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Spanberger declares victory in close Congressional race; Freitas waits

Democratic congresswoman Abigail Spanberger declared victory Wednesday over Republican Del. Nick Freitas in the tight 7th District U.S. House of Representatives race, though some absentee ballots remain uncounted.

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By Anya Sczerzenie 

Democratic congresswoman Abigail Spanberger declared victory Wednesday over Republican Del. Nick Freitas in the tight 7th District U.S. House of Representatives race, though some absentee ballots remain uncounted.

The reporting of absentee ballots from Henrico and Spotsylvania counties late afternoon Wednesday pushed Spanberger into a slim lead. Spanberger had won 50.5% of votes, while Freitas secured 49.4% of votes, according to The Virginia Public Access Project. Spanberger was leading Freitas Wednesday evening by 5,134 votes and as many as 5,269 additional absentee ballots still could factor into the race.

Spanberger, who just hours earlier has released a video on social media calling for patience through the process, declared victory after the boost in votes. She said she looked forward to continuing her work in Congress.

“Tonight, the Seventh District affirmed its commitment to leadership in Congress that puts Central Virginia first, works for everyone, and focuses on expanding opportunity for the next generation of Virginians,” Spanberger said in the press release.

Freitas said his campaign will make an official statement Friday when all votes are tallied, out of respect for the race.

Spanberger addressed her district in a Facebook Live speech shortly after declaring victory, in which she underlined her commitment to several issues. She promised to work on lowering the cost of prescription drugs, extending broadband internet coverage to rural areas, and protecting Americans from foreign hacking.

“I said I would find common ground, and I said I would hold my ground if necessary,” Spanberger said, “and I believe I have done just that.”

This victory would clinch a second term in a district that only recently turned blue in 2018 when Spanberger, a former CIA agent, beat David Brat.

Freitas is an Army veteran and member of the Virginia House of Delegates representing Orange, Culpeper and Madison counties. He is seeking his first term in Congress. Freitas first won a House seat in 2015. He kept his seat in a write-in campaign in 2019 and then weeks later he announced his bid for the 7th District. Freitas’ campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

 “The first issue Abigail Spanberger will work on is COVID-19,” said Connor Joseph, a spokesperson for Spanberger’s campaign. “Every issue is through the lens of COVID-19.”

Joseph said Spanberger plans to increase broadband internet access to rural communities, and emphasized the need for it during a pandemic where school and work often take place online.

The race was closely watched and predicted. Politico rated the race a “toss up” just before the election. The University of Virginia Center for Politics thought Spanberger might perform better than Biden in her district and said her two-years of experience might help.

Spanberger, who grew up in the same district she currently represents, is rated a moderate Democrat. She often touts a focus on bipartisanship. In October, Spanberger voted against the second HEROES Act—a coronavirus relief package endorsed by Democrats—and wrote in a press release that she found the bill too partisan. She is a member of the “March to Common Ground” caucus, which is working to draft a bipartisan COVID-19 relief plan.

Freitas is a conservative Republican who supports gun rights. He has been described as having a “conservative voting record and a libertarian streak” by the Associated Press. Freitas sponsored a resolution during the pandemic that would have allowed the legislature to vote on any state of emergency declarations made by the governor that last longer than seven days, but the measure didn’t advance. Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency in March, and it remains in place.

The 7th District now leans more Democrat with the 2016 removal of Hanover County, home to primarily Republican voters. It encompasses both suburban and more rural precincts, including Henrico and Chesterfield counties and also Spotsylvania and Louisa counties. The voter profile is 72% white and 19% Black, according to VPAP.

The race injected more cash into broadcast and cable TV advertising than the presidential race, a significant amount of money for a two-year seat. Around $15 million was spent on TV attack ads, according to VPAP. Spanberger spent more than the Freitas campaign. Spanberger ads mostly focused on Freitas voting records, while Freitas ads delved into Spanberger’s CIA past and attempted to make a negative association with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

The final count of remaining absentee ballots will be announced Friday at the earliest. Pundits often note that absentee ballots are often cast by Democrats, while Election Day returns lean more Republican.

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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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VDH announces new QR codes to verify COVID-19 vaccination status

A person vaccinated in Virginia can visit vaccinate.virginia.gov to obtain their free vaccination record with QR code, which can then be saved to a phone gallery, printed on paper, or stored in a compatible account.

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The Virginia Department of Health today announced the addition of QR codes – a type of barcode that can be scanned with smartphones – to Virginia COVID-19 vaccination records.

QR codes – short for “quick response” – are commonly used in retail, logistics, and other sectors. The technology allows anyone to show proof of vaccination with a digital or printed QR code instead of a paper card, and without the need for an app. As more and more employers and businesses respond to calls by President Biden and Governor Northam to require that employees and customers be vaccinated, QR codes will help improve the consistency and security of vaccination information while protecting individual privacy.

A person vaccinated in Virginia can visit vaccinate.virginia.gov to obtain their free vaccination record with QR code, which can then be saved to a phone gallery, printed on paper, or stored in a compatible account.

QR codes contain the same information as paper records, but in a format that offers greater security and efficiency. Because the QR code is digitally signed by the Virginia Department of Health, it cannot be altered or forged. Information from QR codes is only available if and when the individual chooses to share it. Businesses and employers that choose to verify an individual’s vaccination status can scan QR codes with the free SMART Health Verifier App. Individuals do not need to download an app to use QR codes.

Virginia is now the fifth U.S. state to adopt the SMART Health format for QR codes, empowering individuals with trustworthy and verifiable copies of their vaccination records in digital or paper form using open, interoperable standards. The framework and standards were developed by VCI, a coalition of more than 800 public and private organizations – including The Mayo Clinic, Boston Children’s Hospital, Microsoft, MITRE, and The Commons Project Foundation.

QR codes are available to anyone whose vaccination record includes a working phone number and is in the Virginia Immunization Information System (VIIS). Nearly all doses administered in Virginia are reported to VIIS, including pharmacies, physician offices, health department clinics, federally qualified health centers, and community vaccination centers. Some doses administered outside Virginia to Virginia residents may be in VIIS. Doses administered directly by federal agencies such as the Department of Defense or Department of Veterans Affairs are not reported to VIIS. A person whose record cannot be retrieved automatically may call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users call 7-1-1) for assistance.

With more than 10.2 million doses of vaccine administered so far in Virginia, more than 58% of the population is fully vaccinated. Everyone 12 or older is eligible to be vaccinated now. To find free vaccines nearby, visit vaccinate.virginia.gov or call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users call 7-1-1). Assistance is available in English, Spanish, and more than 100 other languages.

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Government

Va. Supreme Court clears way for removal of Lee monument in Richmond

In two opinions issued Thursday, the Court denied challenges by a small group of neighbors and an heir to the family that initially granted the land for the monument.

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By Ned Oliver

The Supreme Court of Virginia cleared the way Thursday for Gov. Ralph Northam to remove the Lee Monument in Richmond, one of the largest Confederate memorials in the state.

In two opinions issued Thursday, the Court denied challenges by a small group of neighbors and an heir to the family that initially granted the land for the monument.

Northam announced he planned to take down the state-owned memorial in June 2020.

This is a breaking news update and will be updated as the situation develops.

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Community

Community Vaccination Hubs to Open in September

“These small hubs allow for folks to learn about events through word of mouth…communities know where we will be.” – Joanna Cirillo, Public Health Nurse Supervisor at RHHD

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From the Richmond Health District:

Starting in September, Richmond and Henrico Health Districts (RHHD) will open four COVID-19 vaccination hubs that will each operate weekly in the coming months. These four small hubs will supplement RHHD’s ongoing pop up events in partnership with large employers, faith communities, community organizations, and more.

The opening of the four hubs follows the closing of RHHD’s last mass vaccination site at George Wythe High School earlier this month. Hubs are located in Richmond’s downtown and southside and in eastern and western Henrico to provide access to multiple communities.

“What we learned throughout our vaccination efforts so far is that a combination of clinics at stable locations and pop up events with community outreach is helpful in creating vaccine access,” explains Joanna Cirillo, Public Health Nurse Supervisor at RHHD. “These small hubs allow for folks to learn about events through word of mouth…communities know where we will be.”

The clinic locations and times are as follows:

  • Tuesdays, 3:00 pm-6:00 pm (first clinic on September 7th): Second Baptist Church (3300 Broad Rock Blvd)
  • Wednesdays, 1:00 pm-4:00 pm: Henrico Recreation Center (1440 N Laburnum Ave)
  • Thursdays, 1:00 pm-4:00 pm: RHHD Downtown Location (400 E Cary St)
  • Fridays, 9:00 am-12:00 pm: RHHD Henrico West Location (8600 Dixon Powers Dr)

To learn more about all available COVID-19 vaccination opportunities, visit vax.rchd.com.

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