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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.

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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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CDC says the vaccinated should wear masks indoors in areas with high infection rates

Federal health officials on Tuesday urged Americans in areas of the country with the highest surges in COVID-19 infections to once again wear masks when they are in public, indoor settings — even if they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

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By Laura Olson

The updated recommendations marked a sharp shift from the agency’s guidance in May that Americans fully vaccinated against COVID-19 do not need to wear a mask in most situations, indoors and outdoors.

The updates also included changes for schools, with federal health officials now urging everyone in K-12 schools to wear a mask indoors. That includes teachers, staff, students and visitors, regardless of vaccination status and the level of community transmission.

The update in CDC guidance was prompted by new data indicating that although breakthrough infections among the vaccinated are rare, those individuals still may be contagious and able to spread the disease to others, said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Wearing a mask indoors in areas with “substantial” or “high” transmission of the virus could help to reduce further outbreaks of the highly contagious delta variant, she said.

Some 39 states have infection rates that have reached “substantial” or “high” levels of transmission, according to a data tracker on the CDC website. The CDC rates Virginia, with 56.4 cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days and a 5 to 8 percent positivity rate, as having a “substantial” level of community transmission. However, that varies widely by locality.

“As always, we will thoroughly review these recommendations,” said Alena Yarmosky, a spokeswoman for Gov. Ralph Northam.  “The governor has taken a nuanced and data-driven approach throughout this pandemic—which is why Virginia has among the nation’s lowest total COVID-19 cases and death rates.

“As he has said repeatedly, the only way to end this pandemic is for everyone to get vaccinated. The facts show vaccines are highly effective at protecting Virginians from this serious virus — over 98 percent of hospitalizations and over 99 percent of deaths have been among unvaccinated Virginians.”

The agency also tracks infection rates on the county level, and 63 percent of U.S. counties are in those two categories of concern.

“This was not a decision that was taken lightly,” Walensky said. She added that other public health and medical experts agreed with the CDC that the new information on the potential for vaccinated people to have contagious infections required the agency to take action.

President Joe Biden described the agency’s revision on recommended mask use as “another step on our journey to defeating this virus.”

“I hope all Americans who live in the areas covered by the CDC guidance will follow it,” Biden said. “I certainly will when I travel to these areas.”

The mask-use changes may not be the only changes coming as the White House attempts to respond to the spiking infections. Biden also said Tuesday that a vaccination requirement for all federal employees is under consideration.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs already has required its frontline health care workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

But the new recommendations on masks are expected to be met with resistance.

Areas of the country with the highest spikes in COVID-19 infections tend to be those with the lowest vaccination rates and places that were the fastest to end mask mandates for public settings.

Some have taken legal steps to prevent future mask mandates. At least nine states — Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Vermont — have enacted legislation that prohibits districts from requiring masks in schools, according to a CNN analysis.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, blasted the updated guidance in a statement Tuesday, describing it as “not grounded in reality or common sense.” Iowa’s level of community transmission is rated as “substantial” in the latest CDC map. 

“I’m concerned that this guidance will be used as a vehicle to mandate masks in states and schools across the country, something I do not support,” Reynolds said, adding that the vaccine “remains our strongest tool to combat COVID-19” and that she will continue to urge vaccinations.

Walensky sidestepped a question during Tuesday’s news briefing about the level of compliance that the CDC expects with the new recommendations, saying only that the way to drive down rising community transmission rates is to wear masks and to increase vaccination rates.

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Community

Train Derailment Near Hollywood Cemetery Again

This derailment occurred Friday afternoon. A train also derailed in the same vicinity on June 9th.

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All photos courtesy of RFD Twitter.

Posted by RFD Twitter on July 23rd

At approximately 1:26 p.m., crews responded to an area down the North Bank Trail near Hollywood Cemetery for the report of a train derailment. Once on scene, they found multiple freight cars that had been tipped over. The cars were carrying coal.
Some of the load spilled onto the track and ground in the area, but there was no coal in the water. No injuries reported. The incident was marked under control at 1:59 p.m. and turned over to CSX.

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Community

Suspect Sought in West Clay Street Burglary

At approximately 4:57 p.m. on Thursday, June 24, the man in the photos climbed a wall in the rear of a house, located in the 00 block of West Clay Street, broke into the residence and stole a computer and credit cards.

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Richmond Police detectives are asking for the public’s help to identify the individual in the attached photos who is a suspect in a residential burglary that occurred in the Jackson Ward neighborhood last month.

At approximately 4:57 p.m. on Thursday, June 24, the man in the photos climbed a wall in the rear of a house, located in the 00 block of West Clay Street, broke into the residence and stole a computer and credit cards. A photo of his distinctive pink and black sneakers is also attached.

 

Anyone with information about the identity of this person is asked to call Fourth Precinct Detective J. Land at (804) 646-3103 or contact Crime Stoppers at (804) 780-1000. The P3 Tips Crime Stoppers app for smartphones may also be used. All Crime Stoppers methods are anonymous.

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