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Despite pandemic, some Virginia registrars report surge of poll workers

Several places in Virginia say they’ve seen a surge in people applying to be Election Day-workers, despite initial concerns there would be a shortage.

Capital News Service

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By Will Gonzalez

The U.S. is facing a nationwide poll worker shortage, Gov. Ralph Northam said in a Tweet posted in early September urging Virginians to apply for the position. Some districts expected a shortage because they anticipated high turnout. Poll workers fulfill a variety of part-time and full-time roles, from assisting with absentee ballot distribution, answering phone calls, supervising early voting, and helping at the polls on Election Day.

Before polls opened last week, Virginia Beach said it needed 1,200 poll workers this year instead of the 800 they usually have, according to CBS-3 (WTKR-TV).

On the other hand, Arlington County, posted online that it has filled “beyond capacity” its need for poll workers in its 54 precincts. No shortage of poll workers is expected in Fairfax County, which will have more than 3,800 election officers to work the county’s 243 polling locations, about half of which are first-time poll workers, according to Brian Worthy, a Fairfax County spokesperson. The county’s 3,800 workers this year is about 500 more than it had in the last election, and extra staff is on hand to process the mail-in ballots.

“Unlike other jurisdictions that I’ve heard may be having difficulty recruiting election officers, Fairfax County has experienced a very strong interest from people who want to serve,” Worthy stated over email. “In fact, we’ve had about ten times the normal number of people apply to become election officers.”

Recruiting poll workers is also not an issue in Orange County, located 20 miles from Charlottesville. Donna Harpold, the county’s director of elections and general registrar, said she doesn’t know if being in a smaller county impacts volunteer availability compared to Northern Virginia.

“They obviously have the population advantage, but that may also lead to people being more wary of serving due to exposure concerns,” Harpold wrote in an email.

 Lisa Betterton, the general registrar and director of elections in Isle of Wight, which has roughly 37,000 residents, said the Hampton Roads county has plenty of poll workers.

Poll workers and voters have expressed concern over potential exposure to the COVID-19 if polls are crowded on Election Day. Many people who volunteer at polling places across the country are retirees, the most at-risk demographic for serious complications and death from the disease. Election officials in Washington D.C. decided this year that working at a poll will count toward the community service hours required to graduate high school in the district.

Breaking with the tradition of voting on Election Day, Virginia’s top officials cast their votes on Sept. 18, the first day polls were open. Northam emphasized voters will have “several safe and easy ways” to vote. Over 164,000 residents hit the polls within the first week, according to the Virginia Department of Elections.

Virginia has allocated federal CARES Act funding to ensure that election officers have personal protective equipment and Virginia Medical Reserve Corps volunteers will assist at polling places to ensure social distancing and sanitization measures are followed, according to Northam’s office.

Voters are required to wear masks. In order to limit physical interaction between individuals and to avoid voters sharing pens, Fairfax County will provide voters with “I voted” pens that they can use to fill out their ballots and keep instead of offering stickers.

The General Assembly passed several bills in the spring to make voting easier, such as turning Election Day into a state holiday, no excuse required to vote absentee, and allowing early voting 45 days ahead of the election. Residents may vote early at their local registrar’s office from Sept. 18 to Oct. 31, or request a mail-in absentee ballot until Oct. 23, according to the Virginia Department of Elections.

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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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Government

City Thanksgiving Holiday Schedule

RVAHub is not a city-run production but just like most of the city services we’ll be taking a break and be back on Monday.

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City of Richmond government offices, including City Hall, will be closing at noon on Wednesday, November 25, 2020 and will remain closed Thursday, November 26, through Friday, November 27, 2020 in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday. City offices will reopen at regular business hours on Monday, November 30, 2020.

The Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities’ administrative offices will operate from 8 a.m. until Noon on Wednesday. All city community centers will operate from 11:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday and will be closed Thursday and Friday.

Richmond Animal Care and Control is currently only available by appointment and will be closed Thursday and Friday. All city libraries will be closed Thursday and Friday. All library branches will resume normal scheduling on Saturday.

This closing will also affect the city’s Solid Waste Management Division. Refuse collection will take place on Wednesday off Thursday and Friday and resume on Saturday, November 28, 2020 at regular schedule from 8:30 a.m. until 2 p.m.

The East Richmond Road Convenience Center will be closed Thursday and Friday and resume on Saturday, November 28, 2020 on a regular schedule from, 8:30 a.m. until 2 p.m.

For more information on city services and schedules, please visit RichmondGov.com.

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COVID-19 amplifies struggles with mental health, substance abuse – what Henrico County is doing about it

Since the pandemic started in mid-March, communities across the country have seen sharp increases in drug overdoses, suicides and requests for services. The trends have played out locally, with Henrico County already recording 41% more drug overdoses this year than in all of 2019.

RVAHub Staff

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The stresses and strains of the COVID-19 pandemic have been enough to test anyone’s well-being.

But the inescapable challenges – from social isolation and financial uncertainty to concerns about one’s health – can quickly overwhelm those struggling with substance use and mental health, said Leslie Stephen, a program manager with Henrico Area Mental Health & Developmental Services (MH/DS).

“There have just been compounding issues,” she said. “When there are so many issues to deal with, a person’s capacity to take on more is reduced.”

Since the pandemic started in mid-March, communities across the country have seen sharp increases in drug overdoses, suicides and requests for services. The trends have played out locally, with Henrico County already recording 41% more drug overdoses this year than in all of 2019.

“These numbers understate the full problem because many overdoses are not reported,” County Manager John A. Vithoulkas said in a recent letter to the Board of Supervisors on plans to open a detoxification and recovery center. “In recent years, there have been more deaths in Henrico from overdoses than from car accidents, homicides or suicides – and this trend will be true again in 2020.”

Similarly, the number of individuals prescreened for hospitalization because of mental health concerns was up 13% from July through September compared with the same period last year.

In addition, orders to place someone in emergency custody rose by 15%. One of every five individuals held on temporary detention orders was later admitted to state facilities, instead of treated locally. That’s higher than normal, in part because fewer beds are available due to the pandemic’s need for physical distancing.

MH/DS bolsters mental health, substance use services during COVID-19

MH/DS, which serves Henrico, New Kent and Charles City counties, has been working to ensure its services remain available and accessible during the pandemic while the county also develops an enhanced treatment model for substance use.

Staff have been conducting appointments mainly by phone or video, although in-person meetings are available if necessary. For more information, go to henrico.us/mhds or bouncebackhc.com. To access services, call (804) 727-8515.

The challenges from COVID-19 have been particularly acute for those who rely on regular, face-to-face support from clinicians and peers. Now, many of those sessions are held virtually.

“You think about folks in recovery, it really is that interaction that makes a difference,” MH/DS Executive Director Laura Totty said. “It’s that daily support that they get. The isolation necessitated by COVID-19 has been a real challenge.”

For many, the pressures and strains will only intensify as the state has imposed tighter measures following a surge in coronavirus cases ahead of the holiday season, which is often a difficult time for those with mental health and substance use challenges.

“I worry that many people may struggle when they’re unable to engage in activities that have given them comfort and support in the past,” Stephen said.

William Pye, a peer specialist with MH/DS, leads a
virtual REVIVE! training session on the administration
of Narcan, a drug that can temporarily reverse the
toxic effects of opioids and save the life of someone
who has overdosed.

In September, the agency also began offering rapid access to medication-assisted treatment for individuals addicted to opioids. After their same-day access assessment, clients are connected with a prescriber for treatment with Suboxone, which curbs symptoms of withdrawal during detoxification.

MH/DS also is offering nine virtual trainings per week on REVIVE!, a free program on how to administer Narcan to save someone after an opioid overdose. Participants receive the medication by mail. To sign up, call (804) 727-8515.

To enhance its mental health services, MH/DS has partnered with the National Counseling Group to provide mobile support to individuals in crisis and avoid hospitalizations whenever possible.

Henrico advances new strategies to help those in recovery

Apart from its work in the pandemic, Henrico continues to look for new and better ways to help those struggling with substance use.

The county recently established a program to cover two weeks of housing costs for qualified individuals when they are admitted to a certified recovery home. So far, 13 recovery residences have applied for the program, which is known as CHIRP or Community-based Housing for Individuals in the Recovery Process.

“This gives the individual a chance to live in a safe, sober environment while they start to work on their recovery,” Totty said.

In addition, Henrico is advancing its plans to build a 24-hour detoxification and recovery center that would provide voluntary, medically supervised recovery services for adults.

The estimated 17,000-square-foot facility is planned on Nine Mile Road, near MH/DS’ East Center, and would have initially 12 to 16 beds. It would be licensed by the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services and managed by MH/DS with support from public and private partners.

The center was recommended by the Recovery Roundtable, a county work group that spent eight months looking at ways to reduce overdoses and strengthen recovery resources in the community.

“The Recovery Roundtable concluded the lack of access to detoxification is a significant gap and a barrier to recovery,” Vithoulkas said in his recent letter to the Board of Supervisors. “In fact, our jail has become the default provider of public detox in the County, having performed nearly 2,000 detoxes last year.”

Henrico has issued a request for proposals for consulting services as part of its planning for the detoxification and recovery facility. Funding for design and construction are expected to be considered as part of the county’s fiscal 2021-22 budget.

With the pandemic causing so much disruption, Stephen said it has been inspiring to see MH/DS staff confront each challenge and find innovative ways to provide the services the community desperately needs.

“It’s also amazing to see our clients so committed to working on their recovery,” she said. “Even with all that COVID-19 has thrown at them, they are determined to clear the hurdles that are in their way.”

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Henrico County to begin 2020-21 leaf collection efforts week of November 9th

Henrico County will begin providing annual leaf-collection services Monday, Nov. 9, with both free and paid options available for county residents.

RVAHub Staff

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Henrico County will begin providing annual leaf-collection services Monday, Nov. 9, with both free and paid options available for county residents.

Free collection of bagged leaves is scheduled through Feb. 13. Crews will work week to week in five zones; each zone will receive two pickups over the course of the program. Collection is provided automatically for residents living in designated zones. Residents living outside those areas can order free pickup of bagged leaves by calling (804) 727-8770.

Residents are encouraged to place their bags at the curb or road’s edge on the Sunday of the assigned pickup week; crews will begin collection at 7 a.m. Monday. Bags should be free of trash and debris and must be accessible from the street as crews are not authorized to enter private property.

Henrico also will offer vacuum leaf collection from Nov. 9 through Dec. 30 and again from Feb. 22 through March 31. Residents can order the $30 service by calling (804) 501-4275. Leaves should be placed at the curb or road’s edge and be free of trash, sticks and other debris.

Whether using the bagged pickup or vacuum service, residents are encouraged to avoid placing bags or loose leaves in traffic lanes, parking spaces, storm drains or ditches. In addition to creating a potential traffic hazard, misplaced leaves can block drainage and contribute to stormwater pollution.

Henrico’s public-use areas, located at 2075 Charles City Road and 10600 Fords Country Lane, offer residents another leaf-disposal option. Bagged leaves will be accepted at no cost from Nov. 9 through Feb. 13. Loose leaves and other yard debris are accepted year-round at no charge. The public-use areas are open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. except for certain holidays.

Additional information is available from the Department of Public Utilities.

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