Jan 11, 2022 • 17M

January 11, 2022: New COVID records continue to be set in Virginia with 3,845 hospitalizations today; Blue Ridge Health District holds town hall

Plus: Fauquier County's Sheriff to lead public safety efforts in Virginia, and Youngkin names his medical advisory team

 
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Regular updates of what's happening in local and regional government in and around Charlottesville, Virginia from an award-winning journalist with nearly thirty years of experience.
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Welcome to January 11, and on this day in history, a lot of things have happened. What are they? That’s not the subject of this podcast and newsletter, which is called Charlottesville Community Engagement. What is the subject of this podcast and newsletter? The Magic 8-ball says “ask again later.” Until then, I’m your host, Sean Tubbs, with another documentation of a few things that have happened and a look ahead to others. 

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On today’s show:
  • The Blue Ridge Health District holds a town hall on the pandemic surge amid record hospitalizations in Virginia 

  • Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin names his medical advisory team

  • The Sheriff of Fauquier County is Governor-elect Youngkin’s choice to serve as Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security

  • More bills are pre-filed before tomorrow’s start of the General Assembly including a halt to Virginia’s minimum wage increase

  • And the Albemarle Planning Commission will take up a rezoning for a hotel on Pantops 

First Patreon-fueled shout-out

The Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Campaign  is an initiative that wants you to grow native plants in yards, farms, public spaces and gardens in the northern Piedmont. Winter is here, but spring isn’t too far away. This is a great time to begin planning for the spring. Native plants provide habitat, food sources for wildlife, ecosystem resiliency in the face of climate change, and clean water.  Start at the Plant Northern Piedmont Natives Facebook page or the Piedmont Natives Plant Database! Think spring! 

Pandemic surge expected to continue as omicron spread continues

The January 2022 COVID-19 surge continues with another 16,681 new cases reported this morning by the Virginia Department of Health and the seven-day average for new cases is 17,037. Virginia set another new one-day record on Saturday with 26,175 new cases. The seven-day percent positivity has increased to 36 percent. 

Today, the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association reports another new record of COVID hospitalizations today with 3,845 with 589 of those patients in intensive care units and 328 on ventilators. That’s a record for ICU patients, but today’s ventilator count matches exactly one year ago today. 

Today in the Blue Ridge Health District, there are 352 new cases and the percent positivity has increased to 29.1 percent. Ryan McKay is the director of policy, planning, and operations for the BRHD and he and others spoke at a Town Hall last night. (view the slides)

“We are currently experiencing the highest transmission of COVID since the pandemic started and it’s a pretty drastic increase in what we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks,” McKay said. “And really what we anticipate is that it will continue to increase.” 

McKay also said these numbers are likely all an undercount as some testing is happening at home and those numbers are not reported to the Virginia Department of Health. Last week’s winter weather also delayed testing events. 

“These numbers seem a little bit cold but there’s a very human element to all of this in terms of individuals getting sick,” McKay said. “There’s the risk of long COVID which has been proven over the last two years of the pandemic. And then there are broader societal, economic, and infrastructure related impacts that we’re beginning to see.” 

McKay said the key is getting people vaccinated and boosted. 

Vaccination data for the Blue Ridge Health District 

Dr. Michael Williams is the director of the Center for Health Policy at the University of Virginia. He said the surge is causing a strain on staff and resources. As of yesterday, there were 89 COVID patients at UVA Health.

“The ripple effects work outward from the units in which we take care of these patients which has become more than just out specialized units,” Williams said. “The ripple effects work their way back into the operating room where I spend a lot of my time as a surgeon where patients are having a difficult time to start there are elective and we’ve had to prioritize patients who have cases like cancer and heart disease that are unstable to make sure those that delayed.”

Williams said this extends to emergency rooms and urgent care facilities, which are also feeling the strain during this surge. People are asked not to go to the hospital to get a COVID test. 

“Honestly if you come to our [emergency department] at UVA Health for a COVID test and that’s the only reason you’re there, you will wait and and you will wait and you will wait because there are people who are sick with any number of things.” 

Williams said people who need a PCR test should visit their primary care physician or visit a testing center.

Dr. Taison Bell spends a lot of time in the intensive care units at UVA and never expected that he would be seeing a record number of COVID patients.

“When a patient does have COVID we do have to manage them differently regardless of what their underlying problem is,” Bell said. “We have to put them in isolation so they don’t transmit to other people. Sometimes when they need to be discharged, the rehab facility may not clear them for transfer until they have a negative COVID test so patients stay in the hospital longer. They demand more resources. That makes it overall harder to take care of these patients and it puts a strain on the system.” 

Dr. Bell said the omicron variant has led to infections in people who are vaccinated and boosted and he explained why. 

“The vaccines were specifically designed to prevent serious illness and they continue to do that consistently,” Bell said. “We were spoiled early on because they were so effective when it came to preventing infection but omicron has proved to be a very challenging variant. It has shown an ability to try to get over those initial hurdles but that backstop of preventing you from getting seriously ill is still holding firm.” 

Dr. Bell said most of his patients are still unvaccinated, and he encourages everyone to get their shots, get their booster, and continue to wear masks. 

“We can expect more people to get infected but if we’re vaccinated and boosted, we can keep people out of the hospital and keep the strain off of the health care system,” Dr. Bell said. 

Just as this post was about to be published, Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin named the members of an advisory team related to the pandemic.

“I recognize the severity of the virus and the significant loss that it has caused. Virginians should rest assured that we are monitoring this variant and doing everything we can to be smart about this. I will enter office ready to reopen Virginia, support our healthcare heroes, and protect the lives and livelihoods of Virginians,” Youngkin said in a release.

They are:

  • Chair: Dr. Marty Makary, M.D., M.P.H., Johns Hopkins Medicine

  • Nancy Howell Agee, President and CEO, Carilion Clinic

  • Kathy Gorman, M.S.N., R.N., F.A.A.N, Executive Vice President and COO, Children’s National

  • Alan Levine, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Ballad Health
    Bogdan Neughebauer, M.D., PhD, MBA, CPE, FACP, FIDSA, Sentara Healthcare

  • Anand Shah, M.D., M.P.H., former Deputy Commissioner for Medical and Scientific Affairs at FDA


    Ex-Officio:

  • Secretary of Health and Human Resources John Littel

  • Senator Siobhan Dunnavant

  • Senator Todd Pillion

    Need a test? Consult the above for information on how to get one, though there will be delays
Albemarle Planning Commission to hold public hearings on Pantops hotel

The first meeting of the Albemarle Planning Commission begins tonight at 6 p.m. and two of the items on the agenda are public hearings to clear the way for a hotel on Pantops on U.S. 250 just to the west of the Rivanna Ridge Shopping Center. 

The matter went before the Pantops Community Advisory Committee for an update at their meeting in November. Andy Reitelbach is a senior planner with Albemarle County. 

“The applicant has submitted this application to request to amend the application and proffers associated with two previous rezonings,” Reitelbach said. 

The amendments are needed to allow the use of a hotel, which was not anticipated in the rezoning that created the Rivanna Ridge Shopping Center. 

“The project is in the Rivanna Magisterial District and the parcel is a little over 2.6 acres in size,” Reitelbach said. 

The plan had not changed since it was before the CAC at a community meeting in January. One aspect of the plan is that left turns onto U.S. 250 will not be permitted. Justin Shimp is the civil engineer for the project. 

“As some of you are all aware VDOT is getting ready to put up a median up Route 250 all the way from the Wawa up to the top of the mountain and that will restrict our ability to make a full l left turn out of our site,” Shimp said. 

The Albemarle County Planning Commission meets virtually at 6 p.m. and has two new voting members in Fred Missel and Luis Carrazana. Missel is director of design and development at the University of Virginia Foundation and Carrazana is the associate architect of the University of Virginia. (meeting info)

For more information, read Pantops CAC gets a look at the Overlook Hotel from last January on Information Charlottesville.

Credit: Shimp Engineering
Council meeting in closed session today

At publication time, City Council is in closed session to interview prospective candidates for the interim city manager position. Late last year the city hired the Robert Bobb Group to provide internal staff to perform the duties of city manager. During the closed session, they are meeting with Bobb directly. Stay tuned until tomorrow’s edition for any potential news. Listen to the podcast to hear the closed session motion, the first such event by this new City Council.

Today’s second Patreon-fueled shout-out:

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Fauquier County’s Sheriff to head public safety in Virginia

Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin has selected the Sheriff of Fauquier County to serve as the next Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security. That person oversees the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority, the Virginia Department of Corrections, the Department of Criminal Justice Services, the Department of Emergency Management, and the Department of Fire Programs

Robert “Bob” Mosier (Credit: Fauquier County website)

Robert Mosier was elected in November 2015 to serve Fauquier County and according to the press release he embraced “new technologies for the enforcement of criminal, illegal drug and gang activities, modern traffic safety concepts, enhancement of school safety and better partnerships with the community.” Mosier has been in law enforcement since he was 19 and Youngkin said he will lead efforts to increase pay and to fully fund police departments across Virginia. 

“Together, we will protect qualified immunity, and on Day One fire the Parole Board,” Youngkin is quoted in the release. Learn more about Mosier on the Fauquier County website

Inauguration Day is in four days. 

General Assembly bills continue to be filed, including one to stop the minimum wage increase
As of publication time, there are 509 pieces of legislation pending in the 2022 Virginia General Assembly. Visit the Legislative Information System for updates.

The General Assembly session begins tomorrow and the trickle of pre-filed bills and turned into more of a torrent. Here are some highlights from recent days. 

  • Delegate Marie March (R-7) has a bill requiring localities to post copies of their elected body’s minutes on a website seven days after they are officially approved. (HB150)

  • March also wants the state to create one single central database for all public records. (HB154)

  • March has filed another bill limiting a governor’s emergency declaration to a 45-day period and limiting their power. (HB151) This is a common desire by Republican legislators, as Delegate Kathy Byron (R-22) has a similar bill (HB157) and another that would require the General Assembly to take any action on any emergency rule after a 45-day period. (HB158) Delegate Daniel Marshall (R-14) submitted (HB183)

  • March also wants people injured on the job to be required to take a drug test. (HB153)

  • Delegate Candy Mundon King (D-2) wants to amend the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act to require fingerprinting of all employees of companies that have more than four rental units. (HB160)

  • The last General Assembly adopted a law requiring all municipal elections to be held in November, but a bill from Delegate David Suetterlein (R-19) would apply that only to municipalities over 200,000 people. (SB147)

  • Delegate Chris Runion (R-25) has a bill to replace the charter for the Town of Grottoes in Rockingham County. (HB161)

  • Delegate Margaret Ransone (R-99) has legislation that would take the ability of the town council of Colonial Beach to fire the police chief and give it to the town manager. (HB164)

  • Ransone has another bill that would repeal provisions that are set to seal criminal records in some instances. (HB181)

  • Delegate Barry Knight (R-81) has a bill that would authorize the issuance of $101 million in bonds to fund projects at James Madison University and Virginia Tech. (HB165)

  • Delegate Daniel Marshall (R-14) would repeal the state’s minimum wage increase to $11 an hour. (HB171)

  • Marshall has another bill that would allow localities to require screening of solar facilities from secondary roads. (HB172)

  • Delegate Robert Bloxom (R-100) has a bill that would place limits on campaign contributions. (HB174)

  • Another common thread this year is Republican desire to place restrictions on absentee ballots, and Bloxom is advancing several in HB175, HB177, and HB178. Delegate Ranson has a bill to repeal a provision that would allow voter registration up to election day. (HB185)

  • Bloxom would also create the Forest Sustainability Fund. (HB180)

  • Finally today, Delegate Jeffrey Campbell (R-6) has a bill that would create the Nitrile Glove Manufacturing Training Grant Program which would “support the recruitment and training needs of nitrile glove manufacturing companies located in the Mount Rogers Planning District.” (HB186)

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