February 17, 2021: Blue Ridge Health District addresses vaccine issues, new pre-registration system; Council gets finance update, updates COVID ordinance

  
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On today’s program:

  • Officials with the Blue Ridge Health District lay out details for new statewide registration process

  • Charlottesville still projecting a shortfall in the current year’s budget 

  • University of Virginia bans in-person gatherings 

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Today’s newscast is being completed while there are reports of long lines at the mass vaccination clinic at the Blue Ridge Health District. In a few minutes, we’ll hear from people from officials with the district, but I’ve been sent photos of long lines and reports of people who have been waiting for hours. More on that as I can get questions answered. 

Update: The Blue Ridge Health District sent out this statement around the time of publication.




The first shot administered in the Blue Ridge Health District was given two months ago to Dr. Ebony Hilton
and since then there has been progress despite a limited supply of vaccines. Ryan McKay is the policy director at BRHD and he spoke at a press conference on February 16. 

“In our district, over 58,000 doses have been administered,” McKay said. “This includes vaccine that has been administered certainly by us at the Blue Ridge Health District. It also includes any other providers that are providing access to the vaccines so that would include Sentara Martha Jefferson and the University of Virginia Health System.” 

Recent snow and ice lead to cancellations of vaccinations and with more ice on the way, they’re preparing for more disruption. Today’s long lines are not related to this, at least according to what McKay said yesterday. 

“We had to reschedule appointments over the weekend related to weather-related issues which is also creating some of the scheduling issues that we’ve faced,” McKay said. “One thing we want to report now is that in anticipation of snow and what could be significant ice Thursday into Friday, we’re going to reschedule appointments on Thursday so anyone who has an appointment scheduled for Thursday will be rescheduled for Saturday and those who have appointments on Friday will be rescheduled for Monday.”

Speaking yesterday, Blue Ridge Health District officials acknowledged concerns about what has been perceived to be an inequitable distribution of the vaccine. Rebecca Schmidt is the district’s director of partnerships and strategic initiatives. She said the goal now is to ensure everyone has access to doses as more supply continues to flow into the district. 

“We know that this system overall was not set up to be equitable,” Schmidt said. “But now we have a little more of an opportunity to plan for what an equitable policy might look like in our district. And I will say that we are not alone in this. Nationally, in communities across our country, everyone is really grappling with this really inherent challenge when you have limited supply of a vaccine how do you get it out to communities across our district who have very different needs?”

Schmidt said that will lead to the creation of more ways for people to get vaccinated.

“There shouldn’t just be one avenue or one way that you get access to vaccine,” Schmidt said. “There are likely going to be lots of different ways. We know that one size does not fit all.” 

At today’s Board of Supervisor’s meeting, Liz Palmer mentioned vaccinations will be given at Yancey Community School this weekend in Esmont. Those slots are full, but it is an example of the kind of different event that will be held as the pandemic continues.

New system online

A new statewide registration system for vaccinations went online yesterday morning, and this includes a phone number people can call in either English and Spanish, with access to translators for other languages. Kathryn Goodman is the communications manager for the Blue Ridge Health District. 

“As many of you know, our health district here has had multiple surveys going out for individuals who are 65 plus, those in Phase 1A and Phase 1B, 16 to 64 with high-risk medical conditions, etc,” Goodman said. “All of those surveys have now been transferred to the new statewide system. So the state system is intended for us to have a streamlined database so we can pull information for anyone in our community who needs to be vaccinated.” 

I have questions out today to find out what went wrong today.  Thank you to those who sent in photos.

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As planning for mass vaccination continues, the pandemic continues to do what it does. There is a sudden spike today in the number of cases in the Blue Ridge Health District. District-wide there are another 173 cases reported today, with 80 reported from Charlottesville and 68 in Albemarle. These are the highest one-day number for both localities in for sometime, and quite possibly related to the return of the University of Virginia to in-person instruction on February 1. 

The University of Virginia has banned all in-person gatherings through at least February 26. The UVA COVID tracker reported 121 new cases on Monday, which is the largest one-day total since the dashboard was launched last August. For more information, read coverage in the Cavalier Daily. Earlier in the month, that newspaper also reported that fraternities and sororities were preparing for in-person gatherings. I highly recommend reading the Cavalier Daily when you can. 

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Charlottesville City Council took action to bring its COVID-19 ordinance back into compliance with Governor Ralph Northam’s current state of emergency, which allows up to 25 spectators at sports gatherings. The city’s ordinance caps that at 10, whereas Albemarle County follows Virginia rules with the higher number of fans allowed. Councilor Lloyd Snook brought up the topic. 

“We have three Little Leagues that are active,” Snook said. “They draw from both the city and the county. The confusion right now is that under at least some interpretations and the interpretation they’ve been using, although they are allowed to practice in the city, they are not allowed to play their games in the city.” 

Council had the choice to either amend the city’s ordinance to bring the city’s definition of sporting events into line with Virginia’s or repeal the ordinance. Council chose the former on a 4-1 vote with Mayor Nikuyah Walker objecting out of concerns related to the potential for parks and recreation employees to be placed in harm’s way.

 

Charlottesville City Council received several reports yesterday afternoon, beginning with an update on the city’s financial forecast. Senior Budget Analyst Ryan Davidson said nothing much has changed since the last one in January. (forecast)

“We’re still looking at projecting our revenues to come in approximately $9.9 million lower than the FY21 adopted budget amount,” Davidson said. 

For a sense of scale, that’s about five percent lower than expected. That’s largely due to a dramatic reduction in meals tax and transient lodging tax. 

A possible solution to close the gap is to use the $6.7 million reserve Council agreed to set aside in the FY21 budget. In a normal year, that money would have gone to pay for certain items in the capital improvement program. 

“It’s going to be and going to require an ongoing effort by everyone involved to manage the shortfall and we just need to continue to keep these figures in front of us as we’re continuing to make the decisions as we go through the fiscal year.” 

Budgets in future fiscal years are influenced by decisions made now, such as capital projects. I’ll have more on that in a moment, but for now, there was also a bit of news about filling a vacancy on the Charlottesville Police Civilian Review Board. Here’s Councilor Michael Payne. 

“Unfortunately we have not been able to schedule interviews by tonight’s meeting but the Council has decided we will schedule those interviews for this week and hold a special meeting this week in order to make that final appointment,” Payne said. 

There was also a long conversation about the credit card policy which I’ve clipped out for a future story that I hope to be able to get to later this week. There’s a chance I may just knit long soundbites into a podcast so people can hear the discussion in Councilor’s own words. This is issue is perhaps not as simple as you think, as at the heart of this conversation is one about community engagement. More on that later.