia Employment Commission’s lagging performance in dealing with contested pandemic unemployment claims within the 21 days as prescribed by federal law.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Labor, for each full quarter since the pandemic began Virginia has ranked at or near the bottom against other states in the percentage of “nonmonetary determinations of claimants” within the required three weeks.

That’s bureaucratic jargon that means people whose unemployment insurance claims have been called into question or have prompted other concerns. For instance, employees who quit without good cause or are fired for misconduct are generally ineligible for benefits. Those separated because of layoffs — particularly in the pandemic — are eligible. Sometimes, employers will object to a former employee’s claim, and specialists known as “deputy adjudicators” decide who’s right.

 

Should my child get the COVID-19 vaccine? 7 questions answered by a pediatric infectious disease expert
Virginia Mercury, Dr. Debbie-Ann Shirley, University of VirginiaMay 18, 2021 (Short)

The Food and Drug Administration expanded emergency use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to include adolescents 12 to 15 years of age on May 10. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention followed with recommendations endorsing use in this age group after their advisory group meeting on May 12. The American Academy of Pediatrics also supports this decision.

Dr. Debbie-Ann Shirley is an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Virginia specializing in pediatric infectious diseases. Here she addresses some of the concerns parents may have about their teen or preteen getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

1. Does the vaccine work in adolescents?
Yes, recently released data from Pfizer-BioNTech shows that the COVID-19 vaccine seems to work really well in this age group. The COVID-19 vaccine was found to be 100 percent efficacious in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 in an ongoing clinical trial of children in the U.S. aged 12 to 15. Adolescents made high levels of antibody in response to the vaccine, and their immune response was just as strong as what has been seen in older teens and young adults 16-25 years of age.

After chaotic Virginia GOP convention, Democrats see extreme ticket while Republicans feel ‘relief’
Virginia Mercury, Graham Moomaw and Ned OliverMay 14, 2021 (Short)

Despite the early efforts to paint the Republicans’ 2021 ticket as an overwhelming lurch to the right, the slate isn’t nearly as extreme as it might’ve been. Instead of Chase, a self-described “Trump in heels,” becoming the party’s standard-bearer in a state former President Donald Trump lost twice, she logged off and went to the beach.

After failing to win a statewide election since 2009, some Republicans say they feel surprisingly good about where the party stands coming out of a chaotic unassembled convention marked by procedural confusion, mysterious attack ads and infighting.

“I think some of the ebullience you see in Republicans right now is that this could’ve been very bad. And it turned into the exact opposite,” said Shaun Kenney, a former Republican Party of Virginia executive director who has criticized fringe elements in the party. “But it’s more than just a sigh of relief. It’s like we finally know where we’re headed.”

As he tries to become Virginia’s first Black attorney general, Del. Jay Jones made clear on the debate stage Wednesday night that he wasn’t going to tiptoe around the topic of race.

Facing off against incumbent Attorney General Mark Herring in the first televised debate of the Democratic primary, Jones introduced himself as the descendant of slaves and the grandson of civil rights activists, going on to make several references to the perspective gained from his “lived experience as a Black man.”

Perhaps the most remarkable experience Jones recounted on the debate stage was being in the room in early 2019 when Herring met with the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus to deliver a pre-emptive apology for wearing blackface while in college at the University of Virginia.

Virginia’s GOP gambles on creative ranked-choice voting for 2021 nominees
Virginia Mercury, Mark J. Rozell May 4, 2021 (Short)

The Republican Party of Virginia has a chance this year to reestablish itself as a competitive force in statewide elections.

After a dozen years without a statewide victory, the GOP leadership needed to take a careful look within to understand why voters have turned their backs on the once dominant political party in Virginia. It appears that party leaders decided that with the right method of nominating candidates for statewide office, they can change their fortunes.

Republican Party leaders   generally have favored conventions as a means of selecting nominees for statewide offices. The closed process, open only to the most inside of GOP insiders and dominated by some of its most conservative voices, has had a mixed record of success.

Delegate Suggests Removing Financial Incentive For Traffic Stops
WVTF, Michael PopleMay 3, 2021 (Short)

The firestorm caused by the Windsor police officer who pepper sprayed an African-American Army officer may end up changing the relationship between money and policing in Virginia.

Delegate Betsy Carr of Richmond says this incident reveals why police departments and sheriff’s offices should be de-incentivized from making traffic stops.  “Police are incentivized if they’re going to get money from it just to make more traffic stops, and a lot of time Black and brown folks are the people who are bearing the brunt of this.”

But Dana Schrad at the police chiefs association says local governments get that money, not police.  “The financial incentive is not on the part of the police department,” Schrad argues. “It might be on the part of the locality. But the locality has always expressed that their chief concern is that speeding on that route that goes through their community presents risks for the business owners and presents risks for the residents, and they want to see speeding laws enforced.”

McAuliffe opponents struggle to break through in Virginia
Politico, Maya KingMay 1, 2021 (Short)

Former state Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy’s supporters say she is best-positioned to challenge the former governor, but she has yet to gain broad name recognition.

In Virginia, 2021 was the best chance yet to elect a Black politician — and possibly the first Black woman in any state — to the governor’s mansion.

But with five weeks until the commonwealth’s Democratic primary, Terry McAuliffe, its white male former governor, is on track to secure the nomination easily.

 

A COVID-19 vaccine mandate is not being ruled out in Virginia but it won’t happen in the near future, if at all. That’s according to the state’s Vaccine Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula, who spoke to 8News via Zoom on Thursday.

In the meantime, Dr. Avula said the use of so-called “vaccine passports” or certifications are a more likely solution for skepticism.

“If our ability to move forward as a society, to open back up businesses, to open back up schools, is contingent on this, then I think we find every way we can to incentivize it and potentially even get to a point where we require it, but I think we’re a long way from that,” Dr. Avula said.

Virginia Mercury wins honors in press competition
Virginia Mercury, StaffApril 30, 2021 (Short)

The Virginia Mercury took nine first-place awards and one of its journalists earned a top individual honor in the 2020 Virginia Press Association competition.

Mercury reporter Ned Oliver was named the year’s outstanding journalist for his work covering how the COVID-19 pandemic affected Virginia’s most vulnerable people. That included stories about prisoners, workers who lost jobs or were forced to come back as safety protocols were in flux, those who struggled with Virginia’s problem-plagued administration of unemployment benefits and renters who faced eviction, among other stories.

“In a year when nearly every journalist was writing about COVID-19, the judge said that Oliver’s work stands out. His reporting held officials accountable, and he kept an eye on the pandemic’s impact on those who could not speak for themselves,” the VPA said in a news release.

Northam amends Virginia’s mask mandate to match CDC guidance
Virginia Mercury, Kate Masters April 28, 2021 (Short)

The first of three minimum wage increases approved by Virginia lawmakers will take effect Saturday, guaranteeing the state’s lowest paid workers an hourly rate of $9.50 an hour.

While some businesses warned the hikes will force them to layoff workers and cut hours, low-wage employees celebrated the coming raises.

“I just feel like we deserve it,” said Jenee Long, who until recently was paid just over the current minimum of $7.25 an hour making sandwiches at a Subway franchise in Richmond. “Luckily, I had family to take care of me, because how would I pay rent?”

The last minimum wage increase in Virginia came courtesy of the federal government more than a decade ago in 2009, when Congress raised the wage floor to $7.25.

More than 53,000 delegates register to vote in Virginia GOP convention
Virginia Mercury, Ned Oliver April 28, 2021 (Short)

The Virginia GOP says 53,524 delegates have registered to vote in the party’s nominating convention next week, in which Republicans will select their candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.

Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Rich Anderson announced the number at a candidate forum on Tuesday evening, predicting the event would be “the largest state party convention ever in American history.”

The convention is set for Saturday, May 8, and, unlike a traditional convention held at a single location, will take place at voting locations set up around the state to comply with COVID-19 safety rules.

A minor political furor erupted in Virginia last week — over math.

It started with a Fox News story declaring that the state Department of Education was moving to eliminate all accelerated math classes before 11th grade, “effectively keeping higher-achieving students from advancing as they usually would in the school system.”

Republican leaders soon joined a chorus of dissenters. House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert criticized the department’s “plan to lower standards,” stating that “Virginians have had enough of the insatiable agenda to eliminate opportunities for students to excel in the quest to achieve mediocrity for all.” Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin slammed the decision in another statement, saying families across the state were “up in arms.”

When Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam looks back at his tenure, the inflection point between being a run-of-the-mill executive and the progressive leader he has become is a painful one.

The scandal — born of the discovery of a decades-old yearbook photo that featured someone in blackface — was an existential crisis for Northam and his administration. After initially saying the person in question was him, he denied it but admitted to darkening his skin as part of a Michael Jackson dance contest in 1984. Almost every Virginia Democrat called for his ouster as the state examined its racist past. Those closest to Northam said he was close to resigning.

How the governor survived was a surprise even to his most ardent supporters. The man who was nearly thrown out of office by his own party has, in the two years since, become a progressive champion, working with the same Democrats who called for his resignation to tighten gun laws in the commonwealth, restore the voting rights to nearly 70,000 felons, approve voting rights legislation and abolish the death penalty in the state. And just this week Northam signed legislation that would legalize marijuana this summer, the first Southern state to do so.

When she was sworn in as the first woman to serve as speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, Eileen Filler-Corn said she was struck by the diversity of the new Democratic majority looking back at her.

A year later, she was standing in a mostly empty room, speaking to “squares on a computer” as the oldest continuous legislative body in the Western Hemisphere tried lawmaking via Zoom.

It’s not yet clear when the House will return to normal. But after two years in power, Filler-Corn says she’s confident Virginia voters still want Democrats in charge.

“We heard the issues that were important to Virginians,” Filler-Corn said in a recent interview with The Virginia Mercury. “We campaigned saying we were going to do X, Y and Z. We were very upfront about it. Very bold. And there is no doubt about it that we followed through.”

Will Virginia colleges require COVID-19 vaccinations? Should they?
Capital News Service, Hunter BrittApril 22, 2021 (Short)

Virginia universities plan a return to campuses in the fall, but there are questions if the COVID-19 vaccine can be mandated.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration only authorized the vaccine for emergency purposes, according to Lisa Lee, professor of public health at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. The vaccine does not yet have full FDA approval.

The vaccine was authorized for emergency use, so people have to be given the choice to take it and be informed of the consequences if they don’t, Lee said.

“Many legal scholars have interpreted that as saying that people cannot be required to take a vaccine that is under an emergency use authorization,” Lee said. “They can be when it has full approval, so that’s where the hitch is.”

Starting May 15, Virginia will significantly relax capacity restrictions on social gatherings and entertainment venues as COVID-19 numbers plateau across much of the state.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced the latest rollback in a video message on Thursday, citing the state’s continued progress in vaccinations. Data from the Virginia Department of Health indicates that more than 40 percent of the population has received at least one shot and more than 26 percent are fully vaccinated. Every Virginian 16 and older became eligible for the vaccine on Sunday.

“Vaccination numbers are up, and our COVID case numbers are substantially lower than they were earlier this year,” Northam said in a statement. “So, we have been able to begin easing some mitigation measures.”

FOIA bill allows some access to criminal investigation records
Capital News Service , Anya SczerzenieApril 20, 2021 (Short)

A bill allowing the public access to limited criminal investigation records will go into effect in July, along with a handful of other bills related to government transparency.

Del. Chris Hurst, D-Blacksburg, a former television reporter, introduced House Bill 2004. The bill requires files related to non-ongoing criminal investigations be released under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act law.

“I’d been a journalist for 10 years, and I frequently saw that access to police records was very difficult,” Hurst said. “In denying those records, accountability and transparency were lost.”

Hurst said he hopes the bill will give the public reasonable access to criminal investigation files.

Virginia public defenders face resistance in push for pay parity with prosecutors
Virginia Mercury, Ned OliverApril 20, 2021 (Short)

In many Virginia courtrooms, commonwealth’s attorneys charged with prosecuting crimes continue to earn significantly more than the government employees responsible for defending the accused.

It’s an imbalance that bakes inequity into the criminal justice system, say public defenders, whose state-funded offices represent poor defendants who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford an attorney.

They say it’s not uncommon to spend years training a new hire only to lose them to a higher paying job, often in prosecutors offices.

“They literally just go across the street to make a significantly increased salary to prosecute people instead of defend them,” said Ashley Shapiro, a senior assistant public defender in Richmond, where lawyers on staff learned they were almost all making less than the highest-paid administrative assistant in the prosecutor’s office.

Pushing broadband into rural Va. gives us a chance to act like a commonwealth
Virginia Mercury, Bob Lewis -April 19, 2021 (Short)

Writing this column in a Richmond suburb, I expect instant responses to data inquiries from across the Internet. And, far more often than not, I get them.

Fiber-optic digital access (which ain’t cheap) also allows me to stream movies, shop the virtual marketplace, conduct business videoconferences and correspond at light speed with anyone in the world via email or social media.

By the time you read this, I will have used this fast connection to communicate with sources whom I have interviewed for this piece, downloaded all sorts of data and collaborated with The Virginia Mercury’s editors to get it ready for your consumption.

Over the last month, state and federal officials have directed thousands of COVID-19 vaccines to large-scale clinics in vulnerable communities with high rates of coronavirus cases — all in areas with significant or majority Black and Latino populations.

The sites have been touted by leaders as a core strategy in expanding access to vaccines among communities of color, where immunization rates are consistently lower than they are for White Virginians. “We have done a very good job in the commonwealth in addressing this issue,” state Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said at a news briefing last month in response to questions over vaccine equity.

“We have brought on staff in our emergency support team that is doing outreach in these communities,” he added. “We’ve put boots on the ground in all 35 of our health districts and those teams are doing your basic sort of community organizing — door to door, working with faith leaders, community-based organizations to bring people from these vulnerable populations to our vaccination sites.”

When top aides to Gov. Ralph Northam sat down last summer to meet with the state inspector general, whose office had just issued a critical watchdog report on the Virginia Parole Board, Northam Chief of Staff Clark Mercer opened by saying he wanted to hear what was being done to prevent future reports from “getting forwarded to the Associated Press again.” 

Republican General Assembly leaders had just given media outlets an unredacted copy of a report accusing the Parole Board of mishandling the release of Vincent Martin, who was convicted of the 1979 killing of a Richmond police officer but won praise as a model inmate. Before that, the inspector general had only released an unreadable version with virtually every sentence blacked-out, citing an interpretation of confidentiality laws disputed by open-government advocates.

Mercer said he was hoping for a “collegial” discussion of what had happened and the aspects of the report that were in dispute.

What would a carbon-free grid look like for Virginia?
Virginia Mercury, Ivy MainApril 16, 2021 (Short)

Joe Biden wants a carbon-free electric grid by 2035. What does that look like in Virginia?

Virginia’s General Assembly made history in 2020 by becoming the first state in the South to pass a law requiring the full decarbonization of its electric sector. The Virginia Clean Economy Act requires our two largest utilities, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power, to close all Virginia carbon-emitting power plants by 2045. As of 2050, the state will not issue carbon allowances to any other power plants in the commonwealth, including those owned by electric cooperatives and independent generators.

Less than a year later, President Joe Biden wants to move up the date for a carbon-free electric grid nationwide to 2035. Biden is also targeting a net-zero carbon economy by 2050. On that, Virginia is actually more ambitious, at least on paper, since the Commonwealth Energy Policy sets a goal for a net-zero economy by 2045.

Viral police stop in small Virginia town renews focus on qualified immunity
Virginia Mercury, Graham Moomaw| Ned OliverApril 13, 2021 (Short)

Standing across from the gas station where an Army lieutenant became another viral example of aggressive policing directed at a person of color, members of the Virginia NAACP called Monday for lawmakers to hold a special session on an unfinished piece of the police reform agenda.

Though the Democratic-controlled General Assembly twice failed to approve legislation rolling back qualified immunity, some say what happened to Black and Latino Army Lt. Caron Nazario in this small town demands that policymakers try again.

“To tell us that a Black Army second lieutenant in uniform can have that type of treatment imposed upon him, imagine what happens when the body cameras are off,” said NAACP Executive Director Da’Quan Marcell Love. “Imagine what happens on dark roads across the length and breadth of this commonwealth.”

As Dominion’s rate review gears up, a broader fight about regulatory balance resurges
Virginia Mercury, Sarah VogelsongApril 9, 2021 (Short)
Virginia explained: What’s a triennial review and why should you care?
Virginia Mercury, Sarah Vogelsong April 9, 2021 (Short)

For the first time in six years, Virginia’s largest utility, which serves two-thirds of Virginia’s residential customers, will submit to a review of its base rates. Dominion Energy’s “triennial review,” coming after years of regulators reporting hundreds of millions of dollars in company overearnings, will likely be the powerful utility’s biggest battle of the year.

The outcome will determine whether the base rates it charges have been reasonable, how much it’s earned over the past four years and what profits shareholders will be allowed to reap as the company embarks on an ambitious Democrat-driven mission to transform the foundation of Virginia’s electric grid from fossil fuels to renewables.

But instead of playing out in political skirmishes in the General Assembly, this contest will unfold before the State Corporation Commission, one of the most powerful and little-known of Virginia’s government bodies which since 1902 has had the authority under the state Constitution to regulate utilities.

Done right, legal pot could bring social equity and opportunity to Virginia
Virginia Mercury, Bob Lewis - OpinionApril 5, 2021 (Short)

Virginia owes much to a smokable weed.

Look no farther than the ceiling of the state Capitol Rotunda to see painted representations of garlands of the golden-brown leaf that was essential to Virginia’s founding 400 years ago.

The Virginia Company of London, chartered as a joint stock company, encountered lean times in the early years after it established a foothold at Jamestown. Tobacco was one of its few success stories. The crop flourished in the fertile loam and sunny summers along the James River. Across the Atlantic, demand became insatiable for what was called the “joviall weed,” the “precious stink” and the “chopping herbe of hell,” according to “Virginia: The New Dominion” by historian and editor Virginius Dabney. It remained a leading cash crop in Virginia through the 20th century.

On July 1, another smokable weed, once damned by the establishment, is expected to become legal for adult recreational use. And 2½ years later, the legal commercial cultivation, processing and sale of marijuana would begin in Virginia.

The final say on that comes Wednesday when the Virginia General Assembly is expected to adopt amendments Gov. Ralph Northam made to a bill passed during the winter legislative session that at long last legalized ganja in the Old Dominion.

Should Virginia bus systems go fare free forever?
Virginia Mercury, Wyatt Gordon April 6, 2021 (Medium)

When the General Assembly created the Transit Rider Incentive Program (TRIP) as part of Gov. Ralph Northam’s 2020 transportation omnibus, the lion’s share of the funding was allocated to support new regional bus routes. With COVID’s cancellation of much commuter service across the commonwealth, those dollars are now being dedicated to TRIP’s secondary goal: fare free transit pilot projects.

With large localities like Lynchburg, Roanoke, Alexandria, Richmond, Charlottesville, and Fairfax County now expressing interest in eliminating bus fares for at least three years, could the shift to zero fares in Virginia become permanent?

Nearly every transit system in the commonwealth dropped fares last year as a public health measure in response to COVID, but until recently none had announced intentions to make that move to protect riders and operators more permanent. Based on the responses to a request for ideas DRPT issued to transit providers last fall, the list of bus systems seeking to stay fare free beyond the pandemic could soon grow substantially longer.

Virginia to expand vaccine eligibility to everyone 16 and older by mid-Ap
Virginia Mercury, Kate Masters -April 1, 2021 (Short)

Gov. Ralph Northam announced Thursday that the state will expand vaccine eligibility to all Virginians 16 and older by April 18.

The news puts Virginia nearly two weeks ahead of the May 1 deadline set by President Joe Biden earlier this month. In a news release, the administration said that nearly every high-risk Virginian who pre-registered for a vaccine has already received a shot, allowing the state to expand eligibility sooner than expected. Those still on the state’s pre-registration list will receive an appointment invitation within the next two weeks.

“Expanding vaccine eligibility to all adults marks an important milestone in our ongoing efforts to put this pandemic behind us,” Northam said in a statement. “I thank all of the public health staff, health care workers, vaccinators, and volunteers who have helped make this possible.”

Apparently fed up with paperwork coming in late, Virginia’s State Board of Elections has refused to extend a key campaign filing deadline this year, potentially affecting eight candidates running for the House of Delegates.

Three are Democrats looking to challenge incumbent lawmakers, meaning, if the decision stands, Dels. Luke Torian, D-Prince William, Betsy Carr, D-Richmond, and Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, may not face primary challengers after all. Because they represent strongly Democratic districts, their primary opponents being disqualified on technical grounds all but guarantees the incumbents will win re-election.

The decision to insist on meaningful deadlines comes after years of officials wrestling with how to handle paperwork errors, reflecting a growing feeling on the board that candidates must take responsibility for their own campaigns and follow through to ensure their documents get to the right place.

The geography of Mathews County was carved by catastrophe.

Thirty-five million years ago, a meteorite or comet tore through the Earth’s atmosphere and slammed into its surface somewhere between the county and what is now called Cape Charles. In the ruin it left behind, the Chesapeake Bay would form. Mathews, at the very tip of Virginia’s Middle Peninsula, remains one of the state’s lowest-lying areas, surrounded on three sides by the Chesapeake Bay and the waters that flow into it. 

“We’re flat as a pancake,” said Thomas Jenkins, the county’s planning, zoning and wetlands director. “Much of the county is close to sea level.” 

Today a far slower but perhaps no less catastrophic force is reshaping Mathews. As climate change drives seas upward, the county is struggling to keep its waterfront properties above the tides. 

 
Audit overwhelmingly confirms Virginia’s election results
Virginia Mercury, Graham Moomaw March 31, 2021 (Short)

statewide audit of Virginia’s 2020 election results verified President Joe Biden’s victory in the state, finding only a 0.00000065117 percent chance the state’s voting system could have produced an inaccurate outcome.

“Election officials are over 99 percent confident in the reported outcome,” Karen Hoyt-Stewart, voting technology manager at the Virginia Department of Elections, told the State Board of Elections as she presented the audit report Wednesday.

The only way to reach 100 percent certainty would be for officials to manually review every ballot cast in the state. In other words, the audit found there’s almost zero chance a full recount would show a different outcome.

The risk-limiting audit, more of a mathematical exercise than an expansive investigation into how ballots were cast and counted, involved checking a random sample of paper ballots against the results reported by scanner machines.

It’s already too late for Virginia to redraw political districts in time for the 2021 House of Delegates races, but the U.S. Census Bureau’s decision to speed up its delivery of new population data means Virginia lawmakers could be voting on future maps right before the November elections.

Census officials had told states to expect to get the data by late September, but Virginia officials say they now expect to receive it by the second week of August.

Under the newly created Virginia Redistricting Commission’s constitutional timeline, receipt of the data starts a 45-day clock for the commission to submit new legislative maps to the General Assembly for an up-or-down vote. Once the legislature received the proposed maps, it has 15 days to vote on them.

Virginians could be harvesting their first legal crops of home-grown marijuana later this year under legislative amendments Gov. Ralph Northam says he’s sending to the General Assembly.

Northam said Wednesday he is proposing changes to the marijuana legalization bill passed by the General Assembly last month that would end the state’s prohibition on the drug beginning July 1 — up from a 2024 date proposed by lawmakers. He says he also wants to allow limited home cultivation to begin at the same time.

“Virginia will become the 15th state to legalize marijuana — and these changes will ensure we do it with a focus on public safety, public health and social justice,” he said in a statement.

Virginia lawmakers ban police use of facial recognition
AP, Denise LavoieMarch 29, 2021 (Short)

Last month, Virginia lawmakers quietly passed one of the most restrictive bans in the country on the use of facial recognition technology.

The legislation, which won unusually broad bipartisan support, prohibits all local law enforcement agencies and campus police departments from purchasing or using facial recognition technology unless it is expressly authorized by the state legislature.

But now, some law enforcement officials are asking Gov. Ralph Northam to put the brakes on the legislation, arguing that it is overly broad and hasn’t been thoroughly vetted.

Makya Little was helping her fourth-grade daughter review for the Virginia Studies SOL, a standardized test on state history, when she found herself taken aback by one of the questions on the study guide.

“She gets to this one question that says ‘What’s the status of the early African?’” said Little, who lives in Prince William County. The correct answer, according to the class materials, was “unknown. They were either servants or enslaved.”

“I got really, really upset,” Little said. While historians widely agree that the first Africans to arrive at the Jamestown settlement were enslaved, there’s been contentious discussion on the topic — some of the state’s own study materials also state that it’s “unknown” whether they arrived as slaves or indentured servants. The school division didn’t provide any of that context, and Little said multiple thoughts flashed through her head. The information was “misleading,” she added, and seemed designed to “soften how early Americans treated Black and Indigenous people” (another prompt on the study guide stated that native people and English settlers had a “trade relationship”).

Northam signs bill funding Va. community-college education costs
WTOP, Rick Massimo March 29, 2021 (Short)

Low-income students in Virginia will soon be getting financial help with all the costs of getting an education.

Gov. Ralph Northam on Monday signed into law the “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back” program, which will provide full tuition for community college for low-income students in certain majors, as well as incidental expenses such as food and transportation.

The bill, which passed the legislature overwhelmingly last month, budgets $36 million a year over the next two years.

The bill covers education that leads to in-demand jobs in fields such as technology, skilled labor and health care. Officials gathered at Northern Virginia Community College for the signing Monday said the bill would open doors to people who were considering higher education.

“I am so incredibly proud of this initiative,” said House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn. “This has been something that we’ve been working on for a number of years.” She said there was a lot of bipartisan support for the bill even before COVID-19, but with a lot of lower-skill jobs disappearing because of the pandemic, “It’s more important now than ever.”

Va. House leaders back legalizing home-grown marijuana this summer
Virginia Mercury, Ned Oliver March 26, 2021 (Short)

Democratic leaders in the House of Delegates say they now support legalizing marijuana on July 1, joining the Senate in backing amendments to a legalization bill lawmakers passed last month.

They also went a step further, endorsing the legalization of personal cultivation at the same time.

“The time is now for us to act,” wrote speaker Eileen Filler-Corn in a statement.

The General Assembly voted at the end of February to legalize marijuana, but not until Jan. 1, 2024, when the state’s first legal marijuana businesses would open. The decision to tie legalization to commercial sales disappointed activists, who argued that waiting three years would needlessly prolong the racial disparities in policing that lawmakers said they were trying to address.

Virginia governor signs historic bill abolishing death penalty into law
CNN, Veronica StracqualursiMarch 24, 2021 (Medium)

After centuries of carrying out executions, Virginia on Wednesday became the 23rd state to abolish the death penalty after Gov. Ralph Northam signed historic legislation into law that ends capital punishment in the commonwealth.

“We can’t give out the ultimate punishment without being 100% sure that we’re right. And we can’t sentence people to that ultimate punishment knowing that the system doesn’t work the same for everyone,” Northam, a Democrat, said ahead of signing the legislation at the Greensville Correctional Center, which houses Virginia’s death chamber.

With Northam’s signature, Virginia became the first Southern state to repeal the death penalty since the US Supreme Court reinstated the punishment in 1976. The new law, set to go into effect in July, comes as a major shift for Virginia, which has put to death more people in its history than any other state.

What was expected to be a pretty predictable special election in Southwest Virginia has turned into a surprisingly intense fight in its closing days.

Voters in Virginia’s 38th Senate District will elect a new state senator through 2023 on Tuesday. Incumbent Ben Chafin died on Jan. 1 from complications related to COVID-19.

The district includes Bland, Buchanan, Dickenson, Pulaski, Russell and Tazewell counties, the cities of Norton and Radford, and portions of Montgomery, Smyth and Wise counties. 

Metro is finally catching a break, and it’s a plus for workers in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs poised to start heading back to the office once they’re vaccinated.

The $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package signed by President Joe Biden last week ends — for now — the prospect that the bus and subway operator in the D.C. area officially known as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, would have to resort to deep service cuts to stay solvent.

Metro, hammered when commuters abandoned the system beginning a year ago to work from home, had proposed the shutdown of more than 20 of its train stations across the region’s far-flung system, ranging from College Park-University of Maryland to Smithsonian to Arlington Cemetery to Clarendon.

Virginia has $43 million in carbon market revenues. How is it going to spend it?
Virginia Mercury, Sarah VogelsongMarch 17, 2021 (Medium)

The $43 million was “in the state’s hot little hands,” Mike Dowd told the group.

So what next?

That was the question facing not only Dowd, director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s Air Division, but also a collection of developers, state officials and environmental and low-income advocacy groups who had gathered over Zoom on Monday.

All were focused on the best uses of that $43 million in carbon money, the first round of funds Virginia had received through its participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, an 11-state agreement that puts a price on the carbon emissions that are driving climate change, requires power plants to pay that price and then channels the proceeds back to the states.

Most of that funding will eventually be paid for by customers of the state’s electric utilities, which are allowed under state law to pass on the costs of carbon allowances to customers, with no extra returns for investors. State officials had conservatively projected annual proceeds from RGGI’s carbon auctions to be in the range of $106 to $109 million. But with allowances trading at $7.60 per short ton of emissions at this March’s quarterly auction, actual revenues now look to be much higher, amounting to perhaps as much as $174 million annually if prices hold.

Virginia could soon push more workers to save for retirement. Here’s how:
Virginia Mercury, Graham MoomawMarch 16, 2021 (Short)

Thousands of Virginia workers would gain the option of automatically putting away part of their paychecks for retirement under legislation the General Assembly passed last month to help private-sector employees who lack access to a savings plan through their employer.

The bill, awaiting action by Gov. Ralph Northam, establishes a state-administered program that would offer IRA accounts to workers with no other retirement plan options, particularly employees of small businesses, self-employed people and gig workers. 

The accounts would be optional, but workers would be enrolled by default and would have to opt out if they want to keep their whole paycheck. The plans would be portable, meaning workers could keep putting money into the same account even if they switch jobs.

Covered businesses would have to help interested workers participate in the program, mainly by setting up their accounting systems to allow payroll deductions to be made, but they wouldn’t have to contribute funds of their own.

Did Virginia lawmakers accidentally vote to legalize skill games for another year?
Virginia Mercury, Graham Moomaw March 16, 2021 (Short)

News & Events

The strange, roller-coaster term of Virginia’s improbable governor, Ralph Northam
Virginia Mercury, Bob LewisJanuary 10, 2022 (Short)

Happy trails, Governor Northam.

By the end of this week, the strange, improbable four-year tour of Virginia’s 73rd governor, His Excellency Ralph Shearer Northam, will be over.

In a time-honored ceremony on Saturday morning, surrounded by living former governors dressed befitting a high-society church wedding, the mild-mannered Eastern Shore-raised country doctor who ambled into the Virginia Senate for the first time just 14 years ago literally turns the keys to the Executive Mansion over to the 74th governor, His soon-to-be-Excellency Glenn Youngkin.

(Yes, they really do use that royal-sounding honorific in official introductions of Virginia governors. It’s been a thing since Jamestown.)

Gov. Northam, fare thee well in your return to civilian life. Whether it’s resuming your work as a pediatric neurologist, becoming a high-profile rainmaker for one of the white-shoe lobbying shops that dot Richmond’s cityscape between Canal and Main streets, or just tending your garden, I wish you well, sir.

One thing about your single, non-renewable term that Virginia’s Constitution uniquely affords its chief executives: It wasn’t boring, much as you might have wished it to be. Yours were theme-park years for the press corps.

Youngkin and Miyares announce plans to challenge federal vaccine mandates
Virginia Mercury, Kate MastersJanuary 7, 2022 (Short)

Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin and incoming Attorney General Jason Miyares will “challenge” vaccine mandates passed down by the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and other federal agencies.

The plans, announced in a Friday news release, come as the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments on whether the mandates should go into effect even while they’re challenged by at least two dozen states in federal appeals courts. Both Miyares and Youngkin openly opposed state and federal mandates on the campaign trail, but the announcement solidifies their policy stance as the requirement continues to face legal challenges.

President Joe Biden first announced the mandate in November. Under federal emergency regulations, any health care facilities that accepted CMS funding would have been required to implement a staff vaccine mandate by this month. A similar regulation, adopted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, would have required companies with 100 or more employees to adopt vaccine or weekly testing mandates for workers.

Supreme Court of Virginia – Public Hearing on Regional Redistricting
Virginia Mercury, Sarah VogelsongNovember 8, 2021 (Short)

On the weekend of Oct. 9, with the incoming fall and a new moon swelling tides along the Mid-Atlantic coast, water gushed up from the Chesapeake Bay onto Ron Robinson’s property in Mathews County.

The so-called “king tide” wasn’t unexpected: the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had earlier in the season issued a bulletin predicting higher than normal tides for the region during the period. But the real water levels outstripped NOAA predictions, hitting the agency’s “moderate flooding” stage on Oct. 10.

“This time,” said Robinson, his dock “was completely underwater and the erosion was terrible. It was just massive waves crashing into our yard.”

Robinson, like many other property owners on the rural Middle Peninsula, has been seeking a way to hold back the waters that with sea level rise keep rising ever higher. Since he bought his house in Mathews in August 2020, he estimates he’s lost between 20 and 30 feet of his yard to the seas.

For these property owners, the new Community Flood Preparedness Fund, flush with $64 million from Virginia’s participation in a regional carbon market, represents a lifeline. But after Virginia announced the first round of $7.8 million in local flood protection grants, some residents say the state is unfairly imposing more stringent standards on projects in rural areas, where shorelines are overwhelmingly in private hands.

“The fund is here to help communities deal with flooding challenges, and yet all the private (projects) are lock-boxed,” said Lewie Lawrence, executive director of the Middle Peninsula Planning Commission.

Middle Peninsula property owners say Flood Fund disadvantages rural coastal dwellers
Virginia Mercury, Sarah VogelsongNovember 8, 2021 (Short)

On the weekend of Oct. 9, with the incoming fall and a new moon swelling tides along the Mid-Atlantic coast, water gushed up from the Chesapeake Bay onto Ron Robinson’s property in Mathews County.

The so-called “king tide” wasn’t unexpected: the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had earlier in the season issued a bulletin predicting higher than normal tides for the region during the period. But the real water levels outstripped NOAA predictions, hitting the agency’s “moderate flooding” stage on Oct. 10.

“This time,” said Robinson, his dock “was completely underwater and the erosion was terrible. It was just massive waves crashing into our yard.”

Robinson, like many other property owners on the rural Middle Peninsula, has been seeking a way to hold back the waters that with sea level rise keep rising ever higher. Since he bought his house in Mathews in August 2020, he estimates he’s lost between 20 and 30 feet of his yard to the seas.

For these property owners, the new Community Flood Preparedness Fund, flush with $64 million from Virginia’s participation in a regional carbon market, represents a lifeline. But after Virginia announced the first round of $7.8 million in local flood protection grants, some residents say the state is unfairly imposing more stringent standards on projects in rural areas, where shorelines are overwhelmingly in private hands.

“The fund is here to help communities deal with flooding challenges, and yet all the private (projects) are lock-boxed,” said Lewie Lawrence, executive director of the Middle Peninsula Planning Commission.

GOP agenda takes shape in Richmond
Virginia Mercury, Ned OliverNovember 4, 2021 (Medium)

A friendly meeting between the governor and the governor elect. A preview of the new House majority’s agenda. Promises to refocus the attorney general’s office on law enforcement.

The transition of power from Democrats to Republicans in Richmond began in earnest Thursday after the GOP’s electoral sweep earlier this week, which handed the party control of all three statewide offices and the House of Delegates after two years of unified Democratic control.

At the Executive Mansion, Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin and Gov. Ralph Northam dined on beef tenderloin together before emerging to address the press, promising a smooth transition between administrations.

“I just want to thank you for the incredibly cooperative way that you’ve expressed you’re going to help us,” Youngkin said, calling the meeting the beginning of a friendship. “It’s important. We have a lot of work to do.”

Youngkin also promised to be “incredibly open and accessible,” though neither he nor Northam took questions at the event.

Republicans say that behind the scenes, GOP leaders in the House are beginning to work with Youngkin to develop an agenda that might have a chance in the Senate, where Democrats still hold a one-seat majority.

Democrats struggle to find message on culture wars amid GOP success in Virginia
CNN, Manu Raju, Alex Rogers and Melanie ZanonaNovember 4, 2021 (Medium)

A week before their party endured deep losses in Virginia, some of the most vulnerable House Democrats privately debated how to respond to pointed GOP attacks on an issue that has been percolating in districts across the country: critical race theory.

With Republicans again embracing the culture wars, a year after successfully attacking Democrats over the defund the police movement in House races nationwide, leaders of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last week presented research and debated how to handle the once-obscure topic that is primarily taught at the university level but has become a focus on the right, according to multiple people familiar with the matter.

And a split emerged between two of the party’s frontline Democrats: Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux of Georgia, who is White, and Lauren Underwood of Illinois, who is Black. Underwood wanted to forcefully counter the GOP’s misinformation head-on, while Bourdeaux was leery about elevating the issue, according to sources familiar with the matter. Rep. Jahana Hayes of Connecticut, another Black woman, sided with Underwood during the meeting.

“We have a rising American electorate that are Black and brown people,” Underwood told CNN when asked about the episode. “We should be able to speak to their issues, their experiences as Americans in this country, without feeling like it’s a liability for other audiences.”

Biden says Virginia race wasn’t blowback against him
Associated Press, Colleen Long and Aamer MadhaniNovember 4, 2021 (Medium)

President Joe Biden said Wednesday the Democrats’ setbacks in Tuesday’s elections underscore that the party needs to “produce for the American people,” but he pushed back against the notion that the off-year election results were a repudiation of his presidency.

Biden suggested that his inability to get Congress to pass a $1 trillion infrastructure deal and a $1.75 trillion package of social and climate programs ahead of the voting didn’t make a difference.

In Virginia’s governor’s race Democrat Terry McAuliffe lost to first-time Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin in a state that Biden won by 10 percentage points a year ago.

“I think we should have passed it before Election Day,” Biden said. ”But I’m not sure that I would have been able to change” people’s minds in Republican-leaning areas either way.

He added that, “people are upset and uncertain about a lot of things” including the pandemic, the job market and the price of a gallon of gasoline.

Biden made the comments to reporters after delivering remarks to highlight what he said was a “great day” in the fight against coronavirus pandemic as children 5 to 11 became eligible to begin receiving the preventive vaccine.

Youngkin wins major upset as GOP roars back in Virginia
Virginia Mercury, Graham Moomaw and Ned OliverNovember 3, 2021 (Medium)

Republican Glenn Youngkin narrowly defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe in Tuesday’s election for governor, a major upset on a night that saw the Virginia GOP make sweeping gains after a nearly decade-long losing streak in statewide elections. Several news outlets called the race for Youngkin shortly after 12:30 a.m.

Republicans Winsome Sears and Jason Miyares also held leads over their opponents in the races for lieutenant governor and attorney general and the GOP appeared on pace to take the House of Delegates, where they lost their majority just two years ago, according to preliminary results.  The GOP appears to have captured 52 seats, obliterating Democrats’ 55-45 majority.

Youngkin, a Northern Virginia businessman few had heard of a year ago, seized on parents’ various frustrations over K-12 schools, including hyping the incursion of “critical race theory” to overtake McAuliffe, a well-connected former governor who sought to win a second term largely by stoking fears about the lingering presence of former President Donald Trump.

Speaking to a crowd of supporters at a hotel in Chantilly, Youngkin said his victory is a defining moment in Virginia politics.

“Together we will change the trajectory of this commonwealth, and friends, we are going to start that transformation on day one,” he said. “Our kids can’t wait. We work in real-people time, not government time.”

Virginia Beach voters approve $567 million bond referendum to deal with flooding
Virginia Mercury, Sarah VogelsongNovember 2, 2021 (Short)

Virginia Beach residents approved a referendum Tuesday that will allow the city to issue up to $567 million in bonds to cover the cost of accelerating a flood protection program designed to deal with stormwater and sea level rise problems.

More than two-thirds of voters were in favor of the issuance, which is expected to increase real estate taxes over the next decade by 4.3 to 6.4 cents per $100 of assessed value.

The city is among Virginia’s most hard-hit localities in terms of sea level rise, which is impacting the Hampton Roads region — home to the nation’s largest naval base and a host of military installations — faster than any other area on the East Coast.

The 21 projects the city proposes to fund through a three-phase bond issuance were specifically identified in the referendum and cover everything from the conversion of a city-owned golf course into a park with stormwater storage to extensive storm drain improvements and road elevation to the construction of flood barriers.

While all of the projects were expected to be carried out regardless of whether the referendum passed, the bond issuances will allow Virginia Beach to accelerate its timeline for their rollout from 20 or 25 years to 10 years.

Election Day is here: What’s at stake in Virginia today
Virginia MercuryNovember 2, 2021 (Long)

More than one million of Virginia’s nearly 6 million registered voters have taken advantage of early voting to cast ballots for today’s election, when voters will select a governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and all 100 members of the House of Delegates.  For those voting today, polls open 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. (If you’re in line by 7, you can still vote.) To find your polling place and access other information, go here.

The main event

The campaign for governor has been particularly combative, with former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe battling GOP nominee Glenn Youngkin, a former private equity executive, in a race that has narrowed dramatically over the final months and is being closely watched across the country because of what it might portend for national politics, particularly next year’s congressional midterm elections.

 Former U.S. President Barack Obama campaigns with Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe at Virginia Commonwealth University October 23, 2021 in Richmond, Virginia. The Virginia gubernatorial election, pitting McAuliffe against Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin, is November 2. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

McAuliffe has been determined to try to make the contest about former President Donald Trump, whose deep unpopularity with voters here proved devastating for Virginia Republicans, who lost control of the state Senate and House of Delegates during his four years in the White House. With Youngkin, though, a first-time candidate who has lasered in on culture war debates, particularly racial equity controversies gripping school systems, they see themselves within striking distance of the executive mansion for the first time since Bob McDonnell was elected in 2009.

COMMENTARY: Virginia’s toxic campaign season: life in the Divided States of America
Virginia Mercury, Bob LewisNovember 1, 2021 (Medium)

In school board meetings, city council sessions and public hearings across the country – including here in Virginia – you see due process dissolve into red-faced rants, threats and arrests.

On the grounds of the university Thomas Jefferson founded and in Charlottesville, we saw it explode in blood and death four years ago – a prelude to even more stunning violence at the U.S. Capitol in a failed Jan. 6 bid to halt the next president’s inauguration on the site two weeks later.

Peaceful marches in protest of manifest racial injustice – the broad-daylight police murder of a Black man on a street in Minneapolis – were hijacked by malign interests who fomented violence that burned the very communities where the most oppressed lived.

Spread across the slick cardstock mailings and the even slicker attack ads pervading the airwaves and your online portals are bitter, cutting words – distortions usually and often outright mistruths – as candidates in a deadlocked governor’s race finish their scorched-earth, damn-the-consequences campaigns.

Coalfield stalwart Appalachian Power adds first solar projects to generation portfolio
Virginia Mercury, Sarah VogelsongOctober 28, 2021 (Medium)

Appalachian Power, the primary electric utility supplying Virginia’s coalfields region, has begun drawing power from solar.

On Thursday, the utility announced it has added 20 megawatts of solar power from Leatherwood Solar in Henry County to the portfolio of facilities it relies on to generate energy for Virginia customers. Leatherwood, which began supplying the utility at the end of August, is expected to produce enough energy to power approximately 3,600 homes.

Appalachian Power also announced it plans to add another 35 megawatts from solar farms in Campbell and Wythe counties in the next few months.

Company spokesperson Teresa Hall confirmed that the projects are the first solar to be added to Appalachian Power’s generation portfolio.

The utility is acquiring the power from all three of the facilities through power purchase agreements.

After years of bipartisan giving, Dominion Energy leans into Democratic control
Virginia Mercury, Ned OliverOctober 26, 2021 (Short)

Dominion Energy’s political giving in Virginia has surged into the millions this year, and Democrats are the biggest beneficiaries, with donations totaling more than $1.8 million so far this cycle, according to campaign finance records compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project.

Republicans, meanwhile, have received just over $1 million from the influential electric utility, the records show.

The figures represent a substantial increase over past donations — which for two decades have typically hovered in the $300,000-per-year range — and a break from the company’s old approach of generally giving similar amounts of money to Republicans and Democrats, especially in gubernatorial election years.

The shift comes even as the vast majority of Democrats running for office this year have pledged to reject Dominion’s donations, prompting the company to go to lengths to direct money to candidates who have publicly said they would not solicit or accept the energy utility’s contributions.

Siemens Gamesa chooses Virginia for offshore wind turbine blade factory
Virginia Mercury, Sarah VogelsongOctober 25, 2021 (Medium)

Siemens Gamesa announced Monday that it plans to build the United States’ first offshore wind turbine blade facility at the Portsmouth Marine Terminal, notching a major win for Virginia as it strives to become a hub for the nation’s fledgling offshore wind energy industry.

The announcement was made Monday at the terminal by U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.

The Spanish-German wind engineering company said it plans to invest more than $200 million in the Portsmouth Marine Terminal facility, which will produce blades for offshore wind projects throughout North America, per Northam’s office.

The facility is expected to create over 300 jobs.

Virginia’s largest electric utility, Dominion Energy, previously selected Siemens Gamesa as the turbine supplier for its 2.6 gigawatt Virginia Coastal Offshore Wind project being developed 27 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach. A 12 megawatt pilot constructed by Dominion became the nation’s first offshore wind installation in federal waters and began delivering energy to customers in January 2021.

Virginia Democrats sue USPS over delayed delivery of election-related material
CNN, Kiely Westhoff and Veronica StracqualursiOctober 23, 2021 (Medium)

The Virginia Democratic Party filed a lawsuit against the US Postal Service on Friday, alleging local branches failed to deliver and process election-related material ahead of its high-stakes gubernatorial race, thereby “threatening to disenfranchise thousands of Virginia voters.”

The organization says delays in election-related mail across Albemarle County, which includes the city of Charlottesville, James City County, which is adjacent to Williamsburg, and the area of Portsmouth near Norfolk, are “particularly egregious,” according to the lawsuit.

Friday’s lawsuit was filed less than two weeks before the closely watched governor’s race between Terry McAuliffe and Glenn Youngkin. Democrats are hoping to hold onto the governor’s mansion and maintain control of the state legislature, while Youngkin seeks to be Virginia’s first Republican to win a statewide election since 2009.

“Thousands of ballots delivered to postal facilities by the general registrars weeks ago are still outstanding and, weeks later, have not yet even been scanned into USPS’s system. Even if these voters do eventually receive their ballots before Election Day, the slowdowns promise that they will not have sufficient time to send them back with assurance that they will arrive in time to be counted,” the lawsuit filed in US District Court says.

How the tobacco commission is paying off student loans
Cardinal News, Amy TrebtOctober 19, 2021 (Medium)

This was not the plan.

When Amber Kelly graduated from Emory and Henry College in 2018 with about $10,000 in school debt she knew she didn’t have time to waste.

She needed and wanted, a good job anywhere within a two-hour radius of her childhood home.

When her mom told her about the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission’s Talent Attraction Program ― which helps new graduates pay off school debt in exchange for their commitment to work and play in Southwest or Southside Virginia ― she was thrilled.

The program was designed specifically to attract recent college graduates to one of the 40 localities in Virginia’s tobacco country which stretches from Lee County on the western end of the state to Sussex County in the east.

Awardees must agree to take hard-to-fill jobs ― think science, math, and special education ― and get involved in the community for two years. In exchange, graduates can receive up to $12,000 annually to put toward their college debt.

Students who successfully complete the first two years become eligible to apply for another two years.

So Kelly, one of the first 92 to be granted a TAP award, took a job with Wise Primary School and moved home.

“I wasn’t excited to go back home. But, knowing what I know now I’m really glad I made that decision,” said Kelly who bought a house, got married this summer and is now expecting her first child.

Northam announces $2 billion investment with local, private partners to expand broadband
Richmond Times-Dispatch, Michael MartzOctober 19, 2021 (Medium)

Virginia is partnering with local governments and private operators for an investment of up to $2 billion to expand high-speed internet access to more than 250,000 homes and businesses, as the state uses federal emergency aid to close a glaring gap in opportunity for remote work and study during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday that the state has received requests for $943 million in grants to fund 57 projects to expand broadband telecommunications access in 84 localities across Virginia. The state expects to have $850 million in federal and state budget funds for the effort, drawn mostly from aid under the American Rescue Plan Act. It would be matched by $1.15 billion in private and local government funds.

The state will vet the requested projects for eligibility. Not all of the projects will be funded this year, but the state expects to award grants by the end of the year to put Virginia in position to achieve universal broadband coverage for all parts of Virginia by 2024, four years earlier than the governor had hoped.

“Broadband is as critical today as electricity was in the last century,” said Northam, a native of the Eastern Shore. “Making sure more Virginians can get access to it has been a priority since I took office, and the pandemic has pushed us all to move even faster.”
“Virginia is now on track to achieve universal broadband by 2024, which means more connections, more investments, more online learning and expanded telehealth options, especially in rural Virginia,” he said.

Evaluating Virginia’s redistricting reforms
Virginia Mercury, Alex KeenaOctober 19, 2021 (Medium)

Last year, Virginia voters approved a sweeping set of changes to the redistricting process in the form of a constitutional amendment proposed by the General Assembly. The centerpiece of these reforms is a bipartisan redistricting commission comprised of eight legislators and eight citizens tasked with drawing state legislative and congressional election maps.

Despite delays in the 2020 census caused by the global pandemic, the once-a-decade redistricting process is currently underway.

How have the new redistricting reforms fared so far?

While the commission is currently tackling the congressional maps, it missed a key deadline for approving state legislative maps. It was widely reported that the commissioners have split into political camps, and earlier this month three Democratic commissioners walked out of meetings in frustration.

That the commission has yet to find common ground is not surprising, because the design of the commission balances the power of Republicans and Democrats and gives legislators equal representation with citizens. Although the commission must approve a plan by a supermajority, there are few incentives for commissioners to divorce themselves from partisan interests and work together.

If the commission doesn’t approve the state and federal maps — which seems a likely scenario at this point — the Supreme Court of Virginia (SCOVA) will take over the process.

Can SCOVA draw fair maps?

The common wealth of water
Virginia Mercury, Karenna GoreOctober 18, 2021 (Medium)

In the final months of 2021, a decision is looming in Virginia about the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would carry fracked gas on a 303-mile route that crosses hundreds of bodies of water and traverses steep slopes that are prone to erosion.

The State Water Control Board will vote on whether to grant the company the water quality certification required under the Clean Water Act after a public comment period that closes on Oct. 27.

The company behind the pipeline has already been cited for more than 350 violations along this route. Local communities and landowners are objecting to the use of eminent domain for a project averse to the public interest. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has recommended that the Army Corps of Engineers deny the section 404 permit due to “substantial concerns” about the project’s impact on streams and rivers.

And, on top of all that, this pipeline is not even needed. As the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis wrote in a report in March 2021, “in the seven years since the project was first proposed, the rationale for the Mountain Valley Pipeline has largely disappeared.”

We are also marking the 49th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, which was enacted on Oct. 18, 1972, after Congress overrode President Richard Nixon’s midnight veto. A close look at the origins of that act can help us understand what is at stake in this pipeline decision.

The Virginia Redistricting Commission’s first-ever attempt to draw fair political maps collapsed in spectacular fashion Friday, when frustrated Democrats walked out of a meeting after Republicans rebuffed their suggestions for reaching a compromise.

The commission, which has been holding regular meetings for more than a month, never came close to reaching an agreement on final General Assembly maps. Partisanship dominated the process from the start, with the commission hiring two teams of overtly partisan consultants and repeatedly failing to agree on how to merge two sets of maps.

The process now appears headed to the Supreme Court of Virginia, unless the three Democratic walkouts change their minds and agree to meet again. But that appears unlikely based on how Friday’s meeting ended.

The gridlock reached a breaking point as the commission failed to agree on which maps to use as a starting point for its final push for a deal. The commission’s eight Democrats voted to begin with a Republican-drawn House of Delegates map and Democratic-drawn Senate map. Republicans voted against that offer and suggested keeping both a GOP and Democratic Senate map alive — a proposal all eight Democrats voted down.

That prompted Democratic co-chair Greta Harris to call it quits. If the commission is going to work in 2031, she said, it shouldn’t have any legislators on it and all members should be required to take a history class to understand why Black commissioners felt so strongly about protecting minority voting power.

“I think our work is done,” Harris said. “And what a shame it is.”

The Virginia Redistricting Commission’s recent meetings have taken on a gloomy tone, with many predicting it’s all but certain to fail and leave it to the Supreme Court of Virginia to redraw the state’s political maps.

But experts at the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, which is grading redistricting proposals from numerous states based on criteria like political fairness, competitiveness and geography, say that with a few minor changes to draft maps, the commission can still deliver on the expectation of a fairer result.

“The Virginia Redistricting Commission’s deliberations have been contentious, and according to some spectators, a fraught process. But from a distance, things don’t look that bad,” Princeton professor Sam Wang wrote in a Wednesday memo addressed “to interested parties in Virginia.”

The memo suggests a final round of edits to a Republican-drawn House of Delegates map and an attempted compromise Senate map, all of which it says would make a few Republican-leaning districts more competitive and improve the maps’ fairness overall.

“Although the Redistricting Commission may be feeling fatigued, they are closer to success than they realize,” Wang wrote.

Proposed Chickahominy Pipeline map released; county officials complain about lack of information
Virginia Mercury, Sarah VogelsongSeptember 24, 2021 (Medium)

A map of the proposed Chickahominy Pipeline through Louisa, Hanover, Henrico, New Kent and Charles City County was released this week, although officials from several counties complained they have been unable to obtain more details about the project.

“We have attempted to reach out to the company’s representatives to get no response, and the only information that we have received from the company is what was required by the State Corporation Commission,” said Cari Tretina, chief of staff for Henrico County Manager John Vithoulkas. “The only way Henrico County actually received any information about the pipeline was either from our residents who made us aware and also Louisa County.”

Louisa County supervisors also described a dearth of information about the proposal at a Sept. 20 board meeting.

“When I look at this map, little to none of the pipeline goes through my district, but I’ve already had plenty of people calling me anyway concerned about it, and rightfully so, because they don’t know who’s doing what and where they are and what they are,” said Louisa Supervisor Eric Purcell during the meeting.

Supervisor Fitzgerald Barnes said his biggest concern was whether the pipeline would be able to exercise eminent domain.

“Do they have eminent domain or not?” he asked. “That’s a huge question that has to be answered … because that’s really going to affect our citizens.”

As Youngkin rejects Texas-style ban, GOP ticket steers clear of anti-abortion rally in Richmond
Virginia Mercury, GRAHAM MOOMAW AND JACKIE LLANOS HERNANDEZ September 18, 2021 (Medium)

If it didn’t count as a banned weapon, she would have brought her sledgehammer, anti-abortion activist Victoria Cobb told the March for Life crowd Friday from the steps of the Virginia Capitol.

The hammer, she said, is a symbol of what the pro-life movement hopes to do to former Gov. Terry McAulffe’s “brick wall” for abortion rights.

“You are going to break down that wall,” Cobb, president of the socially conservative Family Foundation, told the group gathered on Capitol Square. “You are going to be the ones that do whatever it takes.”

Legal developments outside Virginia have pushed abortion to the forefront of this year’s elections, with activists on both sides stressing the high stakes in the gubernatorial contest between McAuliffe, a Democrat, and Republican Glenn Youngkin.

Three Republican lawmakers spoke at the third annual March for Life in Richmond, where marchers shouted chants against the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that established abortion as a constitutional right and booed at the mention of recent Democratic governors. The Family Foundation described the crowd as being in the thousands. Capitol Police estimated there were 600 attendees.

None of the three Republicans running for statewide office this year spoke at the event, forgoing a chance to speak to a sizable crowd to campaign elsewhere. Earlier this year, Youngkin was caught on camera expressing sympathy for the anti-abortion cause but adding he couldn’t press the issue to avoid turning off independent voters.

Legal challenge slows rural broadband plans in Virginia
Virginia Mercury, Ned OliverSeptember 15, 2021 (Medium)

Supporters call it a commonsense way to get broadband internet into more homes in rural Virginia. A Culpeper County couple calls it an unconstitutional infringement on their property rights.

The fight, which has already halted an $600 million broadband expansion project, does not appear to be going away anytime soon.

At issue is a 2020 law allowing electric and communications utilities to string fiber along their existing poles, lines and conduit — an extensive network of infrastructure that already cuts through the far-flung mountains, fields and woodlands where the state is hoping to get residents and businesses hooked up to high speed internet by 2024.

The legislation allows the utility companies to sidestep the trouble and expense of negotiating with property owners along the routes, who otherwise would be entitled to compensation for the additional use of their property, even if it’s just a new strand of wire on a pole that’s been there for decades.

The law passed with near unanimous, bipartisan support, but when the Rappahannock Electric Cooperative attempted to invoke the provisions, it got hit with a lawsuit by the owners of a farm in Culpeper County, John and Cynthia Grano.

Sen. Mark Warner, the self-described “only so-called Democratic moderate” on the Senate Budget Committee, described how he will work with Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders to craft a spending bill that could be passed by reconciliation along with a bipartisan infrastructure bill.

“I think I’m the only so-called Democratic moderate on the Budget Committee,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Monday. “I’m prepared to work with Senator Sanders and others to start down the path on a budget reconciliation process.”

Warner said he would be happy for the reconciliation package to include tax increases.

Mark Warner emerges as moderates’ dealmaker-in-chief
Axios, Jonathan SwanJune 27, 2021 (Short)

As Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain navigate the legislative minefield of the next few months, they’ll often turn to a moderate Democrat who gets far less ink than Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) or Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

The big picture: Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) has become a pivotal player in the multi-trillion-dollar negotiations that will shape the Democrats’ electoral prospects, Joe Biden’s presidency and the future of the country.

Behind the scenes: Centrist Democrats and Republicans involved in the negotiations tell Axios that Warner is well-positioned for this dealmaking role.

Governance via Zoom is coming to an end in Virginia. Should it?
Virginia Mercury, Graham Moomaw| Sarah Vogelsong June 28, 2021 (Short)

For more than a year, policymakers across Virginia have been able to log on and conduct public business from whatever room, or car, they happen to be in.

But public bodies will have to transition back to in-person meetings after June 30, the expiration date of the state of emergency Gov. Ralph Northam declared at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis.

That declaration gave all state and local boards more leeway to meet electronically and avoid rules requiring officials to conduct most business in person and in direct view of the public.

The return to normal operations is also sparking discussion about transparency and civic engagement, and whether some aspects of virtual meetings should be kept once the pandemic’s over.

Winning elections for the past five years has been low-hanging fruit for Democrats in Virginia, and the reason can be summed up in two words: Donald Trump.

The divisive former president’s unpopularity in the commonwealth has had the net effect of turning Virginia – where no Republican has won a statewide race since 2009 – from deep purple to a bright cobalt blue.

Consider that since 2016, the year Trump led his party’s ticket and won the presidency, the GOP in Virginia has lost: two U.S. Senate races; the 2017 gubernatorial race; its U.S. House of Representatives majority; its majority in the Virginia Senate and; its House of Delegates majority. The last time the Republican Party found itself so shut out of Virginia political power was 1969.

Del. Hala Ayala, the newly minted Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, drew harsh criticism in the final days of the campaign for flipping on a promise to refuse campaign donations from state-regulated monopolies.

Her campaign ducked questions about the decision last week after finance reports revealed she had accepted a $100,000 donation from Dominion Energy, but in an interview at a polling place in Prince William on Tuesday, she suggested the decision came down to being able to fund her campaign’s voter outreach.

“It’s about talking to voters, right? And making sure we communicate and get our message out because it overwhelmingly resonates, as you’ve seen,” she said.

i

From your job to your home to your groceries, Covid-19 has disrupted nearly every aspect of life. This dashboard from CNN shows how the economy continues to change as we grapple with life during the pandemic. Some indices below:

The Back-to-Normal Index

Unemployment claims

State unemployment rates

Job postings

30-year mortgage rate

Personal savings

Small business closures

Democratic primary voters oust some of General Assembly’s most outspoken delegates
Virginia Mercury, Ned Oliver –June 9, 2021 (Short)

Primary voters in Virginia delivered a rebuke to the left wing of the Democratic party on Tuesday, sweeping three outspoken incumbents from office and rejecting progressive challengers in all but one race.

By the end of the night, voters had booted Dels. Lee Carter, D-Prince William, the General Assembly’s only socialist; Ibraheem Samirah, D-Fairfax, a progressive activist who protested Trump during an official visit; and Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, one of the chamber’s most forceful proponents of gun control.

“We just need to be on the same team as much as possible,” said Lisa Giovanini, a stay-at-home mom in Fairfax who said she had supported Samirah in years prior but said she disliked his confrontational style and unwillingness to cooperate with party leadership.

McAuliffe’s sweep beat expectations that were already sky-high
Virginia Mercury, Graham Moomaw| Ned OliverJune 9, 2021 (Short)

Terry McAuliffe won Petersburg, the hometown of one of his top opponents, former delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, who had accused him of neglecting the majority-Black city during his first term. 

He won in Richmond, where Sen. Jennifer McClellan had an advantage due to her strong local following.

He won in Nelson County, a hotbed of opposition to the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline project that earned McAuliffe the ire of activists who pressed unsuccessfully for him to block it during his first term.

He got almost 65 percent support in Fairfax County, the biggest prize in prosperous Northern Virginia. He did just as well or better in far Southwest Virginia, a region with some of the lowest per-capita incomes in the state.

He won everywhere. Literally.

McAuliffe crushes competitors in Democratic primary for governor
Virginia Mercury, Graham Moomaw –June 8, 2021 (Short)

For anyone wondering how Terry McAuliffe was feeling before Virginia’s gubernatorial primary, his election-eve shimmying spree was a solid indicator.

The almost-victory dance became the real thing Tuesday as the former governor and prolific Democratic fundraiser cruised to a lopsided win in a split field, setting up a general-election matchup with deep-pocketed Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin.

Tuesday’s victory cements McAuliffe’s return to the forefront of Virginia politics after serving as governor from 2014 to 2018. He had to leave office due to Virginia’s ban on governors serving consecutive terms, but there was nothing stopping him running again after a brief hiatus in which he explored the idea of a presidential run or a potential post in President Joe Biden’s cabinet.

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe will be the commonwealth’s Democratic gubernatorial nominee, CNN projected on Tuesday, besting four other primary challengers as he seeks to become the first person in decades to serve multiple terms as top executive of a commonwealth that bars governors from consecutive terms.

McAuliffe’s win sets a general election between the former governor and Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin. The race in Virginia, one of two states that hold off-year elections for governor after presidential elections, will be closely watched in Washington, DC, and beyond as it is often seen as a bellwether for the subsequent midterms.

McAuliffe wasted no time going after the Republican nominee on Tuesday, using part of his victory speech to link Youngkin to former President Donald Trump — a preview of what will be most of the former governor’s general election message.

As he runs for a second term, Terry McAuliffe is presenting himself as a policy-heavy candidate, talking up the 130 pages of “big bold plans” listed on his website. But the former governor, seen as a strong favorite to win his party’s nomination for governor in next week’s primary, has studiously avoided taking a clear position on one of his party’s major policy divides: repealing Virginia’s longstanding right-to-work law.

Three of five candidates in the Democratic gubernatorial field — former delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Del. Lee Carter — support repealing the law, which impedes the power of organized labor by allowing workers to avoid paying mandatory union dues. Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, has said she supports pro-union policies but doesn’t support compulsory union fees.

Cheap labor has long been part of Virginia’s pitch to prospective businesses, owing partly to the right-to-work law that’s been on the books since 1947.

 

With Republicans and Democrats alike reluctant to put limits on Virginia’s wide-open campaign finance system, money has been pouring into primary contests in what’s going to be a high-stakes election year.

And the batch of campaign finance numbers released this week seemed to have something for everyone not to like.

One week out from the June 8 primaries, here are four things that stood out in the latest reports, covering April 1 through May 27, as compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project.

The fourth and final debate of Virginia’s Democratic primary for governor was the most contentious yet as progressive candidates tried to portray frontrunner Terry McAuliffe as out of step with the type of message the party needs to deliver to keep the state blue.

One week out from the primary, it remains to be seen whether the attacks on the former governor will dramatically alter the race, which McAuliffe seems to have dominated ever since he announced he was making the rare move of seeking a second term after leaving office in early 2018.

But the last debate, held at Christopher Newport University in Newport News and televised by Hampton Roads-based TV station WVEC, showed McAuliffe’s opponents weren’t interested in a sleepy primary finish even as McAuliffe signaled that he’s looking ahead to the general-election matchup against Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin.

Mapping alliances in the Democratic primary
Virginia Mercury, Ned Oliver June 1, 2021 (Short)

Endorsements don’t necessarily mean a whole lot when it comes to determining who’s going to win an election. But they can illustrate alliances, partnerships and factions that develop over time. To that end, the chart below traces 70 endorsements by sitting state and federal elected officials in Virginia in next month’s Democratic primary for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.

Manipulate the visualization by clicking and dragging candidates (big circles) or their supporters (small circles); select or deselect races by clicking the legend. For best results, view on a desktop or tablet.

Election officials begin $20-29M project to replace Virginia’s voter system
Virginia Mercury, Graham MoomawMay 28, 2021 (Short)

For years, local officials have been complaining that Virginia’s all-encompassing election software — which powers everything from voter registration to absentee ballots to list maintenance to transmission of results — is slow and hard to use.

A 2018 report from state auditors verified those frustrations, concluding the Virginia Election and Registration Information System, or VERIS, was “not sufficiently functional or reliable.”

Election administrators are planning to fix that by by replacing the IT system, a project estimated to cost between $20 million and $29 million.

Though voters may not notice a major change, officials said, the workers assisting them will hopefully have a much smoother time calling up information in the new system and making changes to a voter’s status.

The Democrats’ New Trump Problem
The Atlantic, Elaine GodfreyMay 26, 2021 (Short)

LEESBURG, Va.—I smelled their perfume before I saw them, the small troop of middle-aged women marching toward the park pavilion one night last week, with their flowy blouses and short blond bobs and oversize black sunglasses. They sat around picnic tables with a handful of other volunteers, mostly women, and awaited instruction. They were not here to mess around. They were here for democracy.

The evening’s project: the first door-knocking event of the election season for the Virginia state delegate Wendy Gooditis, a 61-year-old Democrat and former real-estate agent first elected in 2017. Gooditis, like many other women across the country, ran for office that year because she was angry about Donald Trump’s election. Similarly angry suburbanites helped her unseat the district’s two-term Republican incumbent. In 2019, she defeated him again as part of a wave of anti-Trump backlash that helped Virginia Democrats take back the House of Delegates. But now, with her third campaign ramping up and Trump no longer in office, Gooditis needs to figure out a way to keep the enthusiasm alive.

 

“I know it is early to knock on doors, but we just have to keep people awake,” Gooditis said, standing in front of the picnic tables and addressing her volunteers. She wore pink skinny jeans, and her long brown hair hung down her back. “Our job tonight is to remind people that there’s a long way to go.”

The Virginia House Democratic Caucus authorized and funded attack mailers that falsely imply two of the state’s top donors to Democrats are right-wing “dark money billionaires,” according to an image of the mailer obtained by The Virginia Mercury.

The caucus-backed messages were sent in support of new Del. Candi King, D-Prince William, who has accepted money from Dominion Energy, against primary challenger Pam Montgomery, who is backed by the advocacy group Clean Virginia, which presses Virginia legislators to refuse campaign donations from Dominion.

The mailers include a picture of a book labeled “RIGHT WING PLAYBOOK,” call Montgomery “a distraction, not a Democrat” and include an unexplained photo of Montgomery with former New York Mayor and occasional Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, an image that appeared to be taken from an old website for an investment company Montgomery ran with her husband. Montgomery works as the chief of staff for a Democratic member of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors.

This could get ugly
Virginia Mercury, Richard Meagher, OpinionMay 20, 2021 (Short)

Virginia Republicans are flying high right now. After an unprecedented but ultimately successful “unassembled convention,” the party’s ticket for statewide office is set. Party leaders are especially excited about their nominee for governor, Glenn Youngkin, a tall and telegenic newcomer to politics with especially deep pockets.

With lieutenant governor nominee Winsome Sears, a veteran and Jamaican immigrant, and Cuban-American Jason Miyares for attorney general, the Republicans have rightly crowed that their ticket will likely end up featuring more diversity than the Democrats. (Although just like last year’s national election, both party’s tickets look to be led by rich White dudes, so let’s not get too excited.)

Republicans in Virginia also are hopeful that history is on their side. In the past, the national mood often swings against the party in power after a presidential election. Since Virginia unusually runs statewide elections in odd years, 2021 offers an early test of whether the country is turning towards Republicans.

Why you? In third debate, Democratic candidates for governor answer the question.
Virginia Mercury, Graham MoomawMay 20, 2021 (Short)

The five Democratic candidates for governor in Virginia squared off in a virtual debate Thursday night, the third of four debates scheduled before the June 8 primary.

The hourlong event hosted by NBC4 Washington covered much of the same territory as the first two debates, with former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Sen. Jennifer McClellan, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, former delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy and Del. Lee Carter laying out their plans for COVID-19 recovery, education, police reform and health care with few opportunities for extended back-and-forth between candidates.

Some of the most direct answers of the night came when moderator Chuck Todd of NBC News asked questions about electability and qualifications tailored specifically to each candidate.

Change the culture of contempt for FOIA
Virginia Mercury, Robert ZulloMay 20, 2021 (Short)

One of the coverage areas the Mercury set out to focus on when we launched nearly three years ago was Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act and the issues that perennially swirl around it like the constant cloud of dirt that follows Pigpen from “Peanuts.”

Virginia’s open records law doesn’t just suffer from problems with its text — in the form of loopholes, exemptions and provisions allowing exorbitant charges for records that belong to the taxpayers — but also from a general culture of contempt for the concept on the part of some government officials.

That much was apparent Tuesday during a subcommittee meeting of Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act Advisory Council, which was hearing testimony on one bill that would attempt to curb the high costs some public bodies impose for records and another that opens up police disciplinary records to public scrutiny.

General Laws Committee – Host, Delegate David Bulova
May 20, 2021 – 6:00 pm (ET)

Aircast on the recent activities of the General Laws committee during this winter’s General Assembly.

These aircasts will be focused on the recent activities of House and Senate committees  during the 2021 General Assembly. Committee chairs will host these aircasts with members of their committees and their invited audience.

Aircasts are Zoom meetings with a host, featured guests, and an online audience livestreamed to the public and archived as YouTube videos.

A recording of the livestreams will be archived in the Virginia onAir Hub and in our Virginia onAir YouTube channel.

For more information:General Laws Committee Post

Curator:

  • Jordan Toledo

Host:

  • Committee Chair, Delegate David Bulova

Featured Guest(s):

  • Delegate Betsy Carr, Chair, Open Government/Procurement Subcommittee

  • Delegate Chris Hurst, Chair, Professions/Occupations and Administrative Process Subcommittee

Producer:

  • Shuaib Ahmed, Democracy onAir – shuaib.ahmed@onair.cc

Archived Locations: YouTube Channel, General Laws Committee post, David Bulova post, Chris Hurst post

If the last public poll was any indicator, Virginia Democrats still have lots of homework to do before making their picks in the primary for lieutenant governor.

A Christopher Newport University poll conducted in mid-April found 64 percent of likely primary voters undecided in the race, with Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, the apparent leader with 12 percent support.

“We’re glad to see the way things are trending,” Rasoul said in an interview, attributing his leading status to a “values-based campaign” focused on in-person trips to cities and counties throughout Virginia, including areas where voters “feel forgotten.”

The numbers suggest there’s still lots of room for movement in an open field that once stood at eight candidates but has shrunk to six heading into the final month before the June 8 primary.

As lawmakers prepare to study the prospects for campaign finance reform in Virginia, the sheer size of some checks flowing to Democratic candidates for statewide office has renewed debate about the boosts offered by a wealthy Charlottesville couple topping charts as the biggest donors in state politics.

Though they backed opposing candidates in the 2017 Democratic primary for governor, donations connected to Michael Bills, a hedge fund manager and primary backer of the advocacy group Clean Virginia, and Sonjia Smith, a philanthropist and former lawyer married to Bills, are working in tandem this year in a big way.

Smith and Clean Virginia have given a combined $1.1 million, $600,000 from Clean Virginia and $500,000 from Smith, to former delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, whom they believe has the best shot at challenging former Gov. Terry McAuliffe in a five-person Democratic primary field. That’s almost a third of the roughly $3.6 million in cash contributions Carroll Foy reported raising as of March 31.

Dimmerling is among thousands of Virginians who have lived for months with the daily panic of impending financial doom because of the Virginia Employment Commission’s lagging performance in dealing with contested pandemic unemployment claims within the 21 days as prescribed by federal law.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Labor, for each full quarter since the pandemic began Virginia has ranked at or near the bottom against other states in the percentage of “nonmonetary determinations of claimants” within the required three weeks.

That’s bureaucratic jargon that means people whose unemployment insurance claims have been called into question or have prompted other concerns. For instance, employees who quit without good cause or are fired for misconduct are generally ineligible for benefits. Those separated because of layoffs — particularly in the pandemic — are eligible. Sometimes, employers will object to a former employee’s claim, and specialists known as “deputy adjudicators” decide who’s right.

 

Should my child get the COVID-19 vaccine? 7 questions answered by a pediatric infectious disease expert
Virginia Mercury, Dr. Debbie-Ann Shirley, University of VirginiaMay 18, 2021 (Short)

The Food and Drug Administration expanded emergency use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to include adolescents 12 to 15 years of age on May 10. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention followed with recommendations endorsing use in this age group after their advisory group meeting on May 12. The American Academy of Pediatrics also supports this decision.

Dr. Debbie-Ann Shirley is an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Virginia specializing in pediatric infectious diseases. Here she addresses some of the concerns parents may have about their teen or preteen getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

1. Does the vaccine work in adolescents?
Yes, recently released data from Pfizer-BioNTech shows that the COVID-19 vaccine seems to work really well in this age group. The COVID-19 vaccine was found to be 100 percent efficacious in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 in an ongoing clinical trial of children in the U.S. aged 12 to 15. Adolescents made high levels of antibody in response to the vaccine, and their immune response was just as strong as what has been seen in older teens and young adults 16-25 years of age.

After chaotic Virginia GOP convention, Democrats see extreme ticket while Republicans feel ‘relief’
Virginia Mercury, Graham Moomaw and Ned OliverMay 14, 2021 (Short)

Despite the early efforts to paint the Republicans’ 2021 ticket as an overwhelming lurch to the right, the slate isn’t nearly as extreme as it might’ve been. Instead of Chase, a self-described “Trump in heels,” becoming the party’s standard-bearer in a state former President Donald Trump lost twice, she logged off and went to the beach.

After failing to win a statewide election since 2009, some Republicans say they feel surprisingly good about where the party stands coming out of a chaotic unassembled convention marked by procedural confusion, mysterious attack ads and infighting.

“I think some of the ebullience you see in Republicans right now is that this could’ve been very bad. And it turned into the exact opposite,” said Shaun Kenney, a former Republican Party of Virginia executive director who has criticized fringe elements in the party. “But it’s more than just a sigh of relief. It’s like we finally know where we’re headed.”

As he tries to become Virginia’s first Black attorney general, Del. Jay Jones made clear on the debate stage Wednesday night that he wasn’t going to tiptoe around the topic of race.

Facing off against incumbent Attorney General Mark Herring in the first televised debate of the Democratic primary, Jones introduced himself as the descendant of slaves and the grandson of civil rights activists, going on to make several references to the perspective gained from his “lived experience as a Black man.”

Perhaps the most remarkable experience Jones recounted on the debate stage was being in the room in early 2019 when Herring met with the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus to deliver a pre-emptive apology for wearing blackface while in college at the University of Virginia.

Virginia’s GOP gambles on creative ranked-choice voting for 2021 nominees
Virginia Mercury, Mark J. Rozell May 4, 2021 (Short)

The Republican Party of Virginia has a chance this year to reestablish itself as a competitive force in statewide elections.

After a dozen years without a statewide victory, the GOP leadership needed to take a careful look within to understand why voters have turned their backs on the once dominant political party in Virginia. It appears that party leaders decided that with the right method of nominating candidates for statewide office, they can change their fortunes.

Republican Party leaders   generally have favored conventions as a means of selecting nominees for statewide offices. The closed process, open only to the most inside of GOP insiders and dominated by some of its most conservative voices, has had a mixed record of success.

Delegate Suggests Removing Financial Incentive For Traffic Stops
WVTF, Michael PopleMay 3, 2021 (Short)

The firestorm caused by the Windsor police officer who pepper sprayed an African-American Army officer may end up changing the relationship between money and policing in Virginia.

Delegate Betsy Carr of Richmond says this incident reveals why police departments and sheriff’s offices should be de-incentivized from making traffic stops.  “Police are incentivized if they’re going to get money from it just to make more traffic stops, and a lot of time Black and brown folks are the people who are bearing the brunt of this.”

But Dana Schrad at the police chiefs association says local governments get that money, not police.  “The financial incentive is not on the part of the police department,” Schrad argues. “It might be on the part of the locality. But the locality has always expressed that their chief concern is that speeding on that route that goes through their community presents risks for the business owners and presents risks for the residents, and they want to see speeding laws enforced.”

McAuliffe opponents struggle to break through in Virginia
Politico, Maya KingMay 1, 2021 (Short)

Former state Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy’s supporters say she is best-positioned to challenge the former governor, but she has yet to gain broad name recognition.

In Virginia, 2021 was the best chance yet to elect a Black politician — and possibly the first Black woman in any state — to the governor’s mansion.

But with five weeks until the commonwealth’s Democratic primary, Terry McAuliffe, its white male former governor, is on track to secure the nomination easily.

 

A COVID-19 vaccine mandate is not being ruled out in Virginia but it won’t happen in the near future, if at all. That’s according to the state’s Vaccine Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula, who spoke to 8News via Zoom on Thursday.

In the meantime, Dr. Avula said the use of so-called “vaccine passports” or certifications are a more likely solution for skepticism.

“If our ability to move forward as a society, to open back up businesses, to open back up schools, is contingent on this, then I think we find every way we can to incentivize it and potentially even get to a point where we require it, but I think we’re a long way from that,” Dr. Avula said.

Virginia Mercury wins honors in press competition
Virginia Mercury, StaffApril 30, 2021 (Short)

The Virginia Mercury took nine first-place awards and one of its journalists earned a top individual honor in the 2020 Virginia Press Association competition.

Mercury reporter Ned Oliver was named the year’s outstanding journalist for his work covering how the COVID-19 pandemic affected Virginia’s most vulnerable people. That included stories about prisoners, workers who lost jobs or were forced to come back as safety protocols were in flux, those who struggled with Virginia’s problem-plagued administration of unemployment benefits and renters who faced eviction, among other stories.

“In a year when nearly every journalist was writing about COVID-19, the judge said that Oliver’s work stands out. His reporting held officials accountable, and he kept an eye on the pandemic’s impact on those who could not speak for themselves,” the VPA said in a news release.

Northam amends Virginia’s mask mandate to match CDC guidance
Virginia Mercury, Kate Masters April 28, 2021 (Short)

The first of three minimum wage increases approved by Virginia lawmakers will take effect Saturday, guaranteeing the state’s lowest paid workers an hourly rate of $9.50 an hour.

While some businesses warned the hikes will force them to layoff workers and cut hours, low-wage employees celebrated the coming raises.

“I just feel like we deserve it,” said Jenee Long, who until recently was paid just over the current minimum of $7.25 an hour making sandwiches at a Subway franchise in Richmond. “Luckily, I had family to take care of me, because how would I pay rent?”

The last minimum wage increase in Virginia came courtesy of the federal government more than a decade ago in 2009, when Congress raised the wage floor to $7.25.

More than 53,000 delegates register to vote in Virginia GOP convention
Virginia Mercury, Ned Oliver April 28, 2021 (Short)

The Virginia GOP says 53,524 delegates have registered to vote in the party’s nominating convention next week, in which Republicans will select their candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.

Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Rich Anderson announced the number at a candidate forum on Tuesday evening, predicting the event would be “the largest state party convention ever in American history.”

The convention is set for Saturday, May 8, and, unlike a traditional convention held at a single location, will take place at voting locations set up around the state to comply with COVID-19 safety rules.

A minor political furor erupted in Virginia last week — over math.

It started with a Fox News story declaring that the state Department of Education was moving to eliminate all accelerated math classes before 11th grade, “effectively keeping higher-achieving students from advancing as they usually would in the school system.”

Republican leaders soon joined a chorus of dissenters. House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert criticized the department’s “plan to lower standards,” stating that “Virginians have had enough of the insatiable agenda to eliminate opportunities for students to excel in the quest to achieve mediocrity for all.” Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin slammed the decision in another statement, saying families across the state were “up in arms.”

When Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam looks back at his tenure, the inflection point between being a run-of-the-mill executive and the progressive leader he has become is a painful one.

The scandal — born of the discovery of a decades-old yearbook photo that featured someone in blackface — was an existential crisis for Northam and his administration. After initially saying the person in question was him, he denied it but admitted to darkening his skin as part of a Michael Jackson dance contest in 1984. Almost every Virginia Democrat called for his ouster as the state examined its racist past. Those closest to Northam said he was close to resigning.

How the governor survived was a surprise even to his most ardent supporters. The man who was nearly thrown out of office by his own party has, in the two years since, become a progressive champion, working with the same Democrats who called for his resignation to tighten gun laws in the commonwealth, restore the voting rights to nearly 70,000 felons, approve voting rights legislation and abolish the death penalty in the state. And just this week Northam signed legislation that would legalize marijuana this summer, the first Southern state to do so.

When she was sworn in as the first woman to serve as speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, Eileen Filler-Corn said she was struck by the diversity of the new Democratic majority looking back at her.

A year later, she was standing in a mostly empty room, speaking to “squares on a computer” as the oldest continuous legislative body in the Western Hemisphere tried lawmaking via Zoom.

It’s not yet clear when the House will return to normal. But after two years in power, Filler-Corn says she’s confident Virginia voters still want Democrats in charge.

“We heard the issues that were important to Virginians,” Filler-Corn said in a recent interview with The Virginia Mercury. “We campaigned saying we were going to do X, Y and Z. We were very upfront about it. Very bold. And there is no doubt about it that we followed through.”

Will Virginia colleges require COVID-19 vaccinations? Should they?
Capital News Service, Hunter BrittApril 22, 2021 (Short)

Virginia universities plan a return to campuses in the fall, but there are questions if the COVID-19 vaccine can be mandated.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration only authorized the vaccine for emergency purposes, according to Lisa Lee, professor of public health at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. The vaccine does not yet have full FDA approval.

The vaccine was authorized for emergency use, so people have to be given the choice to take it and be informed of the consequences if they don’t, Lee said.

“Many legal scholars have interpreted that as saying that people cannot be required to take a vaccine that is under an emergency use authorization,” Lee said. “They can be when it has full approval, so that’s where the hitch is.”

Starting May 15, Virginia will significantly relax capacity restrictions on social gatherings and entertainment venues as COVID-19 numbers plateau across much of the state.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced the latest rollback in a video message on Thursday, citing the state’s continued progress in vaccinations. Data from the Virginia Department of Health indicates that more than 40 percent of the population has received at least one shot and more than 26 percent are fully vaccinated. Every Virginian 16 and older became eligible for the vaccine on Sunday.

“Vaccination numbers are up, and our COVID case numbers are substantially lower than they were earlier this year,” Northam said in a statement. “So, we have been able to begin easing some mitigation measures.”

FOIA bill allows some access to criminal investigation records
Capital News Service , Anya SczerzenieApril 20, 2021 (Short)

A bill allowing the public access to limited criminal investigation records will go into effect in July, along with a handful of other bills related to government transparency.

Del. Chris Hurst, D-Blacksburg, a former television reporter, introduced House Bill 2004. The bill requires files related to non-ongoing criminal investigations be released under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act law.

“I’d been a journalist for 10 years, and I frequently saw that access to police records was very difficult,” Hurst said. “In denying those records, accountability and transparency were lost.”

Hurst said he hopes the bill will give the public reasonable access to criminal investigation files.

Virginia public defenders face resistance in push for pay parity with prosecutors
Virginia Mercury, Ned OliverApril 20, 2021 (Short)

In many Virginia courtrooms, commonwealth’s attorneys charged with prosecuting crimes continue to earn significantly more than the government employees responsible for defending the accused.

It’s an imbalance that bakes inequity into the criminal justice system, say public defenders, whose state-funded offices represent poor defendants who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford an attorney.

They say it’s not uncommon to spend years training a new hire only to lose them to a higher paying job, often in prosecutors offices.

“They literally just go across the street to make a significantly increased salary to prosecute people instead of defend them,” said Ashley Shapiro, a senior assistant public defender in Richmond, where lawyers on staff learned they were almost all making less than the highest-paid administrative assistant in the prosecutor’s office.

Pushing broadband into rural Va. gives us a chance to act like a commonwealth
Virginia Mercury, Bob Lewis –April 19, 2021 (Short)

Writing this column in a Richmond suburb, I expect instant responses to data inquiries from across the Internet. And, far more often than not, I get them.

Fiber-optic digital access (which ain’t cheap) also allows me to stream movies, shop the virtual marketplace, conduct business videoconferences and correspond at light speed with anyone in the world via email or social media.

By the time you read this, I will have used this fast connection to communicate with sources whom I have interviewed for this piece, downloaded all sorts of data and collaborated with The Virginia Mercury’s editors to get it ready for your consumption.

Over the last month, state and federal officials have directed thousands of COVID-19 vaccines to large-scale clinics in vulnerable communities with high rates of coronavirus cases — all in areas with significant or majority Black and Latino populations.

The sites have been touted by leaders as a core strategy in expanding access to vaccines among communities of color, where immunization rates are consistently lower than they are for White Virginians. “We have done a very good job in the commonwealth in addressing this issue,” state Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said at a news briefing last month in response to questions over vaccine equity.

“We have brought on staff in our emergency support team that is doing outreach in these communities,” he added. “We’ve put boots on the ground in all 35 of our health districts and those teams are doing your basic sort of community organizing — door to door, working with faith leaders, community-based organizations to bring people from these vulnerable populations to our vaccination sites.”

When top aides to Gov. Ralph Northam sat down last summer to meet with the state inspector general, whose office had just issued a critical watchdog report on the Virginia Parole Board, Northam Chief of Staff Clark Mercer opened by saying he wanted to hear what was being done to prevent future reports from “getting forwarded to the Associated Press again.” 

Republican General Assembly leaders had just given media outlets an unredacted copy of a report accusing the Parole Board of mishandling the release of Vincent Martin, who was convicted of the 1979 killing of a Richmond police officer but won praise as a model inmate. Before that, the inspector general had only released an unreadable version with virtually every sentence blacked-out, citing an interpretation of confidentiality laws disputed by open-government advocates.

Mercer said he was hoping for a “collegial” discussion of what had happened and the aspects of the report that were in dispute.

What would a carbon-free grid look like for Virginia?
Virginia Mercury, Ivy MainApril 16, 2021 (Short)

Joe Biden wants a carbon-free electric grid by 2035. What does that look like in Virginia?

Virginia’s General Assembly made history in 2020 by becoming the first state in the South to pass a law requiring the full decarbonization of its electric sector. The Virginia Clean Economy Act requires our two largest utilities, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power, to close all Virginia carbon-emitting power plants by 2045. As of 2050, the state will not issue carbon allowances to any other power plants in the commonwealth, including those owned by electric cooperatives and independent generators.

Less than a year later, President Joe Biden wants to move up the date for a carbon-free electric grid nationwide to 2035. Biden is also targeting a net-zero carbon economy by 2050. On that, Virginia is actually more ambitious, at least on paper, since the Commonwealth Energy Policy sets a goal for a net-zero economy by 2045.

Viral police stop in small Virginia town renews focus on qualified immunity
Virginia Mercury, Graham Moomaw| Ned OliverApril 13, 2021 (Short)

Standing across from the gas station where an Army lieutenant became another viral example of aggressive policing directed at a person of color, members of the Virginia NAACP called Monday for lawmakers to hold a special session on an unfinished piece of the police reform agenda.

Though the Democratic-controlled General Assembly twice failed to approve legislation rolling back qualified immunity, some say what happened to Black and Latino Army Lt. Caron Nazario in this small town demands that policymakers try again.

“To tell us that a Black Army second lieutenant in uniform can have that type of treatment imposed upon him, imagine what happens when the body cameras are off,” said NAACP Executive Director Da’Quan Marcell Love. “Imagine what happens on dark roads across the length and breadth of this commonwealth.”

As Dominion’s rate review gears up, a broader fight about regulatory balance resurges
Virginia Mercury, Sarah VogelsongApril 9, 2021 (Short)
Virginia explained: What’s a triennial review and why should you care?
Virginia Mercury, Sarah Vogelsong April 9, 2021 (Short)

For the first time in six years, Virginia’s largest utility, which serves two-thirds of Virginia’s residential customers, will submit to a review of its base rates. Dominion Energy’s “triennial review,” coming after years of regulators reporting hundreds of millions of dollars in company overearnings, will likely be the powerful utility’s biggest battle of the year.

The outcome will determine whether the base rates it charges have been reasonable, how much it’s earned over the past four years and what profits shareholders will be allowed to reap as the company embarks on an ambitious Democrat-driven mission to transform the foundation of Virginia’s electric grid from fossil fuels to renewables.

But instead of playing out in political skirmishes in the General Assembly, this contest will unfold before the State Corporation Commission, one of the most powerful and little-known of Virginia’s government bodies which since 1902 has had the authority under the state Constitution to regulate utilities.

Done right, legal pot could bring social equity and opportunity to Virginia
Virginia Mercury, Bob Lewis – OpinionApril 5, 2021 (Short)

Virginia owes much to a smokable weed.

Look no farther than the ceiling of the state Capitol Rotunda to see painted representations of garlands of the golden-brown leaf that was essential to Virginia’s founding 400 years ago.

The Virginia Company of London, chartered as a joint stock company, encountered lean times in the early years after it established a foothold at Jamestown. Tobacco was one of its few success stories. The crop flourished in the fertile loam and sunny summers along the James River. Across the Atlantic, demand became insatiable for what was called the “joviall weed,” the “precious stink” and the “chopping herbe of hell,” according to “Virginia: The New Dominion” by historian and editor Virginius Dabney. It remained a leading cash crop in Virginia through the 20th century.

On July 1, another smokable weed, once damned by the establishment, is expected to become legal for adult recreational use. And 2½ years later, the legal commercial cultivation, processing and sale of marijuana would begin in Virginia.

The final say on that comes Wednesday when the Virginia General Assembly is expected to adopt amendments Gov. Ralph Northam made to a bill passed during the winter legislative session that at long last legalized ganja in the Old Dominion.

Should Virginia bus systems go fare free forever?
Virginia Mercury, Wyatt Gordon April 6, 2021 (Medium)

When the General Assembly created the Transit Rider Incentive Program (TRIP) as part of Gov. Ralph Northam’s 2020 transportation omnibus, the lion’s share of the funding was allocated to support new regional bus routes. With COVID’s cancellation of much commuter service across the commonwealth, those dollars are now being dedicated to TRIP’s secondary goal: fare free transit pilot projects.

With large localities like Lynchburg, Roanoke, Alexandria, Richmond, Charlottesville, and Fairfax County now expressing interest in eliminating bus fares for at least three years, could the shift to zero fares in Virginia become permanent?

Nearly every transit system in the commonwealth dropped fares last year as a public health measure in response to COVID, but until recently none had announced intentions to make that move to protect riders and operators more permanent. Based on the responses to a request for ideas DRPT issued to transit providers last fall, the list of bus systems seeking to stay fare free beyond the pandemic could soon grow substantially longer.

Virginia to expand vaccine eligibility to everyone 16 and older by mid-Ap
Virginia Mercury, Kate Masters –April 1, 2021 (Short)

Gov. Ralph Northam announced Thursday that the state will expand vaccine eligibility to all Virginians 16 and older by April 18.

The news puts Virginia nearly two weeks ahead of the May 1 deadline set by President Joe Biden earlier this month. In a news release, the administration said that nearly every high-risk Virginian who pre-registered for a vaccine has already received a shot, allowing the state to expand eligibility sooner than expected. Those still on the state’s pre-registration list will receive an appointment invitation within the next two weeks.

“Expanding vaccine eligibility to all adults marks an important milestone in our ongoing efforts to put this pandemic behind us,” Northam said in a statement. “I thank all of the public health staff, health care workers, vaccinators, and volunteers who have helped make this possible.”

Apparently fed up with paperwork coming in late, Virginia’s State Board of Elections has refused to extend a key campaign filing deadline this year, potentially affecting eight candidates running for the House of Delegates.

Three are Democrats looking to challenge incumbent lawmakers, meaning, if the decision stands, Dels. Luke Torian, D-Prince William, Betsy Carr, D-Richmond, and Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, may not face primary challengers after all. Because they represent strongly Democratic districts, their primary opponents being disqualified on technical grounds all but guarantees the incumbents will win re-election.

The decision to insist on meaningful deadlines comes after years of officials wrestling with how to handle paperwork errors, reflecting a growing feeling on the board that candidates must take responsibility for their own campaigns and follow through to ensure their documents get to the right place.

The geography of Mathews County was carved by catastrophe.

Thirty-five million years ago, a meteorite or comet tore through the Earth’s atmosphere and slammed into its surface somewhere between the county and what is now called Cape Charles. In the ruin it left behind, the Chesapeake Bay would form. Mathews, at the very tip of Virginia’s Middle Peninsula, remains one of the state’s lowest-lying areas, surrounded on three sides by the Chesapeake Bay and the waters that flow into it. 

“We’re flat as a pancake,” said Thomas Jenkins, the county’s planning, zoning and wetlands director. “Much of the county is close to sea level.” 

Today a far slower but perhaps no less catastrophic force is reshaping Mathews. As climate change drives seas upward, the county is struggling to keep its waterfront properties above the tides. 

 
Audit overwhelmingly confirms Virginia’s election results
Virginia Mercury, Graham Moomaw March 31, 2021 (Short)

statewide audit of Virginia’s 2020 election results verified President Joe Biden’s victory in the state, finding only a 0.00000065117 percent chance the state’s voting system could have produced an inaccurate outcome.

“Election officials are over 99 percent confident in the reported outcome,” Karen Hoyt-Stewart, voting technology manager at the Virginia Department of Elections, told the State Board of Elections as she presented the audit report Wednesday.

The only way to reach 100 percent certainty would be for officials to manually review every ballot cast in the state. In other words, the audit found there’s almost zero chance a full recount would show a different outcome.

The risk-limiting audit, more of a mathematical exercise than an expansive investigation into how ballots were cast and counted, involved checking a random sample of paper ballots against the results reported by scanner machines.

It’s already too late for Virginia to redraw political districts in time for the 2021 House of Delegates races, but the U.S. Census Bureau’s decision to speed up its delivery of new population data means Virginia lawmakers could be voting on future maps right before the November elections.

Census officials had told states to expect to get the data by late September, but Virginia officials say they now expect to receive it by the second week of August.

Under the newly created Virginia Redistricting Commission’s constitutional timeline, receipt of the data starts a 45-day clock for the commission to submit new legislative maps to the General Assembly for an up-or-down vote. Once the legislature received the proposed maps, it has 15 days to vote on them.

Virginians could be harvesting their first legal crops of home-grown marijuana later this year under legislative amendments Gov. Ralph Northam says he’s sending to the General Assembly.

Northam said Wednesday he is proposing changes to the marijuana legalization bill passed by the General Assembly last month that would end the state’s prohibition on the drug beginning July 1 — up from a 2024 date proposed by lawmakers. He says he also wants to allow limited home cultivation to begin at the same time.

“Virginia will become the 15th state to legalize marijuana — and these changes will ensure we do it with a focus on public safety, public health and social justice,” he said in a statement.

Virginia lawmakers ban police use of facial recognition
AP, Denise LavoieMarch 29, 2021 (Short)

Last month, Virginia lawmakers quietly passed one of the most restrictive bans in the country on the use of facial recognition technology.

The legislation, which won unusually broad bipartisan support, prohibits all local law enforcement agencies and campus police departments from purchasing or using facial recognition technology unless it is expressly authorized by the state legislature.

But now, some law enforcement officials are asking Gov. Ralph Northam to put the brakes on the legislation, arguing that it is overly broad and hasn’t been thoroughly vetted.

Makya Little was helping her fourth-grade daughter review for the Virginia Studies SOL, a standardized test on state history, when she found herself taken aback by one of the questions on the study guide.

“She gets to this one question that says ‘What’s the status of the early African?’” said Little, who lives in Prince William County. The correct answer, according to the class materials, was “unknown. They were either servants or enslaved.”

“I got really, really upset,” Little said. While historians widely agree that the first Africans to arrive at the Jamestown settlement were enslaved, there’s been contentious discussion on the topic — some of the state’s own study materials also state that it’s “unknown” whether they arrived as slaves or indentured servants. The school division didn’t provide any of that context, and Little said multiple thoughts flashed through her head. The information was “misleading,” she added, and seemed designed to “soften how early Americans treated Black and Indigenous people” (another prompt on the study guide stated that native people and English settlers had a “trade relationship”).

Northam signs bill funding Va. community-college education costs
WTOP, Rick Massimo March 29, 2021 (Short)

Low-income students in Virginia will soon be getting financial help with all the costs of getting an education.

Gov. Ralph Northam on Monday signed into law the “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back” program, which will provide full tuition for community college for low-income students in certain majors, as well as incidental expenses such as food and transportation.

The bill, which passed the legislature overwhelmingly last month, budgets $36 million a year over the next two years.

The bill covers education that leads to in-demand jobs in fields such as technology, skilled labor and health care. Officials gathered at Northern Virginia Community College for the signing Monday said the bill would open doors to people who were considering higher education.

“I am so incredibly proud of this initiative,” said House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn. “This has been something that we’ve been working on for a number of years.” She said there was a lot of bipartisan support for the bill even before COVID-19, but with a lot of lower-skill jobs disappearing because of the pandemic, “It’s more important now than ever.”

Va. House leaders back legalizing home-grown marijuana this summer
Virginia Mercury, Ned Oliver March 26, 2021 (Short)

Democratic leaders in the House of Delegates say they now support legalizing marijuana on July 1, joining the Senate in backing amendments to a legalization bill lawmakers passed last month.

They also went a step further, endorsing the legalization of personal cultivation at the same time.

“The time is now for us to act,” wrote speaker Eileen Filler-Corn in a statement.

The General Assembly voted at the end of February to legalize marijuana, but not until Jan. 1, 2024, when the state’s first legal marijuana businesses would open. The decision to tie legalization to commercial sales disappointed activists, who argued that waiting three years would needlessly prolong the racial disparities in policing that lawmakers said they were trying to address.

Virginia governor signs historic bill abolishing death penalty into law
CNN, Veronica StracqualursiMarch 24, 2021 (Medium)

After centuries of carrying out executions, Virginia on Wednesday became the 23rd state to abolish the death penalty after Gov. Ralph Northam signed historic legislation into law that ends capital punishment in the commonwealth.

“We can’t give out the ultimate punishment without being 100% sure that we’re right. And we can’t sentence people to that ultimate punishment knowing that the system doesn’t work the same for everyone,” Northam, a Democrat, said ahead of signing the legislation at the Greensville Correctional Center, which houses Virginia’s death chamber.

With Northam’s signature, Virginia became the first Southern state to repeal the death penalty since the US Supreme Court reinstated the punishment in 1976. The new law, set to go into effect in July, comes as a major shift for Virginia, which has put to death more people in its history than any other state.

What was expected to be a pretty predictable special election in Southwest Virginia has turned into a surprisingly intense fight in its closing days.

Voters in Virginia’s 38th Senate District will elect a new state senator through 2023 on Tuesday. Incumbent Ben Chafin died on Jan. 1 from complications related to COVID-19.

The district includes Bland, Buchanan, Dickenson, Pulaski, Russell and Tazewell counties, the cities of Norton and Radford, and portions of Montgomery, Smyth and Wise counties. 

Metro is finally catching a break, and it’s a plus for workers in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs poised to start heading back to the office once they’re vaccinated.

The $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package signed by President Joe Biden last week ends — for now — the prospect that the bus and subway operator in the D.C. area officially known as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, would have to resort to deep service cuts to stay solvent.

Metro, hammered when commuters abandoned the system beginning a year ago to work from home, had proposed the shutdown of more than 20 of its train stations across the region’s far-flung system, ranging from College Park-University of Maryland to Smithsonian to Arlington Cemetery to Clarendon.

Virginia has $43 million in carbon market revenues. How is it going to spend it?
Virginia Mercury, Sarah VogelsongMarch 17, 2021 (Medium)

The $43 million was “in the state’s hot little hands,” Mike Dowd told the group.

So what next?

That was the question facing not only Dowd, director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s Air Division, but also a collection of developers, state officials and environmental and low-income advocacy groups who had gathered over Zoom on Monday.

All were focused on the best uses of that $43 million in carbon money, the first round of funds Virginia had received through its participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, an 11-state agreement that puts a price on the carbon emissions that are driving climate change, requires power plants to pay that price and then channels the proceeds back to the states.

Most of that funding will eventually be paid for by customers of the state’s electric utilities, which are allowed under state law to pass on the costs of carbon allowances to customers, with no extra returns for investors. State officials had conservatively projected annual proceeds from RGGI’s carbon auctions to be in the range of $106 to $109 million. But with allowances trading at $7.60 per short ton of emissions at this March’s quarterly auction, actual revenues now look to be much higher, amounting to perhaps as much as $174 million annually if prices hold.

Virginia could soon push more workers to save for retirement. Here’s how:
Virginia Mercury, Graham MoomawMarch 16, 2021 (Short)

Thousands of Virginia workers would gain the option of automatically putting away part of their paychecks for retirement under legislation the General Assembly passed last month to help private-sector employees who lack access to a savings plan through their employer.

The bill, awaiting action by Gov. Ralph Northam, establishes a state-administered program that would offer IRA accounts to workers with no other retirement plan options, particularly employees of small businesses, self-employed people and gig workers. 

The accounts would be optional, but workers would be enrolled by default and would have to opt out if they want to keep their whole paycheck. The plans would be portable, meaning workers could keep putting money into the same account even if they switch jobs.

Covered businesses would have to help interested workers participate in the program, mainly by setting up their accounting systems to allow payroll deductions to be made, but they wouldn’t have to contribute funds of their own.

Did Virginia lawmakers accidentally vote to legalize skill games for another year?
Virginia Mercury, Graham Moomaw March 16, 2021 (Short)
X
US House District 2 - VA 2020US House District 2 – VA 2020

Adapted from the Washington Post:

The GOP primary to decide who will challenge Rep. Elaine Luria (D) in the military heavy 2nd District was won by Scott Taylor. Taylor, a former congressman, who lost the Virginia Beach seat to Luria in the 2018 blue wave, defeated two Republican opponents, paving the way for a rematch in November.

An uptick in anti-Trump sentiment, and a scandal over fraudulent signatures that his campaign collected to help a potential spoiler candidate get on the ballot, sunk Taylor’s campaign against Luria two years ago, analysts say.

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report considers the general election a toss-up.

In 2018, Chrissy Houlahan (PA-06), Elaine Luria (VA-02), Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11), Elissa Slotkin (MI-08), and Abigail Spanberger (VA-07) flipped Republican-held districts running on their national security records and moderate bona fides. Now, all five of them have been reelected to Congress.

Luria, Slotkin, and Spanberger were in seats Cook Political Report rated as “toss-ups” two years ago, but this year their districts were uniformly rated “Lean Democratic.” In 2018, Houlahan and Sherrill were in seats rated Likely and Lean Democratic, respectively but this year didn’t face competitive challenges — Cook Political Report didn’t even include them in its list of competitive races.

But as returns came in, it became clear that district-level polls may not have accurately captured voter sentiment. As David Wasserman wrote last week: “The suburban anti-Trump revolt that took 2018 by storm didn’t extend to 2020. Most Republican incumbents in white-collar suburbs didn’t just survive, they thrived — running well ahead of President Trump down-ballot.”

Democrat Elaine Luria holds on to US House seat in Virginia
NBC12, Associated Press November 4, 2020 (Short)

Freshman Democratic U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria has held on to her seat in a Virginia congressional district that includes suburban and rural areas and the world’s largest naval base.

The former U.S. Navy commander defeated Republican Scott Taylor in Tuesday’s election. Taylor is a former Navy SEAL who represented the district for one term before Luria defeated him in 2018.

The race was competitive: The district was drawn by Republicans and supported President Donald Trump in 2016.

The final push is on to get out the vote in the 2nd Congressional District race in Virginia, and it played out for Democrats at the Ocean View Beach Park Monday.

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Virginia), U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, and U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria joined about 35 of the Democratic faithful in Norfolk.

In the COVID-19 campaign mode, all three posed for pictures elbow to elbow, and the unified message for them the current occupant of the White House needs to be replaced.

“It’s like this psychic heaviness on all of our shoulders. Think how good we are going to feel Wednesday morning when finally, the country can breathe again,” Warner said to an “Amen” from the crowd and lots of clapping.

With less than two weeks to go before Election Day, both major Democratic nominees on the ticket in Virginia’s Second Congressional District, Congresswoman Elaine Luria and presidential candidate Joe Biden, are up in the polls among registered voters.

A poll by the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University released Wednesday shows Luria, the incumbent, is up 50%-43% against former Rep. Scott Taylor (R), who Luria defeated in 2018. The candidates squared off Tuesday night in the first of two debates this week. The Hampton Roads Chamber is hosting a 2nd District Congressional Debate on October 22.

Scott Taylor vs. Elaine Luria Debate, 10/30/18
13News NowOctober 30, 2018 (51:54)
Rep. Elaine Luria presses top Navy officials
13News NowOctober 23, 2019 (15:45)

A bitter election in Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District over a crucial House seat is boiling down to which of two Navy veterans better represents a historically Republican region that now finds itself increasingly drawn toward Democrats.

The contest, as muddy as its Tidewater setting, pits incumbent Democrat Elaine Luria against a familiar rival: GOP challenger and former Rep. Scott Taylor.

Things get personal between Taylor, Luria in 2nd Congressional District debate
13 News Now, Mike GoodingOctober 22, 2020 (Short)

It took less than ten minutes before things got a little testy between Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va., 2nd District) and Republican challenger, former congressman Scott Taylor.

Taylor launched the first salvo, criticizing the fact that Luria, as part of her personal portfolio, has an undisclosed amount of money invested in a Chinese firm.

“I don’t even understand how, especially right now, how a U.S. congresswoman would invest in Chinese manufacturing,” he said. “Because, when it comes time to place your own personal bet on manufacturing, you bet on China.”

Luria responded: “I don’t think we came here to talk about personal finances. But, if you want to talk about personal finances, if you want to talk about your bankruptcy, about your millions of dollars on judgements, about your failure to pay your property taxes on time, we can do that.”

Summary

Adapted from the Washington Post:

The GOP primary to decide who will challenge Rep. Elaine Luria (D) in the military heavy 2nd District was won by Scott Taylor. Taylor, a former congressman, who lost the Virginia Beach seat to Luria in the 2018 blue wave, defeated two Republican opponents, paving the way for a rematch in November.

An uptick in anti-Trump sentiment, and a scandal over fraudulent signatures that his campaign collected to help a potential spoiler candidate get on the ballot, sunk Taylor’s campaign against Luria two years ago, analysts say.

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report considers the general election a toss-up.

News & Events

In 2018, Chrissy Houlahan (PA-06), Elaine Luria (VA-02), Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11), Elissa Slotkin (MI-08), and Abigail Spanberger (VA-07) flipped Republican-held districts running on their national security records and moderate bona fides. Now, all five of them have been reelected to Congress.

Luria, Slotkin, and Spanberger were in seats Cook Political Report rated as “toss-ups” two years ago, but this year their districts were uniformly rated “Lean Democratic.” In 2018, Houlahan and Sherrill were in seats rated Likely and Lean Democratic, respectively but this year didn’t face competitive challenges — Cook Political Report didn’t even include them in its list of competitive races.

But as returns came in, it became clear that district-level polls may not have accurately captured voter sentiment. As David Wasserman wrote last week: “The suburban anti-Trump revolt that took 2018 by storm didn’t extend to 2020. Most Republican incumbents in white-collar suburbs didn’t just survive, they thrived — running well ahead of President Trump down-ballot.”

Democrat Elaine Luria holds on to US House seat in Virginia
NBC12, Associated Press November 4, 2020 (Short)

Freshman Democratic U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria has held on to her seat in a Virginia congressional district that includes suburban and rural areas and the world’s largest naval base.

The former U.S. Navy commander defeated Republican Scott Taylor in Tuesday’s election. Taylor is a former Navy SEAL who represented the district for one term before Luria defeated him in 2018.

The race was competitive: The district was drawn by Republicans and supported President Donald Trump in 2016.

The final push is on to get out the vote in the 2nd Congressional District race in Virginia, and it played out for Democrats at the Ocean View Beach Park Monday.

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Virginia), U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, and U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria joined about 35 of the Democratic faithful in Norfolk.

In the COVID-19 campaign mode, all three posed for pictures elbow to elbow, and the unified message for them the current occupant of the White House needs to be replaced.

“It’s like this psychic heaviness on all of our shoulders. Think how good we are going to feel Wednesday morning when finally, the country can breathe again,” Warner said to an “Amen” from the crowd and lots of clapping.

With less than two weeks to go before Election Day, both major Democratic nominees on the ticket in Virginia’s Second Congressional District, Congresswoman Elaine Luria and presidential candidate Joe Biden, are up in the polls among registered voters.

A poll by the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University released Wednesday shows Luria, the incumbent, is up 50%-43% against former Rep. Scott Taylor (R), who Luria defeated in 2018. The candidates squared off Tuesday night in the first of two debates this week. The Hampton Roads Chamber is hosting a 2nd District Congressional Debate on October 22.

Scott Taylor vs. Elaine Luria Debate, 10/30/18
13News NowOctober 30, 2018 (51:54)
Rep. Elaine Luria presses top Navy officials
13News NowOctober 23, 2019 (15:45)

A bitter election in Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District over a crucial House seat is boiling down to which of two Navy veterans better represents a historically Republican region that now finds itself increasingly drawn toward Democrats.

The contest, as muddy as its Tidewater setting, pits incumbent Democrat Elaine Luria against a familiar rival: GOP challenger and former Rep. Scott Taylor.

Things get personal between Taylor, Luria in 2nd Congressional District debate
13 News Now, Mike GoodingOctober 22, 2020 (Short)

It took less than ten minutes before things got a little testy between Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va., 2nd District) and Republican challenger, former congressman Scott Taylor.

Taylor launched the first salvo, criticizing the fact that Luria, as part of her personal portfolio, has an undisclosed amount of money invested in a Chinese firm.

“I don’t even understand how, especially right now, how a U.S. congresswoman would invest in Chinese manufacturing,” he said. “Because, when it comes time to place your own personal bet on manufacturing, you bet on China.”

Luria responded: “I don’t think we came here to talk about personal finances. But, if you want to talk about personal finances, if you want to talk about your bankruptcy, about your millions of dollars on judgements, about your failure to pay your property taxes on time, we can do that.”

Elaine Luria

Current Position: US Representative since 2019
Affiliation: Democrat
Candidate: 2020 US Representative

“Today, too many Americans are working hard and getting less. That’s because politicians in Washington aren’t looking out for them. That’s why I am running for Congress.

The core values of Security, Equality, and Prosperity will serve as my compass in representing the 2nd District.”

For more information, go to the Elaine Luria post

Scott Taylor

Current Position: Security consultant
Affiliation: Republican
Candidate: 2020 US Representative for US House District 2
Former Position(s): US Representative for US House District 2 from 2017 – 2019

Scott was sworn in to the U.S. House of Representatives in Virginia’s 2nd district in January of 2017 and became the first freshman member from Virginia to ever be appointed to the Appropriations Committee for a full term. His legislative accomplishments included a law to bring accountability at the most senior levels to the department of Department of Veterans Affairs and the Ashanti Alert Act, a national alert for missing adults. He was instrumental in securing hundreds of millions of dollars for his district and state for military construction and infrastructure projects. further, his appropriations amendments helping to protect military base access roads from flooding and/or sea level rise and his amendment to allow inter-agency cooperation on public-private partnerships at rural military installations were signed into law.

For more information, go to the Scott Taylor post.

Issues

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US House District 5 – VA 2020US House District 5 – VA 2020

A practicing physician, Cameron Webb returned to Charlottesville where he treats patients as a general internist, teaches students and serves as the Director of Health Policy and Equity at UVA’s School of Medicine.  Cameron is running for Congress to serve his community at this critical time. In Washington, he will be a fierce advocate to ensure opportunities for health and success for all Virginians.

Bob Good is running for Congress to bring the conservative principles of financial stewardship and respect for hard working taxpayers back to Washington. President Trump’s policies have delivered a growing, vibrant economy and we must ensure that our representatives back his agenda.

 

Bob Good speech in Lynchburg
Youtube November 4, 2020 (25:13)

Republican Bob Good has won the race for Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District, a race considered one of the more competitive in the country.

Good, a former Campbell County supervisor and Liberty University senior associate athletic director, defeated Democrat Cameron Webb.

In a statement, Webb conceded the race saying that the margin is “sufficiently large that the remaining outstanding ballots are unable to make up the difference.”

“While this is not the outcome we hoped for, it has truly been an honor to run to represent this district in Congress. This campaign has been a battle of ideas about how to best serve the people of our district and I cannot give enough thanks to everyone who made it possible,” Webb said.

“Congratulations to Mr. Good for his victory and I look forward to continuing to engage with him as we move forward from the election in a unified way.”

At the headquarters of the Fauquier County Republican Committee in Warrenton, Virginia, a cardboard cutout of John Wayne gripping a rifle leans against a wall. Chair Gregory Schumacher says Wayne was “the great American Western hero,” and he says Republicans who held the Fifth District in Congress for all but two of the last 20 years will keep it in their hands this November.

Although the populous counties of Northern Virginia have powered the state’s drift into Democratic control, Schumacher says he sits on the political boundary. “When you come out from the Beltway, Fauquier County’s the first one that goes red,” Schumacher said.

But there are signs that this year could be different as Republican contender Bob Good faces Democratic challenger Cameron Webb in what political prediction site FiveThirtyEight calls the most competitive House race in the country. Webb has outraised Good fourfold and held a slight lead in the last three polls. Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia and The Cook Political Report call the congressional race a toss-up. If Democrats can win this seat, they will continue a blue wave that flipped three House seats in 2018.

Medical Doctor Running For Congress In Virginia
MSNBCOctober 20, 2020 (06:00)
Internal poll shows tight race in Virginia House race
The Hill , Tal AxelrodOctober 9, 2020 (Short)

Virginia Democrat Cameron Webb has a narrow lead over Republican Bob Good in the state’s 5th Congressional District, according to an internal poll released Friday by Webb’s campaign.

In the poll, which was obtained exclusively by The Hill, 45 percent of likely voters said they would back Webb while 42 percent said they would vote for Good. The survey marks an improvement for Webb after the same poll in August showed him behind by 2 points.

The results are split along partisan lines, but Webb has been able to win over 11 percent of Republican likely voters, while Good gets the support of 5 percent of likely Democratic voters. Webb has a 42 percent to 19 percent lead among independents, though another 39 percent are undecided.

Cameron Webb Bob Good Closing Statements
Youtube September 9, 2020 (08:43)
VA 5th District candidates square off in virtual debate
WDBJ 7, Pete DeLucaSeptember 9, 2020 (Short)

Election day is less than two months away and the race for Virginia’s 5th Congressional district is heating up.

Wednesday, Republican candidate Bob Good and Democratic candidate Cameron Webb squared off in a virtual debate hosted by the Senior Statemen of Virginia.

The candidates shared their views on law enforcement, energy use and the environment, as well as healthcare.

“I want to stay with market-driven solutions, improvements that are patient-centric, that will drive down cost and improve choice and quality for all Americans,” said Good.

 

Summary

A practicing physician, Cameron Webb returned to Charlottesville where he treats patients as a general internist, teaches students and serves as the Director of Health Policy and Equity at UVA’s School of Medicine.  Cameron is running for Congress to serve his community at this critical time. In Washington, he will be a fierce advocate to ensure opportunities for health and success for all Virginians.

Bob Good is running for Congress to bring the conservative principles of financial stewardship and respect for hard working taxpayers back to Washington. President Trump’s policies have delivered a growing, vibrant economy and we must ensure that our representatives back his agenda.

 

News & Events

Bob Good speech in Lynchburg
Youtube November 4, 2020 (25:13)

Republican Bob Good has won the race for Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District, a race considered one of the more competitive in the country.

Good, a former Campbell County supervisor and Liberty University senior associate athletic director, defeated Democrat Cameron Webb.

In a statement, Webb conceded the race saying that the margin is “sufficiently large that the remaining outstanding ballots are unable to make up the difference.”

“While this is not the outcome we hoped for, it has truly been an honor to run to represent this district in Congress. This campaign has been a battle of ideas about how to best serve the people of our district and I cannot give enough thanks to everyone who made it possible,” Webb said.

“Congratulations to Mr. Good for his victory and I look forward to continuing to engage with him as we move forward from the election in a unified way.”

At the headquarters of the Fauquier County Republican Committee in Warrenton, Virginia, a cardboard cutout of John Wayne gripping a rifle leans against a wall. Chair Gregory Schumacher says Wayne was “the great American Western hero,” and he says Republicans who held the Fifth District in Congress for all but two of the last 20 years will keep it in their hands this November.

Although the populous counties of Northern Virginia have powered the state’s drift into Democratic control, Schumacher says he sits on the political boundary. “When you come out from the Beltway, Fauquier County’s the first one that goes red,” Schumacher said.

But there are signs that this year could be different as Republican contender Bob Good faces Democratic challenger Cameron Webb in what political prediction site FiveThirtyEight calls the most competitive House race in the country. Webb has outraised Good fourfold and held a slight lead in the last three polls. Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia and The Cook Political Report call the congressional race a toss-up. If Democrats can win this seat, they will continue a blue wave that flipped three House seats in 2018.

Medical Doctor Running For Congress In Virginia
MSNBCOctober 20, 2020 (06:00)
Internal poll shows tight race in Virginia House race
The Hill , Tal AxelrodOctober 9, 2020 (Short)

Virginia Democrat Cameron Webb has a narrow lead over Republican Bob Good in the state’s 5th Congressional District, according to an internal poll released Friday by Webb’s campaign.

In the poll, which was obtained exclusively by The Hill, 45 percent of likely voters said they would back Webb while 42 percent said they would vote for Good. The survey marks an improvement for Webb after the same poll in August showed him behind by 2 points.

The results are split along partisan lines, but Webb has been able to win over 11 percent of Republican likely voters, while Good gets the support of 5 percent of likely Democratic voters. Webb has a 42 percent to 19 percent lead among independents, though another 39 percent are undecided.

Cameron Webb Bob Good Closing Statements
Youtube September 9, 2020 (08:43)
VA 5th District candidates square off in virtual debate
WDBJ 7, Pete DeLucaSeptember 9, 2020 (Short)

Election day is less than two months away and the race for Virginia’s 5th Congressional district is heating up.

Wednesday, Republican candidate Bob Good and Democratic candidate Cameron Webb squared off in a virtual debate hosted by the Senior Statemen of Virginia.

The candidates shared their views on law enforcement, energy use and the environment, as well as healthcare.

“I want to stay with market-driven solutions, improvements that are patient-centric, that will drive down cost and improve choice and quality for all Americans,” said Good.

 

Cameron Webb

Current Position: Physician and professor
Affiliation: Democrat
Candidate: 2020 US Representative for US House District 4

For more information, go to Cameron Webb’s post.

Bob Good

Current Position: Campbell County Board of Supervisors since 2016
Affiliation: Republican
Candidate: 2020 US Representative for US House District 5

For more information, go to Bob Good’s post.

Issues

Governance

Cameron Webb 

N/A

Bob Good 

Trimming Government Spending

Reduced non-essential spending and grew net revenue by $5 million over three years without raising taxes

Civil Rights

Cameron Webb 

N/A

Bob Good 

Defending the 2nd Amendment

Made Campbell County one of the first 2nd Amendment Sanctuaries in Virginia [3]

Economy

Cameron Webb 

Affordable Housing

Among the social factors that impact health, I have seen few with as strong and as direct an impact as housing. Too often, I see how poor-quality housing is connected to increased rates of chronic disease, injury and poor mental health. Too often, I see how unaffordable housing destroys a family’s ability to meet all of the other critical needs that they have. For many of my patients, concerns about keeping up with doctor appointments or medications are often overshadowed by the pressure of making their next rent payment or finding safe and stable housing.
Thing is, access to fair and affordable housing is a necessity for folks to have opportunities for success. Beyond enabling them to meet their healthcare needs, it connects people to opportunity through access to good schools, jobs and transit—all of which are the foundation for a healthy, productive life.
Throughout the 5th Congressional District, people talk to me about challenges in housing. From the lack of affordable housing in Charlottesville to the aging housing stock and excess inventory in Danville, these issues are real—and they’re having a serious impact on communities.
In Congress, I will make it a priority to address these concerns. I support refundable tax credits to rent-burdened individuals, so that nobody is left to spend too much of their income on their rent payments. Also, to address the gaps in homeownership we should target tax subsidies toward lower-income, first-time homeowners, not to mention lower-income renters. With smart tax credits and thoughtful incentives, we can help families by making it easier to cover the bills and get or stay in a home that works for them.
 
Additionally, we need strong policies that put an end to the exclusionary zoning that maintains the legacy of redlining. We must incentivize the construction of affordable housing units to address our severe affordable housing shortage. We need to support and strengthen fair housing rules. We need to live—and govern—with the belief that everyone deserves access to a safe, affordable home.
Still, one of the great travesties in our society is how many people live each day without any place at all to call home. We have to do better. Homelessness doesn’t always look like people sleeping in the streets—especially for children and families—and that invisible reality has led to a focus on solutions that don’t fully address the range of issues at hand. We can fully address our homelessness crisis through supportive housing, rapid rehousing, more funding for case management, mental health services, crisis response systems and yes, affordable housing.
These challenges are large and they look different in different parts of our district. We need dynamic solutions that can be implemented all over and create fair opportunities for everyone.

Jobs & The Economy

The public health crisis we are living in has devastated our economy and devastated the financial well-being of too many families. Long before COVID-19, though, our communities were facing significant challenges in the economy. And while President Trump and his administration spent a lot of time over the past few years praising jobs reports, the reality is that there are vast inequities that continue to define the U.S. economy. We deserve an economy that works for everyone regardless of race, economic background or zip code. 
While working in the White House for President Obama on his My Brother’s Keeper initiative, I got a unique perspective on how opportunities for good jobs are critical to shaping broader life outcomes for individuals. Over the past decade, layoffs and the closing of large factories and plants across the district has had a big impact on local economies. For our future, though, I believe the keys to creating and maintaining jobs here in VA-05 are building rural broadband infrastructure, encouraging entrepreneurship, allowing small businesses to grow and investing in a clean economy.
Bob Good 

Fighting for Lower Taxes

Never voted for a tax increase – led the fight against the 2019 meals tax and real estate tax hikes [1] & [2]

Education

Cameron Webb 

Strengthening Education

My mom has worked as a public school teacher for over 30 years. Through her experiences, I know how important it is for schools to be able to attract and retain dedicated education professionals who can help equip our students with the tools they need. Through my mom, I learned that no kid succeeds in their education without having critical dynamics around them that can support that success.
Thoughtful and comprehensive approaches to education will make a world of difference for our students. I know that from my time working on education policy in the Obama White House as part of President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative. From MBK, I saw firsthand how we need both the resources and the will to address factors within students, classrooms, schools, homes, families, communities and society at-large that cause the widespread achievement gaps among rural, minority and economically disadvantaged students.
Every kid across Central and Southside Virginia deserves the opportunity to reach their full potential through their education. That’s every…single…kid—from Fauquier down to Danville. So whether they want to go to college or career school—if they want to go to community college or apprenticeship—I want to help make sure that there is a true path for them to their goals.
We need thoughtful and equitable—and long overdue—updates to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to make that goal a reality. We need to improve our standardized testing paradigms so that school districts are able to reliably assess and respond to their students’ needs. We need to incorporate planning for educational equity and standardized reporting to close achievement gaps. We must close the digital divide through ensuring access to broadband internet and necessary electronic devices to deliver on the promise of educational equity.
Here in VA-05—when it comes to higher education—just under 30 percent of adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher. For many of those individuals, the costs incurred to obtain that degree can limit their opportunities for success today. We need to modernize the Higher Education Act to support opportunities for many more in our district. We must streamline the FAFSA process so that it works for more people, maximize the value of the Federal Pell Grant program, and leverage loan forgiveness programs to make school more affordable.
Finally, I support efforts to make community colleges and public colleges/universities tuition-free for lower-income individuals. We should also extend this support to other post-secondary opportunities—like career school, technical education, and apprenticeships—so that we’re truly unlocking the potential for everyone’s future success.
Bob Good 

Supporting Homeschoolers

Advocated for the “Tebow Law” permitting homeschool children to participate in athletics & extra-curricular activities

Environment

Cameron Webb 

Protecting the Environment

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing our nation and our planet. Four years ago, the Paris climate agreement went into effect because the science was clear that global warming of 2°C above pre-industrial levels would be incredibly damaging to live on this planet. Two years ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report showing us how critical it is that we in fact limit global warming to 1.5°C rather than 2°C. With thousands of scientists weighing in from over 40 countries, the weight of the evidence is clear—we must make massive and unprecedented changes to global energy infrastructure to limit global warming to the goal of 1.5°C.
Without decisive and appropriate action, there’s so much at stake. We risk droughts and precipitation deficits, rising sea levels and species loss and extinction. There are climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security and economic growth. Unsurprisingly, the populations at highest risk are disadvantaged populations. From the proposed compressor station for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in Union Hill to the proposed Green Ridge Recycling and Disposal Facility in Cumberland, the threats to the environment—and to environmental justice—here in VA-05 come from so many different angles.
But climate change isn’t just a threat to the health of our planet—it’s also a threat to the health of our communities across Virginia every day. My colleagues and I see this each and every day in the hospital, as tick-borne illnesses like Lyme Disease spread farther and faster, the allergy season gets longer and worse, and rates of asthma among children continue to rise.
Staying at or below a temperature rise of 1.5°C requires slashing global greenhouse gas emissions 45 percent below 2010 levels by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2050. Meeting this goal demands significant shifts in our approach to transportation; in energy, land, and building infrastructure; and in industrial systems. It means reducing our current coal consumption by one-third. It also demands a vast scale-up of emerging technologies, such as those that remove carbon dioxide directly from the air. And while it will be extremely challenging to reach that goal, we absolutely must try. Every extra bit of warming makes a difference. We cannot let our kids and grandchildren pay the price for these decisions.
I will protect the health of our planet the same way I work to protect the health of my patients—by following the science and making evidenced-based decisions. This will not only improve the health of our environment, but also the health of our 21st century economy.
In Congress, I will work to ensure the same ambitious action that we’ve seen here in Virginia to transition to a clean energy economy as soon as possible—and certainly no later than mid-century. I will work to establish a clean energy standard that urgently requires 100% of U.S. electricity from clean and renewable sources. I will invest in programs to eliminate carbon emissions in agriculture and land use through reforming economic support programs for farms to meet climate goals. Finally, I will help make sure that we can keep the jobs created by a 100% clean energy future right here in Virginia.
Bob Good 
N/A

Health Care

Cameron Webb

Covid-19 Pandemic

My perspective on our current coronavirus pandemic comes from the frontlines, caring for COVID-19 patients in the hospital. It is my duty as a doctor, first and foremost, to face this challenge with an emphasis on service, diligence, and following the emerging science. Still, this experience has made even more clear the importance of having experts in the room in our highest levels of government. Times like these help illustrate why it would be helpful to have a doctor in the House.
Patients walk into hospitals sick, scared and alone. My colleagues around the country show up for work each day ready to serve, but worried about resources and support. Every day, my wife, Leigh-Ann—an emergency room doctor—and I talk about how we will keep our kids safe after coming home from caring for our community in this pandemic.
Our current leaders have failed. Both in their preparation for this crisis and in the execution of their response to it.
 
This virus has laid bare inequities our society has faced for decades. Many students in rural areas lack the access to broadband internet to allow them to continue learning online while schools are closed. Tens of thousands of residents of this district who were already food insecure face an even bigger challenge as the suddenly increased demand has lines for food banks stretching endlessly. Issues with housing affordability for individuals and families make it harder to physically isolate for some who are most at-risk for the most severe health outcomes in this pandemic. Poor air quality—more common in low-income and minorities communities due to environmental injustice—has been correlated to more deaths from COVID.
Add to those challenges the unique dynamics of this pandemic and its economic crisis. How many of our most “essential” workers are the least paid, most at risk for the virus, and sometimes do not even have health insurance. How recently laid off employees are forced to navigate a complex and overrun unemployment system, rather than having access to paid leave that could keep them employed. How some workers have no choice but to go to work sick—even now—because they are not given sick leave, they have bills to pay, and they don’t qualify for any of the current economic stimulus programs. Or how small businesses are unable to get relief from the Payment Protection Program while large corporations are able to take advantage of loopholes and close relationships to big banks.
We must address the immediate health crisis, put in place wrap-around support systems that keep our communities housed and fed, and listen to the guidance of public health experts to re-open gradually when it is safe. This economic crisis we’re facing is not a typical recession. Instead, the threat of the virus required that authorities essentially shut down large swaths of the economy. As we neutralize that threat, we must keep households and small businesses afloat so that we have an economy to restart on the other side of this crisis.

OUR COLLECTIVE RECOVERY

Our collective recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic should include the following:
  • 1. Enable people to make safe decisions by ensuring that nobody has to choose between going to work sick or paying their bills.
  • 2. Make sure our healthcare system is prepared for ongoing infections and the inevitable second wave.
  • 3. Plan for maintaining business continuity and employment relationships until it is safe for people to resume normal participation in the economy.

Bob Good 

N/A

Infrastructure

Cameron Webb 

Infrastructure

Among the biggest barriers to the development of thriving local economies in Virginia’s 5th District are deficiencies in the local infrastructure. Just as is the case across the Commonwealth, our district is home to aging highways, roads and bridges, old and crumbling school facilities, and aging drinking water, wastewater, and irrigation systems. Investing in the repair of Virginia’s infrastructure is not only the right thing to do because it is the lifeblood of the district’s businesses and families, but also because this work creates jobs across the district.
From my in-laws in Appomattox to my patients across the district, I know that one of our most critical infrastructure needs is rural broadband access. The lack of broadband access and resulting digital divide has a significant impact on driving inequities in education, healthcare, job availability and growth potential for local businesses. In fact, no one in the modern economy can survive without it. I will support ongoing and coordinated efforts in the Virginia delegation to get the necessary funding for broadband internet access through USDA’s ReConnect program, and fight to make sure we can deliver on this critical infrastructure.
Finally, I am committed to ensuring significant investment in historically marginalized communities as a means to redress historical injustices. From increased resources for transportation planning to investments in rebuilding and reconnecting historically underserved areas, I hope to make sure that all of our communities in VA-05 are connected to opportunity.
Bob Good 
N/A

Immigration

Cameron Webb 

N/A

Bob Good 

Strong on Immigration

Opposed creating “sanctuary cities” for illegal aliens [4]

Safety

Cameron Webb 

Reforming Criminal Justice

The most basic tenet of our criminal justice system is supposed to be “equal justice under law.” Our Pledge of Allegiance even speaks to our nation’s promise of “justice for all.” But our epidemic of mass incarceration and the disproportionality experienced by communities of color regarding criminal justice highlights the dire need of reform at every step: policing, prosecution, adjudication, sentencing and corrections.
The FIRST STEP Act of 2018 laid a critical foundation for the necessary reform. It gave judges more latitude in imposing mandatory minimum sentences, increased programming to reduce recidivism, and expanded opportunities for inmate placement into residential reentry centers or home confinement. As a bipartisan effort to move toward reform in criminal justice, it was truly an important first step—but only that.
 
Building upon the FIRST STEP Act, additional sentencing and prison reform is necessary to truly press toward justice. I support further reducing mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses and eliminating the discrepancy between crack and powder cocaine sentences. I support continuing oversight and improvement regarding prison conditions, healthcare access and rehabilitative offerings. Finally, I am in favor of phasing out detention centers and private prisons—certainly for federal prisoners.
In Congress, I will work to eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline which results in marginalized youth constituencies being over-disciplined resulting in higher drop-out rates and more justice involvement. I will work to end our system of cash bail that places those in poverty at the highest risk of remaining in contact with the criminal justice system. I will support efforts to decriminalize mental health crises and to legalize marijuana. These are the tools that have been used to create our system of mass incarceration, and I intend to fight to disassemble them.
Finally, It is critical that we legislate reforms to help ensure a positive path forward for reentering citizens. I will support a federal “ban-the-box” law that would update the hiring practices of federal agencies and contractors. I will work for the removal of barriers for formerly incarcerated to fully reintegrate into society, including eliminating restrictions on housing, occupational licensing and formally reversing the federal ineligibility for food stamps for individuals with drug-related felonies. I support restoring the voting rights for citizens with past criminal convictions. I firmly believe that once people have paid their debt to society through incarceration, they should not continue paying it for the rest of their lives.
Bob Good 
N/A

 

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News & Events

LEARN ABOUT Virginia candidates, representatives, and committees
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DONATE to US onAir and promote democracy
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Auto Draft 23My VA Ballot

Election Day is Tuesday November 3, 2020

Select the image at left to learn who you can vote for and print our your sample ballot.

This November there are no elections for state offices and only a few local offices. Tuesday November 2, 2021 is election day for Virginia Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, 40 state senators, 100 state delegates and city and county candidates

For more information on registering, voting, and the redistricting amendment, go to the Voting in Virginia post.

 

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Summary

Election Day is Tuesday November 3, 2020

Select the image at left to learn who you can vote for and print our your sample ballot.

This November there are no elections for state offices and only a few local offices. Tuesday November 2, 2021 is election day for Virginia Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, 40 state senators, 100 state delegates and city and county candidates

For more information on registering, voting, and the redistricting amendment, go to the Voting in Virginia post.

 

Only available for onAir members. It’s free to join. Go here to become a member.

Presidential Election

Joe Biden (D)

Howard Hunter (G)

Jo Jorgensen (L)

Donald Trump (R)

US Senate Election

Daniel Gade (R)

Mary Knapp (I)

Aldous Mina (I)

Mark Warner (D)

US House representative

Enter your address to determine what US House District you are in and who you can vote for.

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US House District 11 – VA 2020US House District 11 – VA 2020

Congressman Gerry Connolly is a senior member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and serves as the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Operations. In this role, he is responsible for shaping government-wide policy for a broad range of issues, including federal workforce and federal agency oversight, federal procurement and information policy, national drug policy, regulatory reform, the United States Postal Service, the United States Census Bureau, and the District of Columbia. He also serves on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Using his extensive background in foreign policy, including as a senior staff member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he has become a leading voice on foreign assistance reform, war powers, embassy security, and democracy promotion abroad.

Manga Anantatmula is a candidate for US Congress: VA District 11. Manga loves God, Family, & USA.
Accomplished professional. Wife of a professor. Proud military mom of USN LCDR.

 

 

Summary

Congressman Gerry Connolly is a senior member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and serves as the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Operations. In this role, he is responsible for shaping government-wide policy for a broad range of issues, including federal workforce and federal agency oversight, federal procurement and information policy, national drug policy, regulatory reform, the United States Postal Service, the United States Census Bureau, and the District of Columbia. He also serves on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Using his extensive background in foreign policy, including as a senior staff member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he has become a leading voice on foreign assistance reform, war powers, embassy security, and democracy promotion abroad.

Manga Anantatmula is a candidate for US Congress: VA District 11. Manga loves God, Family, & USA.
Accomplished professional. Wife of a professor. Proud military mom of USN LCDR.

 

 

Gerry Connolly

Current Position: US Representative for US House District 11 since 2009
Affiliation: Democrat
Candidate: 2020 US Representative for US House District 11
Former Position(s): Board of Supervisors – Fairfax County from 1995 – 2007

Congressman Connolly is serving his sixth term in Congress. He previously served for 14 years on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, including as Chairman (2003-2009) and Providence District Supervisor (1995-2003). As Chairman of the ten-member board, Congressman Connolly balanced a budget of $4.5 billion and managed a county that, based on its size at the time, would have made it the nation’s thirteenth largest city, twelfth largest school district, and sixth largest office market. He served as Chairman of the County’s Legislative Committee and Vice-Chair of the Economic Advisory Committee.

Congressman Connolly also served as Chairman of the Board of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC), Chairman of the Northern Virginia Regional Commission (NVRC), and a member of the Board of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) where he was chairman. He also chaired the region’s Emergency Preparedness Taskforce, and represented Fairfax County on the Board of the Virginia Association of Counties (VaCo) where he also served as president.

For more information, go to Gerry Connolly’s post.

Manga Anantatmula

Current Position: Professional
Affiliation: Republican
Candidate: 2020 US Representative for US House District 11

For more information, go to Manga Anantatmula’s post.

ISSUES

Civil Rights

Gerry Connolly 

Equality

Congressman Connolly has been a lifelong supporter of equal rights for the LGBT community. Discrimination is anathema to our American values and violates our Constitution. No one should be treated differently because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. For his record, the Human Rights Campaign has recognized Congressman Connolly’s with a 100% rating for a fourth consecutive term.

He is an original cosponsor of the Equality Act, which would explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation in employment, public education, housing, public accommodations, credit, jury service, and federally funded programs. He condemned the Trump Administration’s unconstitutional efforts to ban transgender servicemembers from the military. He welcomed the groundbreaking Supreme Court decision that marriage equality is now the law of the land. He also supported the designation within the State Department of a Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons.

Manga Anantatmula 

N/A

Governance

Gerry Connolly

Good Government

As a senior member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Operations, Congressman Connolly firmly believes that vigorous oversight of the Executive Branch is among the most serious responsibilities mandated to Congress by the Constitution.

The importance of congressional oversight is constant, and should be blind to the partisan affiliation of each administration. However, Congressman Connolly recognizes the uniquely urgent need for full-throated investigation into the unprecedented challenges presented by the current administration. From the beginning, he has led the effort to examine the administration’s growing list of ethically and legally questionable decisions. From day one, Congressman Connolly has raised questions about this administration’s abrupt decision to abandon plans for a new FBI headquarters, securing an Inspector General’s investigation into the matter. He has demanded investigations and subpoenas relating to the possible conflicts of interest presented by the president and his family’s ongoing business ties, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s misuse of his office and taxpayer dollars, and the White House’s adjudication of security clearances. Congressman Connolly is determined to hold this Administration accountable.

From the White House to your local post office, Congressman Connolly knows that Virginians demand and deserve a federal government that is efficient, ethical, and accountable for its actions.

Manga Anantatmula 

N/A

Economy

Gerry Connolly 

With a professional background in the private sector and more than a decade of service in local government, Congressman Connolly’s top priority has always been delivering results for the Northern Virginia economy. Congressman Connolly has helped develop our region into an economic engine for the Commonwealth by championing the growth of the technology and government contracting industries, fighting the dangerous and indiscriminate cuts of sequestration, and protecting the health of a productive federal workforce. Northern Virginia is now home to numerous Fortune 500 companies and has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation. Congressman Connolly wants every family in Northern Virginia to have an opportunity to share in the prosperity of our region.

As a leader of the pro-business New Democrat Coalition, Congressman Connolly has encouraged investments in three major pillars of a healthy American economy – education, infrastructure, and research and development. He has supported more federal assistance for local school systems, advanced new ways to invest in mega transportation projects, and advocated for the permanent extension of the Research & Development Tax Credit. These initiatives help unleash innovation, reduce poverty, and strengthen the American middle class – the backbone of our national economy.

Manga Anantatmula 

Reducing taxes for Small Businesses is essential as the country’s 80% of the economy lies in the prosperity of small businesses. Given the serious nature of COVID-19 pandemic, I personally support the President’s initiatives to assist small businesses and individuals to address business disruption. There’s a need to protect small businesses during this pandemic. With COVID-19 and an impact on the budget deficit, balancing the budget is a priority.

The only way that we can ever balance the budget is to grow the economy, bring back manufacturing for self-reliance, and reduce dependency on China and restrain government expenditures such as duplication of government programs.

Education

Gerry Connolly 

Congressman Connolly knows that the success of Northern Virginia’s economy is directly tied to the achievement of students in our local classrooms and college campuses. As a parent, Congressman Connolly believes that investing in quality early childhood education, public education, and college access programs will spur innovation and set our young people on a path for lifelong success.

During his tenure as Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, he helped increase funding for local schools by more than 30%. Congressman Connolly enjoys visiting local classrooms, meeting with student robotics teams, and talking to education professionals to see the creative ways in which our schools are engaging our students in the learning process.

For Northern Virginia families looking toward a college education for their kids, tuition costs can be daunting. Congressman Connolly knows that improving college affordability and reducing the burden of student loan debt are essential components to strengthening our higher education system. Nearly two-thirds of jobs in the United States require post-high school education or training, and we must eliminate insurmountable cost barriers to higher education for middle class families if we want the U.S. to maintain its competitive edge.

Manga Anantatmula

The Importance of Reopening Our Schools

The elected Politicians in VA 11 are playing political football with our children. They are shutting down schools for political reasons and it has nothing to do with COVID.

Let’s be truthful. There are a lot of politics behind our schools’ being shut down and the parents’ concern about their children’s safety in the wake of COVID-19. The importance of social, emotional, behavioral well-being and academic achievement are well-known. And of great significance, the lack of in-person education disproportionately harms low-income, those children with disabilities, and minority children. These students rely on school-supported resources like food programs, special education services, counseling, and after-school programs. And, if children become infected, they are far less likely to suffer severe symptoms, and death rates among school-aged children are much lower than those of college-age students and adults.

Evidence to date shows that COVID-19 poses relatively low risks to school-aged children. Children appear to be at lower risk for contracting COVID-19. To put this in perspective, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of July 17, 2020, the United States reported that children and adolescents under 18 years old account for under 7 percent of COVID-19 cases and less than 0.1 percent of COVID-19-related deaths. However, children with certain medical conditions are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

Add to this, International studies suggest COVID-19 transmission among children in schools is very low. That is, the rate of infection among younger school children, and from students to teachers, is quite low, if proper precautions are followed. A few reports show children being the primary source of COVID-19 transmission among family members, but a greater amount of data from both virus and antibody testing, suggest children are not the primary drivers of COVID-19 spread in schools or in the community, but that other factors may be in play. The available evidence points to the fact that in-person schooling is in the best interest of students when appropriate safety measures are implemented.

Parents who work and require their children to attend school are also hurt by school closures. These parents cannot afford private schools or tutors and see school closures as a desperate situation. Many jobs cannot be accomplished in a virtual environment, putting the parents and the children in a terrible dilemma: Do we go without buying food, or do I leave my child alone in the house while I work?

Schools are an important part of community life. They provide a safe, supportive learning environment, critical support services, employ teachers and staff, and importantly, allow parents, guardians, and caregivers to work. School closure disrupts all of this. Reopening schools — while taking precautions to protect students, teachers, staff, and families — invest in our children.

Maintaining a healthy school/work environment includes the following:

  • Reduce the risk of COVID-19 by having teachers, staff, and students stay home when sick or if they have been in close contact with a person with COVID-19. Monitor COVID-19 transmission rates in the immediate community and in the communities in which students, teachers, and staff live. Work collaboratively with local health officials to determine if temporary school closure is necessary.
  • Install engineering controls, including modifying work areas using physical barriers, incorporating required accessibility requirements, and improving ventilation, where feasible.
  • Establish administrative controls and safe work practices for all staff to follow, which include appropriate cleaning and disinfection practices and appropriate face-coverings policies.
  • Individuals who are sick should immediately go home or to a healthcare facility.

America is a free republic and we must continually work to keep our republic free. The majority of surveyed Fairfax County parents stated they wanted a reopening of our schools, even if it was only a partial reopening. But the elected officials in Fairfax County decided to keep them closed. I firmly stand with the parents and want schools reopened. Especially since last year’s closure was a complete disaster for all involved. So, let’s not do the same thing this year and expect a better result.

We need School Choice

When our society emerges from the Covid-19 crisis, our school systems will almost certainly operate in many different ways. The changes will depend on how different school systems confronted the pandemic and the length of their school’s closure.

A close example of school attendance is the audience at movie theaters. Most theaters are now closed and the studios are using streaming services to distribute movies. The longer the pandemic lasts, the more comfortable people are seeing first-run movies in their homes. There could be little incentive for people to return to the theater once the pandemic is over. A new business model emerges. We may be seeing a similar attitude towards education with distance learning. This is not to say that educational instruction will move entirely to distance learning, but a good number will most likely offer more distance learning opportunities when the pandemic final ends.

Distance learning is a new model for school systems to embrace and incorporate. Certainly, if distance learning was to catch on by a majority of families, the brick and mortar infrastructure would be greatly impacted. And there are a minority of families that rely on the current infrastructure to not only educate their children but for their very living. Many families, particularly lower-income, rely on public schools, the brick and mortar schools, to provide food, health care, and childcare. And not every child learns effectively with distance learning. Plus, there is the interaction between students with each other and their teachers. Distance learning isn’t likely to eliminate the traditional public-school system. And I don’t believe it should.

Education is about expanding options and choices, and this is where school choice comes into play. We need school choice. Simply put, communities, families and children are diverse, and our school systems need to reflect that diversity.

In a recent Gallup poll concerning the Covid-19 pandemic and school systems, 36 percent of parents wanted their children to receive fully in‐person education, 36 percent wanted an in‐person/distance hybrid, and 28 percent wanted the children to have only distance learning. Each model was preferred by essentially one‐third of parents.

What is school choice? School choice allows public education funds to follow students to the schools or services that best fit their needs—whether that’s to a public school, private school, charter school, home school or any other learning environment parents choose for their kids. The secret to children succeeding in school is letting the parents decide which school choice they deem appropriate for the children. Schools competing for students greatly increases not only the success of the school but that of the student also. Research consistently shows that school choice drastically increases academic success. Only about 40 percent of conventionally schooled students are proficient in reading and math. Why do we keep doing something that fails 60 percent of the time? Private schools, charter schools, and homeschooling offer an education customized to the student that public schools do not. Public school students are thrown into one-site-fits-all classes. We in the United States decide how to run our own country, and how to raise our own children. We do not need government officials doing it for us. School choice is a must for our families and our children.

 

Environment

Gerry Connolly 

As a co-Chairman of the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Caucus, Congressman Connolly plays a leadership role in efforts to protect America’s environment and public health and push for investment in clean and renewable energy. In Congress, he helped pass the largest investment in clean energy in American history and supported legislation to reduce global carbon emissions. Recently, he has led efforts to oppose drilling off the coast of Virginia or in the Chesapeake Bay and introduced amendments to protect the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and to require oil companies to pay the full cost of oil spill cleanups. He will continue to steadfastly oppose efforts to repeal the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Antiquities Act, the Clean Power Plan, the Paris Climate Agreement and other important environmental legislation.

Congressman Connolly has worked with colleagues from around the region to fight President Trump’s proposal to eliminate Chesapeake Bay Restoration funding and supports comprehensive legislation to restore the Bay.  He has also opposed efforts to slash funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by a third. He has also been a leader in expanding federal conservation efforts, including supporting the reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and fully funding our National Park System. In addition, Congressman Connolly has continued his efforts to establish powerful voluntary tax incentives to complete America’s 11 National Scenic Trails.

Locally, he has worked with community stakeholders to complete missing segments of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, and open Featherstone National Wildlife Refuge to the public. These efforts complement his efforts as a local government official, where he led the effort to build the 41-mile-long Connolly Cross County Trail and helped protect 10% of Fairfax County as county-owned parkland. He helped design and implement the county’s first comprehensive environmental plan which subsequently won a national award. Congressman Connolly was recently recognized as the “Protector of Potomac” by the Riverkeeper Network for his efforts on strengthening federal coal ash regulations.

Manga Anantatmula 

N/A

Health Care

Gerry Connolly 

Congressman Connolly believes health care should be a right for all Americans. He is committed to expanding access and improving the quality of care for all his constituents. In order to advance this critical priority, Congressman Connolly will fight to defend the Federal Employee Health Benefits program (FEHBP), protect the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and guard against misguided efforts to weaken, privatize, or overhaul our nation’s most successful health care programs in history, Medicare and Medicaid.

He strongly opposes partisan efforts to repeal the ACA. As a result of this landmark legislation, Virginia’s uninsured rate has decreased by 31 percent since 2010, providing 327,000 Virginians access to health care coverage they would otherwise have been unable to obtain or afford. In addition to expanding coverage, the ACA protects nearly 3 million Virginians who, prior to the ACA’s elimination of punitive annual and lifetime limits, lived under the threat of having their inadequate health insurance cut off if they got too sick. Insurance companies can no longer indiscriminately deny an individual coverage due to a pre-existing condition, and thanks to reforms that allow children to stay on their parent’s health plan until the age of 26, nearly 59,000 young adults have health care coverage. The ACA also mandates coverage of many important services including mental health screenings, and free preventive care coverage, such as flu shots, cancer screenings, contraception, and mammograms.

Unfortunately, Republican efforts to sabotage the Affordable Care, including the elimination of the individual mandate, cutting the Open Enrollment period in half, discontinuing much of the advertisement and outreach activities to boost ACA enrollment, and rescinding cost sharing reductions payments have resulted in higher premiums and fewer choices for Virginians.

Congressman Connolly believes there are improvements to the Affordable Care Act that can and should be adopted, but sabotaging and repealing the law is not the answer. He supports extending the risk-mitigation program that promotes market certainty and ensures insurance companies continue to participate in the marketplaces and finding new ways to encourage younger Americans to join the marketplaces.

Congressman Connolly been a strong supporter of Medicaid expansion in Virginia, which will provide health coverage for more than 400,000 Virginians, and was pleased to see the Governor sign it into law. He also fought for the reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which covers more than 200,000 children in the Commonwealth.

Since coming to Congress, he has championed greater investment in scientific and biomedical research that will lead to new breakthroughs in medicine and treatments. Each year, he has advocated for robust funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and helped pass the 21st Century Cures Act, which would help unleash research and development.

Congressman Connolly is also fighting to make prescription drugs more affordable, including closing the Medicare prescription drug donut hole and holding companies accountable for indefensible skyrocketing drug costs. As a senior member of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, Congressman Connolly is supporting investigations into egregious price-gouging by pharmaceutical companies and supports reforms that will help lower prescription drug prices through greater competition and common-sense consumer protection safeguards.

Finally, he steadfastly opposes partisan efforts to insert the government between women and their doctors, and he has stood up to those in Congress who have attacked organizations such as Planned Parenthood, which provide vital health services to millions of Americans of all genders, races, and ages.

Manga Anantatmula 

N/A

Immigration

Gerry Connolly 

Congressman Connolly believes Congress must be a partner in solving our immigration challenge. He has fought for bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform that would provide a path to citizenship, keep families together, and secure our borders. Congressman Connolly supports a pragmatic and results-oriented approach to border security, not an ill-conceived and unrealistic border wall.

He is a strong supporter of the DREAM Act and programs like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), and Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Northern Virginia is home to many talented DREAMers and TPS holders and Congressman Connolly has seen firsthand how much they contribute to the success of our community. Attacks on these programs threaten to break up millions of immigrant families and deprive the United States of an entire generation of future leaders.

Congressman Connolly firmly believes that America’s doors must remain open to those fleeing injury, violence, or persecution. He led the fight in Northern Virginia against President Trump’s illegal and immoral refugee ban and supports increasing the number of refugees resettled in our country.

Manga Anantatmula 

I will support and fight for legal immigration who believe in our system and contribute to our economy.

Bipartisan and comprehensive immigration reform is needed now, more so than ever! Let’s stop the “band-aid” fixes on little issues and reform the entire system to address our legitimate requirements for legal immigration, close the porous borders, and stop favoring special interest groups.

President Trump has made a comprehensive immigration reform proposal which Congress has not worked on. I support that legislation and would work on a bipartisan basis to fix this broken system.

As a legal immigrant to the United States and as a naturalized citizen, I am fully aware of the complexities of this broken system.

Legal immigration must be based on the needs of the country, and merit.

However, we have to accept the fact we have millions of illegal immigrants. We should address this influx, build the wall, and enforce the law.

The United States must adapt an immigration system that serves its national interest. To restore the rule of law and secure our borders, President Trump is committed to constructing a border wall and ensuring the swift removal of unlawful entrants. To protect American workers, the President supports ending chain migration, eliminating the Visa Lottery, and moving the country to a merit-based entry system. And I support all these measures.

Infrastructure

Gerry Connolly 

Transportation

Congressman Connolly understands that reducing traffic congestion is critical to our quality of life in Northern Virginia. As a former county government executive, Congressman Connolly led major infrastructure investments, including the extension of Metro’s Silver Line to Dulles Airport – a $5.6 billion rail project, and pursued transformative Public Private Partnerships to add capacity to our regional transportation network. In Congress, he is fighting to fund new transportation projects and fast-track projects already underway.

Transportation investments have the potential to realize enormous returns on taxpayer dollars. It was President Dwight D. Eisenhower who signed the Federal Aid Highway Act in 1956, and our nation continues to benefit from the legacy of that investment to this day, more than 60 years later. It would be difficult to calculate what the return on investment has been for the Interstate Highway System – a massive investment entirely financed with federal funds – but we know that, to this day, it enables enormous economic activity and touches our lives on a daily basis.

Congressman Connolly has helped lead the effort to conduct Congressional oversight of safety and accountability at Metro. He sees a system in crisis and in desperate need of a wholesale culture change. Congressman Connolly understands that failure of Metro is not an option. It is too important to our regional mobility. He helped lead the effort to establish the new Metrorail Safety Commission. He is the author of Metro reform legislation that is supported by Members of Congress from Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. And he is leading the fight to preserve the annual $150 million federal investment in Metro necessary to replace aging rail cars and make other needed safety and infrastructure improvements. We need Metro to be a safe and reliable transit backbone for the national capital region.

Manga Anantatmula 

N/A

Safety

Gerry Connolly 

Gun Safety

Congressman Connolly has been a strong supporter of common-sense gun safety legislation and believes that upholding the 2nd Amendment does not have to come at the expense of public safety. In Congress, he is an original cosponsor of the Assault Weapons Ban. He supports limits on large-capacity ammunition magazines, expanding background checks, closing the gun-show loophole, and preventing suspected terrorists from purchasing firearms. He also supports a repeal of the federal restrictions that prevent local law enforcement officials from accessing criminal gun trace information that is necessary to conduct gun crime investigations and dismantle illegal gun trafficking networks.

Following the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Congressman Connolly met with the Parkland students and joined Northern Virginia students at the March for Our Lives. He supports the federal ban on bump stocks and voted for funding that permits the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct gun violence research. These are incremental steps in the right direction, and he will continue to push for sensible gun safety measures.

Criminal Justice Reform

Congressman Connolly is a member of a bipartisan group of lawmakers committed to addressing the complex challenges facing our nation’s dysfunctional criminal justice system. He supports strategies that reduce recidivism, increase public safety, and decrease corrections costs for state and local governments. He also supports permitting courts to reduce or amend mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent defendants.

As Chairman of Fairfax County, he has seen firsthand the value of modernizing criminal justice initiatives and remains a strong advocate of innovative reform programs, such as Veterans Treatment Courts. These courts provide eligible veterans with an alternative to jail, promote community collaboration, and can connect veterans with the programs and benefits they have earned. Fairfax County established the Commonwealth of Virginia’s first such program, known as the Veterans Treatment Docket

Manga Anantatmula

Defending Law and Order in Your Community

Across our great nation, there are protests calling for the removal and defunding of police. And I’ll be the first to admit that not all cops are good in their treatment of citizens, particularly our Black-American citizens. As an Indian-American, I do not want my child hurt by the police and I do not want your children harmed. It is the duty of all elected officials to demand that our police forces protect all of us equally and uphold our rights under the Constitution and existing laws.

The police play a critical role in the society. Without their protection, you and I would be at the mercy of other citizens and some of them may have an opportunity to harm us. The police are there when children are in danger. They are there when a mother delivers a baby early at home. They are there in spousal abuse cases. They are there a thousand times when needed in your community.

As your elected representative, I will work with our local authorities to ensure the police force in VA11 are there for you when you need them. I will work to remove any in law enforcement that do not treat all citizens fairly according to existing laws. It is your right to be protected by the police, not be fearful of the police. Fortunately, VA11 has a wonderful police force that respects our laws and treats our citizens very fairly.

We must also remember that in our community not everyone is a good person. There are some who are criminal and would harm you, your children, and businesses in your community. We should not and cannot allow such people to go about freely and commit crimes. The police must be given the authority needed to stop them. Do you want criminals running about in your neighborhood and community that would harm you and your family with no one in authority to apprehend them?

And I intend to go further. I will work to reform the criminal justice system. With over 2.2 Million people in overcrowded jails and prisons, many coming from poor and minority backgrounds, our criminal justice system needs a thorough going over. We can and must overhaul the current status quo to ensure fairness to all citizens that are incarcerated. Join me and vote for me to protect you, your family, and your community.

Gangs and Sanctuary Policies

Stop NOVA from becoming a Sanctuary place for Gangs (MS13) and Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is a crime of abuse and violence against adults and children in our nation. The exact number of human trafficking victims is unknown because these crimes are done in secret and hidden from the public. The U.S. Department of Justice defines human trafficking as a crime that involves exploiting a person for labor, services, or commercial sex. human trafficking is one of the world’s fastest-growing criminal enterprises being done by gangs. Victims of trafficking are coerced and intimidated into silence to keep the risk of detection at a minimum and profitability at a maximum. Gangs use the Internet to lure youth and adults into commercial sexual exploitation. Between 1990 and 2010, reports indicate there were more than 200 cases of gangs involved with human trafficking. Gangs move victims between cities and states to avoid capture or notice by police or the public.

Human trafficking is modern slavery. A 2013 study identified 459 children as sex trafficking victims in Oregon. The average age of the victims was 15 and a half. The youngest child was eight. One in six already had given birth to her own child. African Americans were overrepresented. And about one-fifth came from families with a history of sexual exploitation. But the statistic that most alarmed police was this one: nearly half had a connection to a gang. Local law enforcement agencies often are the first to come into contact with this covert crime. As first responders, law enforcement agencies play a critical role in identifying and responding to human trafficking cases. With victims being moved between cities and states it is essential that collaboration between law enforcement (Federal, State, and local), prosecutors and victim service providers is ongoing and effective.

There is a movement across our country for elected officials to advocate and enact sanctuary city policies on the basis that sanctuaries are good for the communities that adopt them as they make them safer by increasing trust between illegal aliens and the police. Sanctuary cities also make it VERY SAFE for gangs to engage in human trafficking. How? Our elected officials enact laws forbidding state and local law enforcement from sharing vital information about criminal gang activity with federal law enforcement agencies. And local and state law enforcement agencies do not have the money, people, or resources to combat the share number of gangs and victims that come into a city once sanctuary status is declared. This puts your family and especially your children at great risk! Join me and vote for me to protect you, your family, and your community from gangs and human trafficking.

A Strong National Security

National Security is one of the more pressing issues facing America. International terrorism, in its many forms, is a grave threat to our country. Additionally, the international policies of Iran, Russia, China, and the Middle East are a major threat to the well-being of the U.S. I support an aggressive approach in our war on global terrorism and other countries with unfavorable political policies toward the United States.

Our military strength is the cornerstone of our National Security. With a strong military, our nation is safe and it reassures our allies thereby enhancing world peace and prosperity. If elected I will support investments in the safety, security, and reliability of our nuclear deterrent, investments in our special operations forces, and will support the training and equipping the security forces of friendly nations. I will fight for a stronger and freer America by supporting the military readiness of our troops, congressional oversight of the Pentagon, its policies, and its programs, and defense reforms in areas, such as military health care, military justice, and the military acquisition system.

To keep our Homeland safe, we must make our national security a top priority and provide our military forces the capability to monitor evolving threats throughout the World.

 

Veterans

Gerry Connolly 

Congressman Connolly is proud to represent more than 80,000 veterans and their families. He has fought to make sure our veterans have quality health care, better pay, and access to services throughout their lives. In recognition of his efforts, Our Military Kids, an organization dedicated to helping military children, awarded him the “Friend of Military Kids” award for his work on behalf of military families. In addition, Congressman Connolly has consistently received a perfect score from the Military Officers Association of America.

Since coming to Congress, he has fought for more reliable funding for veteran health care, new investments in treating traumatic brain injuries sustained by our service members, and improved assistance for homeless veterans. He has helped advance legislation to limit increases to TRICARE premiums, provide free postal benefits for troops in combat zones, provide disability compensation for PTSD, allow military retirees to pay their health care premiums with pre-tax dollars, expand the eligibility for concurrent receipt of military retired pay and veterans’ disability compensation, and provide education and respite care support services for family caregivers. Congressman Connolly has introduced legislation that would ensure the immediate payment of military death benefits to survivors of fallen servicemembers when federal spending authority lapses and expand the transferability of education assistance to veterans’ dependents.

Congressman Connolly believes that we have a sacred obligation to ensure that the men and women who sacrifice so much to defend our freedoms receive the services and benefits that they have earned. That starts with a functional and well-run VA. Congressman Connolly has supported efforts to improve management accountability at the VA, reduce VA backlogs, and help veterans access care at private facilities when they are unable to do so at VA centers in a timely manner. Any veteran who finds him or herself in need of assistance should know that Congressman Connolly’s door is always open.

Manga Anantatmula 

I will introduce bills that build a system that will solve our veterans issues, lead a worry free life when they return home from service to our dear Nation.

We must strive to build communities that truly serve, support, and protect our veterans from the very first moment they return to civilian life.

– President Donald J. Trump

SERVING, SUPPORTING, AND PROTECTING OUR VETERANS is my priority to support the American veterans who courageously protected our country. PROVIDING QUALITY CARE to improve healthcare for veterans and end the tragedy of veteran suicide.

HONORING OUR HEROES AT HOME to ensure that our veterans receive the resources they need to return to civilian life with dignity and security.Veteran issues namely substance abuse and depression, dementia and other mental and physical needs of the elderly need to be addressed. As one of the formidable contenders in the forthcoming VA 11 elections, I would like to say ‘Manga for veterans’ if chosen as a US Representative.

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David Bulova 4David Bulova

Current Position: State Delegate for District 37 since 2006
Affiliation: Democrat

David Bulova was first elected Delegate for the 37th District in 2005. The 37th District includes the city of Fairfax and parts of Fairfax County.

Delegate Bulova serves as Chair of the General Laws Committee and Chair of the Commerce, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Subcommittee in the Appropriations Committee. Additionally, he serves as a member of the Education Committee, Agriculture Chesapeake and Natural Resources and Appropriations Committee.

The interview below was conducted by Tim O’Shea in David Bulova’s Fairfax City office in July, 2019. Original interview recording has not been edited in any way.

General Laws Committee - Host, Delegate David Bulova
May 12, 2021 – 6:00 pm to 6:55 pm (ET)

https://youtu.be/o3CGtGh4k-0

This aircast was focused on the recent activities of House General Laws committee. A recording of this livestream is also archived in the Virginia onAir YouTube channel. The links below will open the YouTube video as a new tab and start at the designated time.

00:00 Jordan Toledo, Aircast Curator, introduces aircast

0:39 Jordan Toledo introduces Delegate David Bulova, Chair of the Virginia House of Delegates General Laws Committee

1:35 David Bulova explains what the General Laws Committee does

7:23 Delegate Betsy Carr, Chair of the Open Government/Procurement Subcommittee, discusses her committee’s activities

11:25 Delegate Chris Hurst, Chair of the Professions/Occupations and Administrative Process Subcommittee discusses his committee’s activitie

19:10 What happens when General Assembly is not in session

24:51 Megan Rhyne, Executive Director, Virginia Council for Open Government … Question for all 3 delegates …What can be done to cut down on the number of bills that are left in committee without receiving a hearing?

31:45 Nanayaa Obeng, Senior Global Politics major at GMU and Democracy onAir intern … Question for David Bulova … How have the universities addressed HB 1529 promoting greater transparency for donations?

35:15 Todd Gillette, Democracy onAir Chair with a PhD from GMU … Question for Betsy Carr and Chris Hurst …. What are your views on the Freedom of Information Act bills passed this year, HB 1931, expanding the use of virtual meetings, and HB 2004, expanding the required release of certain information related to criminal investigations? Also, are there related issues you would like to address in 2022?

45:07 Dr. Meredith Cary, Virginia resident and one of Delegate Bulova’s constituents … A “thank you” addressed to all delegates … As a licensed psychologist in Virginia, I would like to voice appreciation for the State’s being at the forefront for taking legislation action (April 2020) to extend telepsychology services to non-Virginia licensed psychologists for telehealth.

47:00 Closing

50:40 Short demo of how to find information about the General Laws Committee and the Delegates

For more information:General Laws Committee Post

Curator:

Host:

Featured Guest(s):

  • Delegate Betsy Carr, Chair, Open Government/Procurement Subcommittee

  • Delegate Chris Hurst, Chair, Professions/Occupations and Administrative Process Subcommittee

Producer:

Lead Sponsor: US onAir Network

Delegate David Bulova explains what the General Laws committee does
Virginia onAir YouTube ChannelMay 12, 2021 (05:42)
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Delegate David Bulova’s 2021 Wrap-up
Bulova newsletter, David BulovaFebruary 27, 2021

Yes, Virginia, we have a budget!

This year I was thrilled to be appointed again by the Speaker as a conferee to work out differences between the House and Senate budgets. This evening, we adopted the final report. I believe it is a budget Virginians can be proud of.

While individual bills often get the most attention, the budget is arguably the most important reflection of our values. This year’s budget process has been a roller coaster ride. After adopting an initial budget in March 2020, we had to cut $2.8 billion as a result of a COVID-driven revenue shortfall. Going into session, we anticipated a revenue rebound of $1.2 billion. Finally, a mid-session re-forecast provided an additional $730 million. That rebound was great news – but it still means we have about a billion dollars less in revenue from just a year ago.

Here are just a few of the budget highlights:

  • Income Tax Relief – $221M revenue reduction in order to fund income tax relief to individuals and businesses related to conformity with the federal CARES Act.
  • State Employee Pay Raises – 5% pay raise for state employees beginning July 1, 2021.
  • Virginia Retirement System – $100M deposit to the VRS to reduce unfunded liabilities. This is a key investment that will help to stabilize the system for the long-term.
  • PreK-12 Education – $443M to hold public school funding steady from the original 2020 appropriation; $40M for schools to address COVID-related learning loss; and, $76M to support increases in school counselors, social workers, psychologists, and behavioral analysts.
  • Teacher Pay Raises – State share of 5% pay raises for teachers. The Governor originally proposed a 2% bonus.
  • Preschool – $11.1M for increased investment in the Virginia Preschool Initiative.
  • Northern Virginia Cost-to-Compete – $14.6M more in supplemental funding to Northern Virginia in recognition of the higher cost of living for our region.
  • Higher Education – $149M to our institutions of higher learning to maintain affordable access through tuition stabilization and need-based financial assistance.
  • Human Resources – $173M in new spending for human resources, with a focus on long-term care, maternal and child health, and behavioral and developmental services. This includes $14.2M to add 435 Developmental Disability waiver slots in FY22, bringing the total for FY22 to 985 slots.
  • Vaccinations – $89M for mass vaccination efforts to maximize new federal dollars.
  • Water Quality – An additional $155M to meet our Chesapeake Bay restoration targets, including investments in wastewater treatment, stormwater management, and agricultural best management practices.
  • Broadband – Additional funding of $99M for broadband deployment in unserved areas.
  • Virginia Employment Commission – $10M to increase customer service levels and $5M to finish modernizing VEC’s IT systems to enable more efficient service delivery.
  • Voter Registration – $16.7M to replace and strengthen the state’s voter registration system.
  • Transportation – $83.5M to improve commuter rail service on the VRE Manassas Line and $32.4M to support and stabilize Metro.
  • Reserves – An additional $250M to the Revenue Reserve Fund. This brings combined balances in reserves to $2.16 billion, or about 9% of general fund revenues.

That last bullet deserves additional comment. Something we are proud of in Virginia is that we have maintained a AAA bond rating since 1938 – longer than any other state. This saves Virginia considerable amounts of money and reflects a commitment to keeping our budget structurally sound. While states are currently the beneficiaries of large amounts of federal assistance, it would be irresponsible to think that this will continue in perpetuity. Building up our reserves will ensure that Virginia can successfully transition once federal COVID-19 funding goes away.

Like most members, I introduced my own budget amendments and was pleased to see many of them incorporated into the final budget. These included funding for Northern Virginia Family Services, Brain Injury Services, Chesapeake Bay restoration, the Virginia International Trade Plan, Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension, and our regional planning district commissions.

You can find a more detailed overview of the budget here and a list of my amendments here.

In-Person Learning

Few issues have garnered more constituent communication than SB1303, which deals with bringing our children back into the classroom. This is a personal issue for my family as well, as our 12 year old attempts to navigate his first year of middle school. While he is continuing to learn, and his teachers have done an amazing job, the learning loss is definitely real.

When SB1303 came over from the Senate, it simply mandated in-person learning. What came out of the House, and was eventually passed by the Senate, takes us to full in-person learning, but has guardrails to ensure safety. This includes incorporating CDC and VDH guidelines to the maximum extent practical and the ability of a school board to move specific schools back to virtual learning based on transmission metrics. Importantly, the bill allows parents to choose a virtual approach for their students based on family situations. All teachers must be offered the vaccine prior to in-person learning (which is occurring now under Phase 1b) and the bill maintains the current process for teachers to work virtually through a reasonable ADA accommodation.

The bill passed with a strong bi-partisan vote of 88Y-9N in the House and 36Y-3N in the Senate. I voted aye.

Standards of Learning

The dreaded SOL tests! It is a topic of much consternation when I speak with parents, students, and teachers alike. The Code of Virginia simply establishes that there will be SOL assessments, the purpose of which is to ensure that educational progress can be compared across Virginia. That is a laudable goal. Unfortunately, many of these tests have turned into high-stakes end-of-the-year tests that can promote rote memorization over critical thinking and applying what has been learned to the real world.

This year we passed changes to the SOL assessments that I am genuinely excited about. HB2027 replaces end-of-the-year tests with a through-assessment model where students take a series of three lower stakes tests throughout the year. That way teachers have a better sense of where a student is starting out, can make mid-year adjustments, and then see how the student has progressed at the end of the year. While the bill applies only to SOL tests from grades three through eight, if it is successful, it could be applied to all levels.

Bay states seek new federal funding initiative for farm cleanup
Virginia Mercury, Josh Kurtz and Sarah VogelsongSeptember 8, 2021 (Short)

Virginia Agriculture and Forestry Secretary Bettina Ring and her counterparts from the five other Chesapeake Bay states are seeking a sit-down with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to discuss a proposal to pump extra federal funding into a concerted effort to clean up the Bay.

Ring and the other state  agriculture officials are embracing a proposal from the Chesapeake Bay Commission to create a Chesapeake Resilient Farms Initiative, which would tap $737 million in federal funding over the next decade to help clean up nutrient and sediment pollution from farms in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The more streamlined permit by rule process has incentivized most of these developers to keep their solar farms under 150 megawatts, leaving only the largest proposals in the SCC’s hands. Ken Schrad, director of the SCC’s Division of Information Resources, said the commission has only heard three applications for solar projects, with the most significant being sPower’s 500 megawatt Spotsylvania farm, touted at the time of its proposal as the biggest one east of the Rocky Mountains.

Webert has contended that more ought to be placed in the commission’s hands: “With the SCC, it’s basically a formal legal proceeding where there’s a cross-examination because the SCC commissioners are actually judges,” he said during one hearing on his proposal. “So you can push for additional mitigation and other things.”

But at a later hearing on Jan. 27, Del. David Bulova, D-Fairfax, questioned whether a tightening of the permit by rule program’s size limits would solve the problem, saying “this is not the way to go ahead and deal with that concern.”

Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Washington, is carrying a bill of his own to set up an empty fund to support school construction needs. He just needs his colleagues working on the budget to put money into it.

After the recession, spending on school construction and other areas in Virginia dropped. Before 2009, a few sources of state funding were available to help with capital costs. For example, a school construction grant fund boasted an annual budget of $28 million, offering districts an average of $202,000 a year.

Localities shoulder the burden of building schools. The poorest local governments already have the least amount in their budgets to go toward school infrastructure needs, so the schools get worse.

Del. David Bulova, D-Fairfax, voted against O’Quinn’s bill in committee, questioning where the money would come from and whether the legislature could come up with enough to meaningfully tackle the problem.

“We’re potentially shifting what has long been a local responsibility to the state having a share of that,” Bulova said.

In support of the bill, Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-Woodbridge, responded to Davis’s stance and said: “Some statements were made here that if we diversify the admission process that it’s going to lower the bar of those schools. I don’t think that’s accurate, and it actually sounded very offensive.”

Del. David Bulova, D-Fairfax Station, also supported HB 2305. He explained how the bill would require guidelines, not regulations. Guidelines would give the Board of Education a chance to put together the best practices for diversity and inclusion, as opposed to state-mandated regulations, which are harder for opposers to support.

Voting for the bill were Bulova, Guzman, Del. Suhas Subramanyam, D-Sterling; Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico; and Del. Shelly Simonds, D-Newport News. Opposed were Davis, Del. Roxann Robinson, R-Chesterfield, and Del. Bill Wiley, R-Winchester.

 

Agency 229 provides funding to Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station. Through these entities, the agency supports scientists and other specialists who conduct innovative agricultural research at the VAES and its 11 Agricultural Research Extension Centers. Data collected from that research is disseminated to Extension agents, who then share the information with farmers and agricultural businesses.

Throughout the 2021 Virginia General Assembly, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation has advocated for increased Agency 229 funding through a state budget amendment.

The proposal has gained bipartisan support from Del. David L. Bulova, D-Fairfax, and Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr., R-Mount Solon.

Early Voting For Democratic Primary Starts Next Week In Fairfax
Patch, Michael O'ConnellApril 14, 2021 (Medium)

The deadline in Fairfax County for requesting an application to vote by mail is 5 p.m., on Friday, May 28. Applications received after April 23 and before the deadline will be sent out as they are received.

Voters will need to return their mail-in ballots by 7 p.m., on June 8. They can either drop them off in person or by mail by the June 8 deadline.

All in-person voters and those dropping off ballots are required to follow CDC COVID-19 guidance by wearing a mask or face covering and practicing safe social distancing.

Incumbent David Bulova (D-37), who represents the Fairfax City area in the Virginia House of Delegates, does not have a challenger in the Democratic Primary, so he will not be on the June 8 ballot.

Summary

Current Position: State Delegate for District 37 since 2006
Affiliation: Democrat

David Bulova was first elected Delegate for the 37th District in 2005. The 37th District includes the city of Fairfax and parts of Fairfax County.

Delegate Bulova serves as Chair of the General Laws Committee and Chair of the Commerce, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Subcommittee in the Appropriations Committee. Additionally, he serves as a member of the Education Committee, Agriculture Chesapeake and Natural Resources and Appropriations Committee.

The interview below was conducted by Tim O’Shea in David Bulova’s Fairfax City office in July, 2019. Original interview recording has not been edited in any way.

News & Events

General Laws Committee – Host, Delegate David Bulova
May 12, 2021 – 6:00 pm to 6:55 pm (ET)

This aircast was focused on the recent activities of House General Laws committee. A recording of this livestream is also archived in the Virginia onAir YouTube channel. The links below will open the YouTube video as a new tab and start at the designated time.

00:00 Jordan Toledo, Aircast Curator, introduces aircast

0:39 Jordan Toledo introduces Delegate David Bulova, Chair of the Virginia House of Delegates General Laws Committee

1:35 David Bulova explains what the General Laws Committee does

7:23 Delegate Betsy Carr, Chair of the Open Government/Procurement Subcommittee, discusses her committee’s activities

11:25 Delegate Chris Hurst, Chair of the Professions/Occupations and Administrative Process Subcommittee discusses his committee’s activitie

19:10 What happens when General Assembly is not in session

24:51 Megan Rhyne, Executive Director, Virginia Council for Open Government … Question for all 3 delegates …What can be done to cut down on the number of bills that are left in committee without receiving a hearing?

31:45 Nanayaa Obeng, Senior Global Politics major at GMU and Democracy onAir intern … Question for David Bulova … How have the universities addressed HB 1529 promoting greater transparency for donations?

35:15 Todd Gillette, Democracy onAir Chair with a PhD from GMU … Question for Betsy Carr and Chris Hurst …. What are your views on the Freedom of Information Act bills passed this year, HB 1931, expanding the use of virtual meetings, and HB 2004, expanding the required release of certain information related to criminal investigations? Also, are there related issues you would like to address in 2022?

45:07 Dr. Meredith Cary, Virginia resident and one of Delegate Bulova’s constituents … A “thank you” addressed to all delegates … As a licensed psychologist in Virginia, I would like to voice appreciation for the State’s being at the forefront for taking legislation action (April 2020) to extend telepsychology services to non-Virginia licensed psychologists for telehealth.

47:00 Closing

50:40 Short demo of how to find information about the General Laws Committee and the Delegates

For more information:General Laws Committee Post

Curator:

Host:

Featured Guest(s):

  • Delegate Betsy Carr, Chair, Open Government/Procurement Subcommittee

  • Delegate Chris Hurst, Chair, Professions/Occupations and Administrative Process Subcommittee

Producer:

Lead Sponsor: US onAir Network

Delegate David Bulova explains what the General Laws committee does
Virginia onAir YouTube ChannelMay 12, 2021 (05:42)
i
Delegate David Bulova’s 2021 Wrap-up
Bulova newsletter, David BulovaFebruary 27, 2021

Yes, Virginia, we have a budget!

This year I was thrilled to be appointed again by the Speaker as a conferee to work out differences between the House and Senate budgets. This evening, we adopted the final report. I believe it is a budget Virginians can be proud of.

While individual bills often get the most attention, the budget is arguably the most important reflection of our values. This year’s budget process has been a roller coaster ride. After adopting an initial budget in March 2020, we had to cut $2.8 billion as a result of a COVID-driven revenue shortfall. Going into session, we anticipated a revenue rebound of $1.2 billion. Finally, a mid-session re-forecast provided an additional $730 million. That rebound was great news – but it still means we have about a billion dollars less in revenue from just a year ago.

Here are just a few of the budget highlights:

  • Income Tax Relief – $221M revenue reduction in order to fund income tax relief to individuals and businesses related to conformity with the federal CARES Act.
  • State Employee Pay Raises – 5% pay raise for state employees beginning July 1, 2021.
  • Virginia Retirement System – $100M deposit to the VRS to reduce unfunded liabilities. This is a key investment that will help to stabilize the system for the long-term.
  • PreK-12 Education – $443M to hold public school funding steady from the original 2020 appropriation; $40M for schools to address COVID-related learning loss; and, $76M to support increases in school counselors, social workers, psychologists, and behavioral analysts.
  • Teacher Pay Raises – State share of 5% pay raises for teachers. The Governor originally proposed a 2% bonus.
  • Preschool – $11.1M for increased investment in the Virginia Preschool Initiative.
  • Northern Virginia Cost-to-Compete – $14.6M more in supplemental funding to Northern Virginia in recognition of the higher cost of living for our region.
  • Higher Education – $149M to our institutions of higher learning to maintain affordable access through tuition stabilization and need-based financial assistance.
  • Human Resources – $173M in new spending for human resources, with a focus on long-term care, maternal and child health, and behavioral and developmental services. This includes $14.2M to add 435 Developmental Disability waiver slots in FY22, bringing the total for FY22 to 985 slots.
  • Vaccinations – $89M for mass vaccination efforts to maximize new federal dollars.
  • Water Quality – An additional $155M to meet our Chesapeake Bay restoration targets, including investments in wastewater treatment, stormwater management, and agricultural best management practices.
  • Broadband – Additional funding of $99M for broadband deployment in unserved areas.
  • Virginia Employment Commission – $10M to increase customer service levels and $5M to finish modernizing VEC’s IT systems to enable more efficient service delivery.
  • Voter Registration – $16.7M to replace and strengthen the state’s voter registration system.
  • Transportation – $83.5M to improve commuter rail service on the VRE Manassas Line and $32.4M to support and stabilize Metro.
  • Reserves – An additional $250M to the Revenue Reserve Fund. This brings combined balances in reserves to $2.16 billion, or about 9% of general fund revenues.

That last bullet deserves additional comment. Something we are proud of in Virginia is that we have maintained a AAA bond rating since 1938 – longer than any other state. This saves Virginia considerable amounts of money and reflects a commitment to keeping our budget structurally sound. While states are currently the beneficiaries of large amounts of federal assistance, it would be irresponsible to think that this will continue in perpetuity. Building up our reserves will ensure that Virginia can successfully transition once federal COVID-19 funding goes away.

Like most members, I introduced my own budget amendments and was pleased to see many of them incorporated into the final budget. These included funding for Northern Virginia Family Services, Brain Injury Services, Chesapeake Bay restoration, the Virginia International Trade Plan, Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension, and our regional planning district commissions.

You can find a more detailed overview of the budget here and a list of my amendments here.

In-Person Learning

Few issues have garnered more constituent communication than SB1303, which deals with bringing our children back into the classroom. This is a personal issue for my family as well, as our 12 year old attempts to navigate his first year of middle school. While he is continuing to learn, and his teachers have done an amazing job, the learning loss is definitely real.

When SB1303 came over from the Senate, it simply mandated in-person learning. What came out of the House, and was eventually passed by the Senate, takes us to full in-person learning, but has guardrails to ensure safety. This includes incorporating CDC and VDH guidelines to the maximum extent practical and the ability of a school board to move specific schools back to virtual learning based on transmission metrics. Importantly, the bill allows parents to choose a virtual approach for their students based on family situations. All teachers must be offered the vaccine prior to in-person learning (which is occurring now under Phase 1b) and the bill maintains the current process for teachers to work virtually through a reasonable ADA accommodation.

The bill passed with a strong bi-partisan vote of 88Y-9N in the House and 36Y-3N in the Senate. I voted aye.

Standards of Learning

The dreaded SOL tests! It is a topic of much consternation when I speak with parents, students, and teachers alike. The Code of Virginia simply establishes that there will be SOL assessments, the purpose of which is to ensure that educational progress can be compared across Virginia. That is a laudable goal. Unfortunately, many of these tests have turned into high-stakes end-of-the-year tests that can promote rote memorization over critical thinking and applying what has been learned to the real world.

This year we passed changes to the SOL assessments that I am genuinely excited about. HB2027 replaces end-of-the-year tests with a through-assessment model where students take a series of three lower stakes tests throughout the year. That way teachers have a better sense of where a student is starting out, can make mid-year adjustments, and then see how the student has progressed at the end of the year. While the bill applies only to SOL tests from grades three through eight, if it is successful, it could be applied to all levels.

Bay states seek new federal funding initiative for farm cleanup
Virginia Mercury, Josh Kurtz and Sarah VogelsongSeptember 8, 2021 (Short)

Virginia Agriculture and Forestry Secretary Bettina Ring and her counterparts from the five other Chesapeake Bay states are seeking a sit-down with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to discuss a proposal to pump extra federal funding into a concerted effort to clean up the Bay.

Ring and the other state  agriculture officials are embracing a proposal from the Chesapeake Bay Commission to create a Chesapeake Resilient Farms Initiative, which would tap $737 million in federal funding over the next decade to help clean up nutrient and sediment pollution from farms in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The more streamlined permit by rule process has incentivized most of these developers to keep their solar farms under 150 megawatts, leaving only the largest proposals in the SCC’s hands. Ken Schrad, director of the SCC’s Division of Information Resources, said the commission has only heard three applications for solar projects, with the most significant being sPower’s 500 megawatt Spotsylvania farm, touted at the time of its proposal as the biggest one east of the Rocky Mountains.

Webert has contended that more ought to be placed in the commission’s hands: “With the SCC, it’s basically a formal legal proceeding where there’s a cross-examination because the SCC commissioners are actually judges,” he said during one hearing on his proposal. “So you can push for additional mitigation and other things.”

But at a later hearing on Jan. 27, Del. David Bulova, D-Fairfax, questioned whether a tightening of the permit by rule program’s size limits would solve the problem, saying “this is not the way to go ahead and deal with that concern.”

Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Washington, is carrying a bill of his own to set up an empty fund to support school construction needs. He just needs his colleagues working on the budget to put money into it.

After the recession, spending on school construction and other areas in Virginia dropped. Before 2009, a few sources of state funding were available to help with capital costs. For example, a school construction grant fund boasted an annual budget of $28 million, offering districts an average of $202,000 a year.

Localities shoulder the burden of building schools. The poorest local governments already have the least amount in their budgets to go toward school infrastructure needs, so the schools get worse.

Del. David Bulova, D-Fairfax, voted against O’Quinn’s bill in committee, questioning where the money would come from and whether the legislature could come up with enough to meaningfully tackle the problem.

“We’re potentially shifting what has long been a local responsibility to the state having a share of that,” Bulova said.

In support of the bill, Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-Woodbridge, responded to Davis’s stance and said: “Some statements were made here that if we diversify the admission process that it’s going to lower the bar of those schools. I don’t think that’s accurate, and it actually sounded very offensive.”

Del. David Bulova, D-Fairfax Station, also supported HB 2305. He explained how the bill would require guidelines, not regulations. Guidelines would give the Board of Education a chance to put together the best practices for diversity and inclusion, as opposed to state-mandated regulations, which are harder for opposers to support.

Voting for the bill were Bulova, Guzman, Del. Suhas Subramanyam, D-Sterling; Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico; and Del. Shelly Simonds, D-Newport News. Opposed were Davis, Del. Roxann Robinson, R-Chesterfield, and Del. Bill Wiley, R-Winchester.

 

Agency 229 provides funding to Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station. Through these entities, the agency supports scientists and other specialists who conduct innovative agricultural research at the VAES and its 11 Agricultural Research Extension Centers. Data collected from that research is disseminated to Extension agents, who then share the information with farmers and agricultural businesses.

Throughout the 2021 Virginia General Assembly, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation has advocated for increased Agency 229 funding through a state budget amendment.

The proposal has gained bipartisan support from Del. David L. Bulova, D-Fairfax, and Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr., R-Mount Solon.

Early Voting For Democratic Primary Starts Next Week In Fairfax
Patch, Michael O’ConnellApril 14, 2021 (Medium)

The deadline in Fairfax County for requesting an application to vote by mail is 5 p.m., on Friday, May 28. Applications received after April 23 and before the deadline will be sent out as they are received.

Voters will need to return their mail-in ballots by 7 p.m., on June 8. They can either drop them off in person or by mail by the June 8 deadline.

All in-person voters and those dropping off ballots are required to follow CDC COVID-19 guidance by wearing a mask or face covering and practicing safe social distancing.

Incumbent David Bulova (D-37), who represents the Fairfax City area in the Virginia House of Delegates, does not have a challenger in the Democratic Primary, so he will not be on the June 8 ballot.

Twitter

About

David Bulova 3

Source: Campaign page

David Bulova and his family live in the Middleridge community of Fairfax.  David and his wife Gretchen met while attending Robinson Secondary and have been married for 23 years.  They have three wonderful children, Alex, Josette, and Grayson.  David and Gretchen are proud of their hometown.  They want to raise their children to have the same opportunities and with the same community-focused values they had growing up here.

Both David and Gretchen grew up in Fairfax. David received a BA from the College of William and Mary, a Master’s in Public Administration and Policy from Virginia Tech, and is a graduate of the Sorensen Institute of Political Leadership at the University of Virginia.

Professionally, David is a Project Manager at Amec Foster Wheeler Environment & Infrastructure, Inc. and works to help governments and industry comply with state and federal environmental regulations.

David was first elected to the General Assembly in November 2005.  He currently serves on the General Laws, Education, and Agriculture, Chesapeake, and Natural Resources committees.  He is a member of the State Water Commission, Chesapeake Bay Commission, Housing Commission, the Joint Commission on Health Care, and the Virginia War Memorial Board.  He serves as Governor McAuliffe’s appointee to the Legislative Advisory Council to the Southern Region Education Board and the Legislative Advisory Board to the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, and was Governor Kaine’s appointee to the Commission on Climate Change.  From 2003 to 2005, David was an elected representative on the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District Board.

David is passionate about community service. He is currently on the Board of Trustees of Brain Injury Services, which provides support to survivors of brain injuries and their families, the Board of the City of Fairfax Band, and the Board of Advisors for the William and Mary Public Policy Program. His is also an honorary member of the Rotary Club of Centreville-Chantilly. Other community service includes: former coach with Fairfax Little League and Burke Athletic Club soccer; former member and treasurer of the Rotary Club of Annandale (1999-2002); former member of the Fairfax County Tree Commission (2004-2005); and, former Governor’s appointee to the Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance Board.

Experience

Work Experience

  • Project Manager/Environmental Planner
    Amec Foster Wheeler Environment & Infrastructure, Inc.
    2004 to present
  • Board of Directors
    Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District
    2006 to present

Education

  • B.A., Government
    The College of William and Mary
    1991 to present
  • M.P.A.
    Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
    1996 to present

Awards

  • Citation of Merit for Outstanding Citizen Service, Fairfax Federation of Citizen Associations (2002)
  • Watershed Connections Award and Legislator of the Year (2005)
  • Friends of Trees Award, Fairfax County Tree Commission (2008)
  • Legislator of the Year, Virginia Professional Firefighters (2009)
  • Legislative Achievement Award, Virginia Emergency Management Association (2010)
  • Legislator of the Year, American Council of Engineering Companies of Virginia (2011)
  • Brownson Award, Virginia Association of Museums (2014)
  • Legislator of the Year, Commissioners of the Revenue Association of Virginia (2015)
  • Michael S. Harris Award, American Association of University Professors (2015)
  • Industrial Strength Leadership Award, Virginia Manufacturing Association (2017)
  • Excellence in Workforce Development Award, Virginia Chamber of Commerce (2017)

Personal

Birth Year: 1969
Place of Birth: Fairfax, VA
Gender: Male
Race(s): Caucasian
Religion: Roman Catholic
Spouse: Gretchen Marie Reimer
Children: Alex, Josette, and Grayson

Membership & Affiliation

  • St. Mary’s of Sorrows Catholic Church
  • Brain Injury Services (board of trustees)
  • Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance Board (former member)
  • Rotary of Centreville (honorary member)</