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City announces plan to expand testing, increase access to protective supplies, address small business needs during two-week reopening delay

In response to the state granting the City of Richmond a two-week delay in entering Phase One of the statewide reopening plan, the Stoney administration will be ramping up the city’s efforts to support a safe approach to reopening in the near-term, it was announced Tuesday.

RVAHub Staff

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In response to the state granting the City of Richmond a two-week delay in entering Phase One of the statewide reopening plan, the Stoney administration will be ramping up the city’s efforts to support a safe approach to reopening in the near-term, it was announced Tuesday.

The administration announced plans to use the next two weeks to expand testing access, distribute more face masks and hand sanitizer throughout the city, support underserved communities, expand safe spaces for social distancing and address the needs of Richmond’s small business community.

Expanding testing capacity and collaboration with safety net

Four weeks ago, the City of Richmond and Richmond City Health District began hosting COVID-19 testing events in the city’s areas of highest needs. RCHD has since conducted six testing events in the city, in and adjacent to public housing communities and along the Hull Street corridor in Southside.

The city now plans to significantly expand public testing capacity with a continued emphasis on making testing accessible to priority communities with higher vulnerability to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With support from the Virginia Department of Health to ensure adequate capacity at the state lab, RCHD will organize community testing events in high-need areas three times a week for Richmond residents that meet screening criteria. RCHD will use epidemiological surveillance data to inform priorities for those parts of the city that may benefit most from increased access to public testing. This will include revisiting sites where testing has previously been offered.

In addition to the testing event at Diversity Richmond on May 19, the following events have been scheduled in the coming week:

  • May 21, Tuckahoe Middle School from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.; and
  • May 22, East Lawn Shopping Center from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

City residents should contact RCHD’s COVID-19 Call Center to find out if they qualify and to register for these testing events: 804-205-3501.

To evaluate the outcomes of these expanded testing efforts, in addition to results from our hospital systems and network of other providers, the city will monitor the newly added data from the Virginia Department of Health about the locality’s percent positivity, or what percentage of tests administered result in positives. The city, VDH, and RCHD will use this data to inform plans for the gradual reopening timeline.

Ensuring a connection to a primary care provider for all residents who test positive for COVID-19 is critical to helping Richmonders monitor their symptoms and manage any underlying conditions. The city will be collaborating with members of the local safety net to facilitate access to primary care, and RCHD will invest in professional navigation services to match residents with providers and other needed support services. The city’s commitment is to make professional medical care available to all residents with a confirmed case of COVID-19, regardless of those residents’ insurance status.

Safety net providers will also be able to expand their testing operations, working with the city to add capacity. As increasing numbers of city residents are able to access testing, the Mayor’s Office, RCHD, and VDH will be able to more effectively monitor the progression and trends of the disease in the city.

Providing face coverings and sanitizing supplies

A priority intervention to protect the health of all of our neighbors is for everyone to wear a cloth or disposable face-covering whenever in public places or going out of the house. The science is clear that this can dramatically improve outcomes, driving down rates of disease transmission. The City of Richmond is invested in ensuring that residents can and will lead the way in making face covering a new, positive practice the entire community can embrace.

On May 12, the city began distributing 40,000 units of face coverings and sanitizing supplies provided by the state for Richmond communities that may benefit from immediate access to these resources. The city will continue that distribution, coordinated through the Richmond Fire Department.

The city will also provide 500 units of face coverings and sanitizing supplies to each member of Richmond City Council for distribution within their district based on their specialized knowledge of need.

Supporting small businesses

The Stoney administration recognizes the challenges small businesses face at this time. Existing programs remain open for application. Businesses can apply for the Richmond Small Business Disaster Loan here. The $20,000 zero-interest loan has a six-month payment deferment period and is then repaid over 48 months.

Restaurants can apply for the First Responder Meals Program here. Participating restaurants are paid by the city for providing meals for public safety first responders while on duty.

Mayor Stoney has sent another letter asking for federal assistance to U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. He strongly requests that the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program be modified and that Virginia’s Senators support Senator Booker’s Small Business Local Relief Act, which would send $50 billion in direct assistance to localities and states to establish and grow local relief funds. He will be in ongoing contact with both senators.

In addition to federal advocacy, the city is working regionally to ensure small businesses are prepared to keep customers and employees as safe as possible throughout the reopening timeline.

Utilizing public space productively and safely

The city is preparing to assist businesses in navigating potential patio expansions by standing up an internal task force comprised of representatives from the Department of Public Works, Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities, and Department of Planning and Development Review. Once the data indicates a negative trend in percent positivity and the city enters Phase One of reopening, this effort will both support the Richmond business community to more safely offer Phase One outdoor dining and create a network that allows for ample and ongoing social distancing in public spaces.

To submit a proposal for new or additional patio space or inquire for more information, please visit www.rvastrong.org/outdoorseating and fill out the interest form.

The Stoney administration has sent a request to members of Richmond City Council and their staff asking for their help in coordinating with local merchant and neighborhood associations to propose equitable opportunities for open streets, pedestrian-friendly spaces, and expanded patios with room to maintain social distancing. By working with local associations, council members will be able to bring forward optimal opportunities for the creative use of streets, sidewalks, and public spaces that are logistically feasible and have community buy-in.

The recommendations will then be reviewed by an internal city team with staff from the Department of Public Works, Richmond Police Department, Department of Planning and Development Review and the Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities.

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Black Bear’s Visit to Richmond Comes to a Safe End

No picnic baskets, bears, dogs, cats, or humans were harmed in today’s adventure.

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A black bear decided to explore Richmond today. First spotted on the Northbank Trail he later headed into town. Previous reports earlier in the week had the bear up near Pony Pasture. The picture above is from RACC Instagram which reported on the sedation and transportation of the bear.

We just received a call about a bear-and it really was a bear. Sometimes we laugh and arrive on scene with a giant Rottweiler, but nope-this was a real bear. We named him Fuzzy Wuzzy. Shout out to @richmondpolice for helping keep us safe and to @virginiawildlife for tranquilizing and relocating the bear out of the City!

Bear on Northbank this morning! from r/rva

Here he is in town.

Bear at Byrd and 5th from r/rva

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Downtown

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.

RVAHub Staff

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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.

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Crime

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.

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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.

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.

The protesters then continued marching down Franklin Street, then W. Broad Street, where things fizzled out around 10:30 PM near 14th Street.

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