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Coronavirus fund distributes more than $1 million in grants to Central Virginia organizations

Funds are being released from a collective, $4.2 million pool intended to help groups provide resources during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Capital News Service

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By Rodney Robinson

Funds are being released from a collective, $4.2 million pool intended to help groups provide resources during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Twenty-five regional organizations are receiving more than $1.1 million in grants. The grantees fall under four categories: safety net clinics, food access organizations, housing and education.

The pool of money was created through a partnership between the Community Foundation and the Emergency Management Alliance of Central Virginia, a group of professionals that aims to help local residents dealing with disasters, according to the organizations’ sites. The fund, dubbed the Central Virginia COVID-19 Response Fund, was activated in March with an initial gift from the Community Foundation, a Richmond-based organization that manages more than 1,000 charitable funds.

The fund has raised more than $4.2 million to date from foundations, businesses and individuals across the region, the partners said. An advisory committee will review and distribute grants from the fund on a rolling basis.

The fund is currently focused on providing support for those most likely to contract the virus or those whose health could be further compromised because of barriers to food access, healthcare or stable shelter.

“We are currently targeting those on the frontline that need to pivot and adapt quickly to an ever-increasing demand for their services,” Scott Blackwell, chief community engagement officer at the Community Foundation, said in a news release.

The groups came together in September 2018 to create a disaster relief fund, according to Sherrie Armstrong, president and CEO for the Community Foundation. With the fund already in place, the two groups activated the COVID-19 response in March and began raising money.

Organizations receiving grants in the food access category include FeedMore, Neighborhood Resource Center and Sacred Heart Center. The FeedMore funding will support staffing at the organization’s community kitchen, while Sacred Heart Center’s money will provide food, baby formula, hygiene supplies and other necessities.

Health related organizations receiving aid include Daily Planet Health Services, Jewish Family Services, Richmond Academy of Medicine and YWCA of Richmond. The grants will help with a range of causes, ranging from the production of protective face masks for essential workers to support for a COVID-19 testing site for homeless individuals.

 Richmond Public Schools’ grant will go toward the purchase of 10,000 Chromebooks for students who need them to access education while schools are closed. Armstrong predicted that the RPS funding will ensure “that everyone has access to the internet and technology with everything that’s going on.”

The United Way of Greater Richmond and Petersburg is providing $100,000 in matching dollars to incentivize new donations made through United Way’s website. The organization was involved in the early conversations of where a fund “might live,” according to James Taylor, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Richmond and Petersburg. As needs continued to grow in Central Virginia, United Way wanted to be “good partners” to help in relief efforts.

“As the response began from a fundraising standpoint, it became clear that the needs were going to continue to grow,” Tayor said.

 There are 6,171 COVID-19 cases in Virginia as of April 14. There have been 154 deaths and 978 hospitalizations, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

The relief is designed to be flexible and to complement other resources and responses at the national, state and local levels, organizers said.

The fund is not taking formal applications, but nonprofits and public agencies can share their needs through this form, according to the Community Foundation’s site. Individuals seeking help are encouraged to call 211 or visit 211Virginia.org for a curated list of local social services.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Department of Public Utilities encourages reopening businesses to flush water before use

As businesses prepare to reopen on Friday, the utility encourages the flushing of internal pipes before any water use resumes.

RVAHub Staff

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The City of Richmond Department of Public Utilities (DPU) has been providing safe drinking water during the COVID-19 pandemic and it remains a priority. As businesses prepare to reopen on Friday, the utility encourages the flushing of internal pipes before any water use resumes.

With non-essential business being closed due to COVID-19 since March, water has been sitting in pipes. This water can lose the benefits of necessary disinfection, which could lead to bacteria growth and thus unsuitable for drinking, hand washing, or other uses. Additionally, turning on water after prolonged closures could disrupt plumbing materials and release contaminants into the water.

“To ensure fresh water is being used by newly reopening businesses, we strongly encourage them to flush the water in their systems. This is important to maintain the public health and safety of all residents and visitors,” says DPU Director Calvin D. Farr, Jr.

This process includes running water through all faucets, fountains, and other water treatment/enhancement systems with both hot and cold water for several minutes before using.

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Stoney: City to “cautiously move” into Phase 1 of reopening plan on Friday, May 29th

On Thursday, Mayor Stoney announced that the City of Richmond will cautiously move into Phase 1 of Forward Virginia, the state’s reopening plan. Masks will be required in all indoor spaces and restaurants will be asked to voluntarily connect patrons’ information for contact tracing purposes.

RVAHub Staff

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On Thursday, Mayor Stoney announced that the City of Richmond will cautiously move into Phase 1 of Forward Virginia, the state’s reopening plan.

“When I look at the picture in totality, given the added tools at our disposal, the current trends in our local data and my faith in Richmonders to look out for one another, I believe that Richmond can cautiously move into Phase 1 on Friday, May 29,” said Mayor Stoney at Thursday’s press conference.

During the first delay that the City of Richmond requested, the Stoney administration and Richmond City Health District expanded testing efforts, implemented a contact tracing effort, ensured every COVID-19 positive Richmonder will be able to isolate safely and securely with supported isolation, and advocated for a statewide mask requirement.

The city initially requested a modified Phase 1 reopening that maintained restrictions on places of worship and personal care and grooming services, as mass gatherings and close personal contact for extended periods of time both significantly increase chance of community spread.

Because the governor denied the city’s modified plan for reopening, Richmond will move into Phase 1 of Forward Virginia, the state’s reopening plan, with strong recommendations reflecting the mayor’s proposed modifications. Local guidance and helpful links to state guidance are available here. The state has yet to provide guidance on what Phases 2 and 3 will include.

The mayor detailed a number of best practices for residents and business owners to ensure that the city moves into Phase 1 cautiously. The best practices emerged from conversations between the Stoney administration and members of the business community, faith leadership, and health professionals.

  1. All residents who are medically able to should wear a face-covering that covers the mouth and nose when in public spaces. The wearing of a face covering does not negate the need for 6-foot social distancing.
  2. Faith communities should continue to meet virtually if possible. If in-person meetings are absolutely necessary, the mayor strongly recommends faith groups meet outside while practicing strict social distancing and enforcing the face-covering requirement.
  3. Food and drink establishments that choose to offer outdoor service at half capacity are asked to request a name and contact information of patrons who dine in for contact tracing purposes. This practice is voluntary for both patrons and restaurants. However, collecting this small amount of information for each dine-in party will go far in assisting the Richmond City Health District in tracing and containing outbreaks. Guidance on this practice is available here.

The mayor made two requests of the state: to continue to assist the city in further expanding testing capacity and in providing adequate face-coverings and hand sanitizer throughout the capital city.

“Quite frankly, we’re going to need more support from the state for our residents and our businesses to reopen safely and sustainably,” the mayor noted in his appeal. “I make these recommendations and requests of the state because, as has been my mantra this entire pandemic. Reopening should be slow and steady.”

“When public health is on the line, blindly pushing forward is not an option. Decisions must be thoughtful, and they must be based in our collective knowledge of and love for our city.”

See more reopening guidance for local businesses here: www.rvastrong.org/reopeningguidance.

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Health Innovation Consortium, Lighthouse Labs partner on health-focused startup accelerator

Richmond-based Lighthouse Labs, a nationally-recognized, top 25 seed-stage accelerator, will partner with the Health Innovation Consortium (HIC), a collaborative alliance working to make the Commonwealth of Virginia a hub for health innovation, to launch Virginia’s only health-focused accelerator program.

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Richmond-based Lighthouse Labs, a nationally-recognized, top 25 seed-stage accelerator, will partner with the Health Innovation Consortium (HIC), a collaborative alliance working to make the Commonwealth of Virginia a hub for health innovation, to launch Virginia’s only health-focused accelerator program.

Founding partners Virginia Commonwealth University, VCU Health, and Activation Capital, launched HIC in 2019 to help bring health innovations to market. HIC and Lighthouse Labs will leverage the new accelerator this fall to cultivate a pipeline of health-related technologies through a three-month immersive learning experience, capital opportunities, and potential for funding.

Making the Commonwealth’s only health-focused accelerator program possible is Activation Capital, a nonprofit organization that focuses on early-stage ideas to foster the area’s growing entrepreneurial ecosystem. A grant by Activation Capital to Lighthouse Labs, along with the contributions of HIC, will support the health-focused programming by Lighthouse Labs in addition to VCU’s efforts to develop new innovations in healthcare.

The new initiative, including expertise, grants, and funding by Health Innovation Consortium, will be offered alongside an industry-agnostic vertical that will also operate as part of the 2020 fall cohort by Lighthouse Labs. Selected companies in both verticals will participate in the accelerator from August 24 to November 13, 2020, in Richmond. During the fall program, the health-focused startups and the industry-agnostic companies selected will work with top-tier mentors as they participate in targeted and adaptive programs.

“Health systems, particularly academic health systems like VCU, are looking for innovative solutions involving every aspect of health care—its delivery to consumers, its technology, and its business models,” said Peter Buckley, M.D., interim CEO, VCU Health System, and interim senior vice president, VCU Health Sciences. “The Health Innovation Consortium was designed to facilitate, support, and scale health innovation. By partnering with Lighthouse Labs, a nationally ranked start-up accelerator, we have the opportunity to attract and engage with the most promising new technologies in the country that can improve the health of our community.”

The companies selected to participate in the health-focused accelerator will use the three-month programming as a springboard to develop digital health and medical device technologies, amongst others. Founders participating in the fall cohort will also have an opportunity to tap into HIC resources, including access to an exclusive network of industry experts, early-stage venture funding, and support, after the cohort has ended.

In addition to equity-free funding, programming, and mentorship, all selected companies will have access to $1 million in advisory services and benefits from partners such as Global Accelerator Network (GAN), Kaleo Legal, Startup Virginia, and other service providers. In addition, companies accepted will participate in Demo Day(s) designed to demonstrate each selected startup to investors, alumni groups, potential customers, and peers.

“Innovation is needed now more than ever,” said Erin Powell, executive director of Lighthouse Labs. “The fall cohort by Health Innovation Consortium and Lighthouse Labs will provide traction for the most promising, high-potential startups to begin making an immediate impact in health-related industries.”

“Beyond the three-month immersive experience this fall, the post-program opportunities, and access to the Health Innovation Consortium network and connection to capital, makes this new offering the most transformative platform for those who have identified the biggest challenges in human health and healthcare and are ready to accelerate quickly to provide solutions,” said Powell.

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