Henrico County has begun offering COVID-19 testing to first responders and other frontline employees regardless of whether they show symptoms of the disease.
Officials are hoping to strengthen protections for these workers and the community as well as increase understanding of how the virus spreads without carriers exhibiting the common symptoms of a high fever, a dry cough or shortness of breath.
“There’s tremendous uncertainty around COVID-19,” said Jackson Baynard, Henrico’s emergency manager. “There’s uncertainty around who’s been exposed to the disease. There’s uncertainty organizationally, family wise and individually. We have to look for opportunities to gain more information.”
The testing kicked off Wednesday at a drive-thru clinic that stretches across a parking lot at Virginia Center Commons. About 200 individuals have been tested, with an additional 400 registered.
The initiative could continue up to three weeks, with tests administered by Dentrust Optimized Care Solutions. The tests are being processed at the University of Virginia Medical Center and Sentara Lab Services.
The program is open to neighboring localities and other partners, such as long-term care facilities, at their own cost. Powhatan County and the Richmond International Airport police and fire departments have signed on to participate.
The clinic is administering tests for both the antigen and antibody for COVID-19.
That’s unprecedented and could provide valuable information about the disease, said Dr. Larry Caplin, CEO and founder of Dentrust Optimized Care Solutions. He credited Henrico for “putting a stake in the ground” with comprehensive testing of first responders and health care workers.
“They’re the ones who are most susceptible to being exposed and are also critical to any effort that we have at protecting the overall population,” he said.
“Henrico County is being absolutely forward-leaning on this,” Caplin added. “I’m not aware of anywhere in the country that’s run at [this] scale antibody and antigen testing simultaneously.”
A positive antigen test following a nasal swab would indicate a likely infection with COVID-19 and would trigger an additional test for confirmation, according to guidelines of the county’s testing program. The results of the antigen test are typically available within 24 hours.
Any employee positive for the antigen would be required to take leave and self-isolate, with staff conducting a contact investigation, if necessary.
A positive antibody test from blood following a finger prick could indicate a prior exposure to COVID-19 or possibly another virus. A negative result would not rule out infection in the future, but it could help public health officials better understand the virus and the immune system’s reaction to it. A positive antibody result is typically available within 30 minutes.
Baynard said he welcomed the opportunity to be tested, even though he has experienced no symptoms associated with COVID-19.
“I’m very curious about the antibody side and the potential benefit of this test two days from now or six months from now,” he said early Thursday. If exposed unknowingly to the disease, “maybe I was asymptomatic and built up the antibody.”
As of Friday, Baynard had tested negative for the antibody and was still awaiting results of the antigen test.
The timing of mass testing is good, he said, given the number of cases locally and emerging research that supports the notion of asymptomatic spread. Henrico had 718 confirmed cases and 83 deaths from COVID-19 as of April 24, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
So far, the county has had only a small number of COVID-19 cases among its emergency responders, said Baynard, who credited the county’s adherence to safety protocols and use of personal protective equipment.
While widespread testing for COVID-19 remains limited, Henrico’s effort “could be a very meaningful snapshot for public safety departments in the Commonwealth and across the country,” he said.
“These are unprecedented times,” he added, “so you need to make aggressive moves in order to protect our community and protect our employees in public safety.”
Majority of Virginia to enter Phase Two of reopening; Richmond to remain in Phase One for now
Richmond and Northern Virginia will remain in Phase One while surrounding localities can now ease restrictions on gatherings, indoor dining, and other uses.
Governor Ralph Northam today signed Executive Order Sixty-Five and presented the second phase of the “Forward Virginia” plan to continue safely and gradually easing public health restrictions while containing the spread of COVID-19. The Governor also amended Executive Order Sixty-One directing Northern Virginia and the City of Richmond to remain in Phase One.
Most of Virginia is expected to enter Phase Two on Friday, June 5, as key statewide health metrics continue to show positive signs. Virginia’s hospital bed capacity remains stable, the percentage of people hospitalized with a positive or pending COVID-19 test is trending downward, no hospitals are reporting PPE shortages, and the percent of positive tests continues to trend downward as testing increases. The Governor and Virginia public health officials will continue to evaluate data based on the indicators laid out in April.
“Because of our collective efforts, Virginia has made tremendous progress in fighting this virus and saved lives,” said Governor Northam. “Please continue to wear a face covering, maintain physical distance, and stay home if you are high-risk or experience COVID-19 symptoms. Virginians have all sacrificed to help contain the spread of this disease, and we must remain vigilant as we take steps to slowly lift restrictions in our Commonwealth.”
Executive Order Sixty-Five modifies public health guidance in Executive Order Sixty-One and Sixty-Two and establishes guidelines for Phase Two. Northern Virginia and the City of Richmond entered Phase One on Friday, May 29, and will remain in Phase One to allow for additional monitoring of health data. Accomack County delayed reopening due to outbreaks in poultry plants, which have largely been controlled through rigorous testing. Accomack County will move to Phase Two with the rest of the Commonwealth, on Friday, June 5.
Under Phase Two, the Commonwealth will maintain a Safer at Home strategy with continued recommendations for social distancing, teleworking, and requiring individuals to wear face coverings in indoor public settings. The maximum number of individuals permitted in a social gathering will increase from 10 to 50 people. All businesses should still adhere to physical distancing guidelines, frequently clean and sanitize high contact surfaces, and continue enhanced workplace safety measures.
Restaurant and beverage establishments may offer indoor dining at 50 percent occupancy, fitness centers may open indoor areas at 30 percent occupancy, and certain recreation and entertainment venues without shared equipment may open with restrictions. These venues include museums, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, and outdoor concert, sporting, and performing arts venues. Swimming pools may also expand operations to both indoor and outdoor exercise, diving, and swim instruction.
The current guidelines for religious services, non-essential retail, and personal grooming services will largely remain the same in Phase Two. Overnight summer camps, most indoor entertainment venues, amusement parks, fairs, and carnivals will also remain closed in Phase Two.
Phase Two guidelines for specific sectors can be found here. Phase One guidelines sectors are available here. Visit virginia.gov/coronavirus/forwardvirginia for more information and answers to frequently asked questions.
The full text of Executive Order Sixty-Five and Order of Public Health Emergency Six is available here.
The full text of amended Executive Order Sixty-One can be found here.
Richmond Police, Mayor Stoney apologize after tear gas deployed before curfew on protesters
Protesters took to the streets of Richmond again Monday night and were met with a forceful response and the deployment of tear gas by Richmond Police – an action for which the department and Mayor Stoney later apologized.
Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Richmond again Monday afternoon and evening to speak out after the death of George Floyd. The group organized near both the Robert E. Lee and J.E.B. Stuart Monuments on Monument Avenue and remained mainly peaceful until police approached demonstrators at the Lee statue and deployed tear gas, as can be seen below from the below Twitter video from VPM.
— VPM (@myVPM) June 1, 2020
Around the same time, reports began coming in that protesters at the Stuart monument were attempting to bring it down. A young demonstrator scaled the base of the statue and took what appeared to be a hack saw to the leg of the monument’s horse in an effort to bring it down. Police responded by calling on protesters to stand down, citing the weight of the monuments and their potential to crush bystanders.
Richmond Police and Mayor Levar Stoney later apologized for the deployment of tear gas on peaceful protesters – well below the 8:00 PM curfew – saying it was uncalled for and inviting protesters to City Hall at noon Tuesday to “apologize in person.” For its part, RPD said the officers involved had been “removed from the field” and would be subject to disciplinary action.
Chief Smith just reviewed video of gas being deployed by RPD officers near the Lee Monument and apologizes for this unwarranted action. These officers have been pulled from the field. They will be disciplined because their actions were outside dept protocols and directions given.
— Richmond Police (@RichmondPolice) June 2, 2020
Words cannot make this right, and words cannot restore the trust broken this evening.
Only action. Only action will repair this community. Come to City Hall tomorrow at noon. I want to say sorry. I want to listen.
— Levar M. Stoney (@LevarStoney) June 2, 2020
The protesters then continued marching down Franklin Street, then W. Broad Street, where things fizzled out around 10:30 PM near 14th Street.
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.
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.