Thursday, October 1, 2020

Political Headlines from across Virginia

October 1, 2020
Top of the News

Groups differ on adoption of permanent COVID-19 workplace safety rules in Virginia

By JOHN REID BLACKWELL, Richmond Times-Dispatch (Metered Paywall - 7 articles a month)

Business organizations are pushing back against making Virginia's COVID-19 workplace safety rules permanent, arguing that the regulations - rules that were temporarily adopted in July as an emergency measure - have proved costly, confusing and burdensome for companies. However, labor organizations and worker advocacy groups argue that the emergency temporary standards have helped protect both essential workers and business customers from COVID-19 and should be maintained beyond their current expiration date in late January.

Roanoke Valley organizations try to fill child care gap as students remain out of the classroom

By CLAIRE MITZEL, Roanoke Times (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

In any other year, the 52 students sitting in the basement of the Kirk Family YMCA would be at school on a Monday morning in late September. But the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the most basic school routine to change: No public school division in the Roanoke Valley is holding in-person classes five days a week for all grades.

As other cities bring kids back to classroom, Norfolk parents ask, What about us?

By GORDON RAGO, Virginian-Pilot (Metered Paywall - 2 articles a month)

While some students in Chesapeake and Virginia Beach have been welcomed back to in-person instruction in recent days, Norfolk schools have announced no similar plans. Over the summer, the Norfolk School Board decided in a 6-1 vote to start virtually and continue online at least for the first nine weeks of the year.

In Virginia swing district, bitter rematch for Republican Scott Taylor and Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria

By MEAGAN FLYNN, Washington Post (Metered Paywall - 3 articles a month)

With daylight waning, Scott Taylor pulled his hulking black pickup into a Wawa gas station to trade his suit for a pair of jeans and a sweater. It was door-knocking time. "There's nothing more important than this right here," said the former Republican congressman and state delegate, who had spent the afternoon discussing the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic at businesses in his old district.

Henrico yanks funding for police oversight job after prosecutor hires Black Lives Matter supporter

By NED OLIVER, Virginia Mercury

Henrico County leaders quietly quashed plans to hire a prosecutor dedicated to investigating complaints of police misconduct after learning earlier this month the lawyer selected for the job made frequent social media posts supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. The new position would have been the first of its kind in the state, according to Commonwealth Attorney Shannon Taylor, an independently elected constitutional officer who said she was aware of the posts and saw nothing disqualifying about them when she extended the job offer to Misty Whitehead, an Army veteran who has been practicing law in the county for 13 years.

With new $500K grant, Virginia plans to study coal dust in the air in Norfolk, Newport News

By KATHERINE HAFNER, Virginian-Pilot (Metered Paywall - 2 articles a month)

Residents of Norfolk's Lamberts Point and the Southeast Community in Newport News have long complained that coal dust seeps into their neighborhoods, coating cars and potentially impacting people's health. For the first time on a large scale, Virginia officials now plan to study exactly which and how many toxins are in the air. The state Department of Environmental Quality received a $526,603 grant this week from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Reduced School Bus Capacity Prompts APS to Expand Elementary 'Walk Zones'


Fewer kids will be able to take the bus when in-person classes resume at Arlington Public Schools. APS says that it is expanding the "walk zones" for 16 of its 24 elementary schools, as buses will only be able to carry 11 students at a time due to social distancing guidelines. "As we start to plan for returning to school buildings, we want to make you aware of some changes to bus transportation starting this year," the school system said in an email to families this morning.

The Full Report
45 articles, 29 publications


From VPAP Early voting by locality

The Virginia Public Access Project

VPAP has added an interactive feature to its Early Voting Dashboard to provide a look at the numbers in each Virginia city and county. The dashboard also now includes a timeline showing the number of ballots processed each day. The numbers are updated each morning at 6:00 am from data provided by the Department of Elections.

VPAP Visual Virginia's Household Unit Response Rate

The Virginia Public Access Project

The Trump Administration reported this week that the Census has enumerated 98.7% of housing units in Virginia. The data showed every state with a response rate of at least a 90%, with Virginia ranked 31st.

From VPAP Maps, Timeline of COVID-19 in Virginia

The Virginia Public Access Project

Our COVID-19 dashboard makes it easy to track the latest available data for tests performed, infections, deaths and hospital capacity. There's a filter for each city and county, plus an exclusive per-capita ZIP Code map. Updated each morning around 10:30 a.m.


Prosecutors Group Opposes Bill to Take Sentencing Out of Jurors Hands


A group of Virginia prosecutors wants to stop a bill from passing that would have judges determine sentences in criminal cases, instead of juries. Virginia is one of only six states where juries decide guilt or innocence and also hand down sentences - even though juries aren't given a range of recommended sentencing options. Sen. Joe Morrissey's bill would still provide that a criminal defendant be tried by a jury. But a judge would have the final say in the punishment.

With waitlists for emergency child care, Virginia lawmakers could increase funding


Emergency child care makes a big difference for some parents during the coronavirus pandemic but many families are still struggling to access resources. The Virginia General Assembly is planning to commit more funding to support community sites for school-aged children taking virtual classes while their parents work. The question is how much?

Bill to hold localities responsible for protest damage stalls

By ADA ROMANO, VCU Capital News Service

A General Assembly bill is likely dead for the session that would have held localities accountable for damages caused by protesters if an adequate police response was not provided. Del. Mark Cole, R-Fredericksburg, said he proposed House Bill 5026 to assure localities provide proper police protection during protests in an effort to minimize damages to personal property and businesses.


Political newcomer Cameron Webb looks beyond party in 5th District bid

By DANIEL BERTI, Fauquier Times

Cameron Webb had just completed his medical and law degrees when he was accepted as a one-year White House fellow in President Barack Obama's administration. Webb, who had never before worked in political circles, said he "decided to take a leap of faith." The fellowship, which had Webb working on the White House health care team in the Office of Cabinet Affairs, began in 2016 and carried into 2017 under the administration of a new president, Donald Trump. The transition was rocky.

Pittsylvania County residents take advantage of early voting at ag complex

By JOHN CRANE, Danville Register & Bee

Ringgold residents Steven and Patricia Moser voted early and in person Wednesday at the Olde Dominion Agricultural Complex to avoid the Election Day rush. The closer it gets to Election Day, the larger the volume of voters will turn out at the polls, Steven said.

Many in Gloucester, Mathews take advantage of early voting

By SHERRY HAMILTON, Gazette-Journal

Voter registrars in Gloucester and Mathews have been working hard to to keep up with the demands of this year's election cycle, from moving their offices to more accessible locations to handling the constant flow of voters who have been taking advantage of no-excuse early voting since it began on Sept. 18. Gloucester Registrar Bobbi Morgan said that, as of Tuesday afternoon, 1,001 people had voted early in her new office on the first floor of County Office Building One, while 523 people had dropped off absentee ballots in the drop-off box.


AHLA: Va. stands to lose 86K+ hotel jobs without federal support

By SYDNEY LAKE, Va Business Magazine

Virginia stands to lose 86,821 hotel-related jobs if Congress doesn't extend Paycheck Protection Program loans or expand the Main Street Lending program, according to projections released Wednesday by the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) — and the state may lose all but about 500 hotels to foreclosure. Pre-pandemic, Virginia was home to 1,532 hotels, but 751 were foreclosed by September.

Driverless shuttle starts tests in Fairfax County

By LEAH SMALL, Va Business Magazine

Fairfax County and Dominion Energy Inc. began testing a 13-foot autonomous, electric shuttle this summer, a first step toward driverless public transit between Metro stations. The EZ10 shuttle nicknamed "Relay," built by French manufacturer EasyMile and owned by Dominion, is expected to hit the road this fall between the Dunn Loring Metrorail station and the county's bustling Mosaic District, in a pilot program.

Pharrell-backed surf park in Virginia Beach passes milestone that other projects didn't

By STACY PARKER, Virginian-Pilot (Metered Paywall - 2 articles a month)

A plan for a surf park and entertainment center at the Oceanfront is forging ahead where others have failed, and the project is inching closer to construction. Venture Realty Group, which is working with music icon Pharrell Williams, has steadily passed muster with the city in its quest to build Atlantic Park, a $325 million mixed-use project on the former dome site.


I-81 Fund Still Strong, Other VDOT Revenue Declined

By IAN MUNRO, Daily News Record (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

...In 2019, the General Assembly passed a bill establishing a fund where the money generated by a regional gas tax would be spent on $2 billion worth of improvements identified for I-81. Improvements and expansion of safety services on I-81 began July 1, 2019. And though there was up to a 64% drop in traffic of all vehicle types using Virginia roadways at the beginning of the pandemic, the I-81 fund remained relatively safe and even finished fiscal year 2020 on June 30 having generated $69.8 million — nearly $15 million more than the year's estimate, according to data acquired by the Daily News-Record from the Virginia Department of Transportation

Will the Va. 28 bypass create more sprawl?

By DANIEL BERTI, Prince William Times

The proposed Va. 28 bypass has long been considered a regional solution to traffic congestion. But as the debate over the project rages among local elected officials, activists and residents, the discussion has ballooned into something more overarching: the ongoing battle over whether building more roads leads to more sprawl.

Dulles Greenway turns 25


Dulles Greenway turned 25 years old this week, and owners of the 14-mile highway stretching from Virginia's Leesburg to near Dulles International Airport are hoping its next quarter-century will raise the number of drivers who use it. Known locally as "The Greenway," Virginia's first private toll road since 1816 opened to drivers on Sept. 29, 1995. At the time, it cost $1 to ride the Greenway.


COVID-19 clusters pop up at VMI, W&L

By LUANNE RIFE, Roanoke Times (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

The number of coronavirus cases in Lexington has nearly doubled in the last week as both Virginia Military Institute and Washington and Lee University report dozens of infections. "We were doing kind of well, and then had an uptick over the weekend of 13 or 14 cases," VMI spokesman Col. Bill Wyatt said.

Liberty University reports 121 active COVID-19 cases

By RICHARD CHUMNEY, News & Advance (Metered Paywall - 18 articles a month)

Liberty University on Wednesday reported 121 active COVID- 19 cases among its students and employees, continuing a downward trend from the peak of 141 cases reported two weeks earlier. About 850 students and employees have been instructed to quarantine, down from the nearly 1,200 asked to quarantine last week, according to the university's COVID-19 dashboard, which debuted Sept. 16 and is updated weekly.

Virginia Tech to test those at higher risk for COVID-19; total cases reach 1,000

By HENRI GENDREAU, Roanoke Times (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

Virginia Tech will begin more frequent testing of students and employees at higher risk of contracting the virus that causes COVID-19, the university announced Wednesday. Tech President Tim Sands made the announcement on the same day the university reached 1,000 positive cases of the coronavirus since early August.

JMU faces budget shortfall of 'at least $31.4M'

The Breeze

At approximately 9:50 a.m. JMU told faculty members that it's facing a budget shortfall of over $30 million, according to an email sent to JMU faculty. The email said this is a result of students "across all class years" not paying their bills or deferring their enrollment to later semesters.


Coronavirus cases hit multiweek lows in D.C. region

By DANA HEDGPETH AND RACHEL CHASON, Washington Post (Metered Paywall - 3 articles a month)

The number of new corona­virus infections this week has fallen to levels last seen in mid-July across the Washington region, although leaders and health officials worry that the return of colder weather could reverse the trend. The rolling seven-day average of new cases in D.C., Maryland and Virginia dropped to 1,293, down from recent peaks above 2,000 about two months ago. All three jurisdictions have recorded multiweek lows in new reported cases in recent days.

Virginia COVID-19 cases rise by 755; positivity rate down to 4.5%

By STAFF REPORT, Richmond Times-Dispatch (Access to this article limited to subscribers)

The Virginia Department of Health reported Wednesday that the statewide total for COVID-19 cases is 148,271 — an increase of 755 from the 147,516 reported Tuesday. The 148,271 cases consist of 140,614 confirmed cases and 7,657 probable cases. There are 3,208 COVID-19 deaths in Virginia — 2,995 confirmed and 213 probable. That's an increase of 21 from the 3,187 reported Tuesday.

Will Washington-area schools publicly report coronavirus cases? Many say no.

By HANNAH NATANSON, PERRY STEIN AND DONNA ST. GEORGE, Washington Post (Metered Paywall - 3 articles a month)

As schools in the Washington area inch toward reopening, a question looms: whether and how school districts will report coronavirus cases among students and staff. Reporting policies vary district-to-district across D.C., Maryland and Virginia, but many school systems in the region are opting to stay mostly mum. Some school officials say they are not tracking or publishing data on school-related virus cases — only notifying people who may have come into contact with infected individuals.

Two more deaths end West Piedmont Health District's deadliest month

By STEVEN DOYLE, Martinsville Bulletin (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

The death toll from COVID-19 actually went down in Henry County on Wednesday but rose for the West Piedmont Health District, completing the deadliest month since the pandemic began in March. Henry County saw a reduction from 26 to 25 deaths from the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, but there were two new deaths: one in Martinsville and another in Franklin County.

40 residents at Virginia Beach nursing home test positive for COVID-19


Dozens of residents and nearly 20 employees at a Virginia Beach nursing home recently tested positive for COVID-19. 13News Now talked with a man whose family member is a resident at the center. He shared emails updates with us from the center's administrator about the outbreak. The facility is Sentara's Nursing and Rehabilitation Center off Rosemont Road.

Many deaths linked to outbreaks at local long-term care centers

By DAVID MCGEE, Bristol Herald Courier (Metered Paywall - 15 articles a month)

COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term care centers are partially responsible for sharp increases in local deaths over the past two months, health officials said Wednesday. Since August, COVID-19 has claimed almost 120 patients at Ballad Health System hospitals, or about 80% of the 148 patients who died at Ballad facilities since the pandemic began.

Virus cases among children have risen slightly in Fredericksburg region

By CATHY DYSON, Free Lance-Star (Metered Paywall - 10 articles a month)

Children and teenagers make up about 15 percent of local COVID-19 cases, a rate that has risen slightly since June. Readers have asked if local cases are increasing among the younger set, as they're doing nationally after students returned to school. Only private schools have reopened locally for classes, but King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford counties are planning to resume in-school sessions a few days a week later this month for younger students.

Encouraging numbers for Loudoun on the COVID-19 front

By STAFF REPORT, Loudoun Times (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

Loudoun County's positive test rate for COVID-19 dipped under 5 percent in the seven-day rolling average released Wednesday, according to the Virginia Department of Health. The 5 percent mark has been a target for local health officials as they look to quell the harm brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prince William Health District investigates more than 800 COVID-19 complaints since July, no fines yet

By AILEEN M. STRENG, Prince William Times

The Prince William Health District has received more than 800 complaints since July about businesses not complying with the state's requirements about face coverings, maintaining social distancing and limiting large gatherings. But officials have yet to issue fines or revoke licenses. In July, when Virginia's Phase 3 guidelines went into effect, the health district received 517 complaints. The number declined to 291 in August, said Patrick Jones, the health district's environmental manager.

Virginia removed from travel advisory lists in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut


The state health departments in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut updated their travel advisory lists on Tuesday and removed Virginia from their lists. The other state removed was Arizona while Colorado was added.


Court's closed? No problem, listen by phone

By JEFF STURGEON, Roanoke Times (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

The day a Roanoke pharmacist admitted to a federal judge to taking drugs from a patient supply cabinet, the courtroom was empty. But events unfolding in the halls of justice were audible over a public phone line. The voices of the judge, attorneys and defendant, meeting this week in the case of the U.S. vs. Bryan Wade Lewis, were broadcast by phone.

Church site excavation aims to unearth African American contributions

By SAMANTHA WILLIS, Virginia Mercury

In Colonial Williamsburg, experts are unearthing the foundations of First Baptist Church, among the oldest African American congregations in the country, as part of an attempt to uncover a more complete narrative of early American history, centering the Black people — enslaved and free — who contributed much to the fledgling nation. First Baptist Church, founded in 1776, is still a thriving hub of Williamsburg's Black community, says the Rev. Reginald Davis, who has served as the church's pastor since 2004.


Falling Enrollment Could Impact Loudoun School Budget

Loudoun Now

Loudoun won't be one of the fastest growing school systems this year. In fact, it looks like enrollment will decline for the first time in decades. According to preliminary tallies presented to the School Board last week, only 81,660 students had enrolled as of Sept. 21. That's nearly 5% below the projections of 85,755. More significantly, that is 2,515 fewer students than were enrolled last September.

Census Count Wraps Up in Loudoun; County Ranked 3rd in State Self-Response Rates


As of today, U.S. Census enumerators plan to wrap up their door-to-door rounds in Loudoun. But those workers braved the heat this summer to collect only a fraction of the data Loudouners provided on their own. The 2020 Census, as of Sept. 29, is reporting that 98% of American households in all 50 states, Washington, DC and Puerto Rico have been tallied.

Over jury's regrets, judge sentences Army veteran to lengthy term in prison

By JUSTIN JOUVENAL, Washington Post (Metered Paywall - 3 articles a month)

A Loudoun County judge sentenced a decorated retired Army major to 74 years in prison Wednesday for shooting two sheriff's deputies in 2017, despite five jurors saying they regretted or did not fully grasp the stiff sentence they set at trial. Circuit Judge James P. Fisher turned aside the unusual request, saying case law prevented him from considering the jury testimony in weighing whether to change the final sentence for Douglas Vernon Johnson Jr.

Isle of Wight planning for in-person learning for all grades by end of October

By MATT JONES, Daily Press (Metered Paywall - 1 article a month)

Some students in all grades would return part-time to classrooms by Oct. 26 under a plan presented by Isle of Wight Superintendent Jim Thornton. The timetable is one of the fastest in the region. Chesapeake hopes to bring back all students enrolled in hybrid learning by Nov. 16. Virginia Beach plans to bring sixth- and ninth-grade students on Oct. 8 but hasn't set dates for other secondary students. Gloucester previously discussed a plan to have all grades back by mid-November.

Charlottesville and Albemarle dish out bonuses up to $1,250 for work during pandemic

By NOLAN STOUT AND ALLISON WRABEL, Daily Progress (Metered Paywall - 25 articles a month)

Charlottesville employees will receive a bonus for working during the pandemic, mirroring a similar benefit given to Albemarle County staff in the summer. City employees were notified on Monday that they would receive between $250 and $1,250 based on a variety of factors. The money was deposited on Wednesday. Albemarle's "Pandemic Risk Recognition" program went to about 50% of county government employees in the July payroll.

As local school divisions begin second month of classes, some see increase in COVID-19 cases

By CLAIRE MITZEL, Roanoke Times (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

Several school divisions in the Roanoke and New River valleys have reported an uptick in COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks, while others have reported no or few new cases. School leaders say they continue to monitor case numbers. Roanoke County schools have reported more than 20 cases since classes began Aug. 24, with 16 cases reported within the last two weeks. The division has one of the largest enrollments in the region.

Concern continues to grow over lack of Valley Health, Anthem deal

By MATT WELCH, Winchester Star (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

Mary Mcmahon has had multiple emergency surgeries in recent years and has been told she may need more procedures. All of her doctors operate under the Valley Health System umbrella, and the only logical insurance option she says she has is Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield. Now, as contract negotiations regarding Anthem's in-network status with Valley Health continue, Mcmahon is one of about 40,000 people in the region who could be faced with life-altering decisions about their health insurance coverage if a deal isn't reached.

Page County schools will not fully reopen 'until a vaccine or cure comes for COVID-19'

By RANDY ARRINGTON, Page Valley News

It was said in many different ways, but the message was crystal clear. "What you are asking of children and parents is unreasonable," parent Amelia King told school board members during the Citizen Comment period of Monday night's meeting. "We want our children back in school full time." Members of the Page County School Board sat through a handful of submitted comments read aloud prior to nearly a dozen speakers addressing them directly on Monday to share the frustrations and challenges of remote learning — each saying they spoke for a larger contingency of parents.

New school metrics: Danville, nearby areas at high risk for COVID-19 transmission

By PARKER COTTON, Danville Register & Bee

Schools in Danville and Pittsylvania County are possible high-risk COVID-19 transmission locations, according to metrics released this week by the Virginia Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Schools in neighboring Martinsville and Henry County also are in that classification.



Don't be stingy with help for small businesses

Virginian-Pilot Editorial (Metered Paywall - 2 articles a month)

At a time when thousands of small businesses in Virginia are fighting to stay afloat, the state agency charged with throwing them a lifeline stands accused of keeping too tight a hold on the purse strings — only loaning out 10% of funding allocated in 2019 to help businesses in need and sitting on the rest. That critical assessment comes courtesy of a recent report by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, which conducted a study of the Virginia Small Business Financing Authority at the direction of lawmakers.

How Tuesday's debate was especially instructive

Roanoke Times Editorial (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

Those of a certain age remember the presidential debate in 1976 between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter when a technical glitch left the two candidates standing silently on the stage for nearly half an hour. Or, as we prefer to remember them, the good old days. Tuesday's so-called presidential "debate" was an utter embarrassment for the country.


Schapiro: A distraction Virginia Democrats don't need

By JEFF E. SCHAPIRO, Richmond Times-Dispatch (Access to this article limited to subscribers)

There were Virginia-specific moments in that "Gong Show" of a presidential debate Tuesday night tied to the seemingly endless legislative session that could become a perilous distraction for Democrats in three Trump-carried congressional districts. Former Vice President Joe Biden, whom fresh polling shows leading in Virginia, said deadly, white supremacist violence in Charlottesville in 2017 was the tipping point in his decision to seek the Democratic nomination. He referred to a nighttime march at the University of Virginia by torch-carrying bigots shouting anti-Semitic slogans.


Flaccavento: Lessons from the Tobacco Transition

By ANTHONY FLACCAVENTO, published in Roanoke Times (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

On June 29th, the National Economic Transition Platform was released by the Just Transition Fund and more than five dozen supporting organizations and businesses from across the United States. The product of more than a year of research, community meetings and discussions among practitioners in the field, the NET focuses on regions that have historically been dependent on the coal industry which are now working to build more diverse and prosperous economies without dependence on a single industry.

Flaccavento is a farmer, author, former congressional candidate and small business owner from Abingdon.

Payne: ODU's new school of cybersecurity addresses a basic human need

By BRIAN K. PAYNE, published in Richmond Times-Dispatch (Metered Paywall - 7 articles a month)

Psychologists long have recognized that security is a basic human need. In the absence of security, we are unable to fully connect with our peers, improve our communities, develop new businesses or engage in other activities we might equate with societal progress. This extends to cybersecurity — for individuals and businesses alike.

Payne is vice provost for academic affairs at Old Dominion University and director of the Coastal Virginia Center for Cyber Innovation, a regional node of the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative.

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