January 26, 2022: Augusta and UVA Health systems make vaccination plea; DEQ investigating oil leak off of Emmet Street
Plus: Albemarle County wants to pay landlords a bonus to talk on tenants with housing vouchers
One is tempted to say “G’Day Mate” given that January 26, 2022 is Australia Day, but that would be a cheap trick to which I will not surrender. I could celebrate National Peanut Brittle Day, but I suspect that may not really exist. Or perhaps National Spouses Day is more appropriate, given my dedication to creating Charlottesville Community Engagement, a program that seeks to bring you information for better or worse. I am Sean Tubbs, and let’s get started.
On today’s edition:
Area contractors may soon have a cheaper option to dispose of some construction material
UVA and August Health plea for the public to get vaccinated
Albemarle County will pay property owners to lease people who hold housing vouchers
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is investigating a petroleum leak
Shout-out to Code for Charlottesville
Code for Charlottesville is seeking volunteers with tech, data, design, and research skills to work on community service projects. Founded in September 2019, Code for Charlottesville has worked on projects such as an expungement project with the Legal Aid Justice Center, a map of Charlottesville streetlights, and the Charlottesville Housing Hub. Visit codeforcville.org to learn about those projects.
Augusta and UVA Health systems make vaccination plea
The leaders of major hospitals in both the Shenandoah Valley and Charlottesville are pleading with unvaccinated members of the community to get a dose in order to help reduce the strain on health care workers.
“For the past several weeks we’ve routinely had more than 100 patients hospitalized with COVID and this has really been the most we’ve seen at any point in the pandemic here at UVA,” said Wendy Horton, the CEO of UVA Health System.
Horton said the majority of these hospitalized patients are unvaccinated. That’s also the case at Augusta Health, which is losing people two years into the pandemic.
“We find that well over 80 percent of our inpatients are unvaccinated and one hundred percent of our patients that are on ventilators are unvaccinated so that kind of gives you a feel for what’s happening in the field,” said Mary Mannix, the CEO at Augusta Health.
Horton said Augusta Health doesn’t have as many patients in hospital because they took a different approach during delta to treat as many people as possible through outpatient care. But, she said the strain is real.
“Our staffing levels are very different with this surge not only because our staff are getting exhausted and many staff are deciding to pivot their careers and focus in different directions but also with the high transmission of omicron, we have staff out every day,” Mannix said.
The omicron surge is showing signs of waning with the seven-day average today down to 11,891 new cases a day, down from 18,782 two weeks ago. Hospitalizations are also down, but Horton says the strain on the system is still being felt.
“Even though it appears we may soon be reaching the peak of omicron, we know that it’s going to take several weeks or even months before hospitalizations return to pre-omicron levels,” Horton said.
Vaccination shots per day have declined to a seven-day average of 10,488, a number that has declined sharply this month. While 68.7 percent of Virginians are fully vaccinated, fewer Virginians have received a booster or third dose. In Albemarle, 75.9 percent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated, but only 48.9 percent have gotten their additional shots In Augusta, those numbers are 55.8 percent and 28.7 percent respectively.
Mannix urges the public to take advantage of vaccines that are available for free.
‘We really need the community as Wendy said a few moments ago to step up and help us and that continuing to follow what science has proven is efficacious, and that is social distancing, wearing our masks, and most importantly getting vaccinated,” Mannix said.
Meanwhile, policy in the Commonwealth of Virginia continues to shift. The acting Commissioner of the Virginia Health has announced an end to tracking and tracing of all cases in favor of tracking down major outbreaks.
“Public health staff will prioritize responding to COVID-19 clusters and outbreaks in long-term care facilities and other congregate settings, healthcare settings, and other high-risk settings, and will focus follow-up with individuals most at risk for negative health effects from COVID-19,” reads a press release. “VDH will continue to partner with K-12 schools on prevention strategies to reduce spread in schools so schools can remain open and safe.”
The VDH also continues to stress that vaccination is the key to continuing to fight the pandemic.
“Bonus bucks” project launched in Albemarle
Albemarle County is offering a one-time bonus to property owners to take on tenants whose rent will be subsidized through the Housing Choice Voucher program.
“[The Albemarle County Office of Housing] currently has between 15 to 20 clients with vouchers who will be seeking apartments starting February 1,” reads a press release for the Bonus Bucks program.
Each of those clients has 90 days from receipt of the voucher to find a place to live. One of the difficulties has been finding people willing to take on tenants. The $24,000 in funding comes from the American Rescue Plan Act.
This action helps implement a section of the recently adopted Housing Albemarle plan. Notably Strategy 9B, which is to “Expand community’s knowledge of rights and responsibilities under the Virginia Landlord and Tenant Act.”
Petroleum has leaked into Moores Creek tributary
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is investigating a petroleum seep that is affecting an unnamed tributary of Moores Creek, according to the city of Charlottesville.
“The suspected responsible party, Charlottesville Tire & Auto, is working with DEQ to mitigate the impact to the tributary,” reads a press release. “A subsurface investigation to confirm the source of the release is ongoing.”
Someone reported the information through DEQ’s Pollution Response program. This specific incident is known as a point source incident.
“The [Charlottesville] Fire Department observed a petroleum release to an unnamed tributary,” reads the incident report. “This is the same area where petroleum fumes have been reported. DEQ observed petroleum seep discharging from the southwest stream bank.”
According to the report, absorbent devices called booms have been placed in the area to try to remove the petroleum.
Supreme Court to hear case on federal water protection regulations
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take on a case that could remove federal protections over wetlands across the nation. The Court issued a writ of certiorari in the case of Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last September in favor of the agency’s claim that it has jurisdiction over a wetland in Idaho. At issue is the scope of the phrase “waters of the United States.” The plaintiffs filled in a wetland to build a home, but the EPA ordered them to remove the fill and restore natural conditions. They sued in 2008 and the Supreme Court will take up the matter in their next term next October. Learn more on Ballotpedia.
At that time, there will be at least one new Justice. Stephen Breyer announced today he will retire at the end of this term. He was appointed to the Court in 1994 by President Bill Clinton.
A shout-out to Camp Albemarle
Today’s second subscriber-supported public service announcement goes out to Camp Albemarle, which has for sixty years been a “wholesome rural, rustic and restful site for youth activities, church groups, civic events and occasional private programs.”
Located on 14 acres on the banks of the Moorman’s River near Free Union, Camp Albemarle continues as a legacy of being a Civilian Conservation Corps project that sought to promote the importance of rural activities. Camp Albemarle seeks support for a plan to winterize the Hamner Lodge, a structure built in 1941 by the CCC and used by every 4th and 5th grade student in Charlottesville and Albemarle for the study of ecology for over 20 years. If this campaign is successful, Camp Albemarle could operate year-round. Consider your support by visiting http://campalbemarleva.org/donate.
Debris pick-up delay
This week, the city of Charlottesville is picking up debris from the storm that hit Virginia on January 3, but this morning they announced there will be delays.
“The anticipated schedule shows completion of storm debris collection one day behind the original schedule, with Friday collection concluding on Monday, January 31st,” reads a press release. “This schedule is subject to change due to volume and the possibility of winter weather forecasted for the end of the week.”
Meanwhile the deadline has passed for people to take debris directly to the Ivy Materials Utilization Center.
“Through the program we had over 1,100 vehicles from the city and the county bring about 400 tons of vegetated debris to the landfill,” said Bill Mawyer, the director of the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority. “We grind it and make mulch and sell the mulch.”
Visit rivanna.org to learn more about the Ivy Materials Utilization Center.
Solid waste authority may take more “clean fill” construction debris
Where do buildings go when they are demolished? In some cases, removed concrete ends up being buried underground. In recent years, Albemarle County changed its rules to make it more difficult to do so. Now the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority is considering using an unused portion of the Ivy Landfill to accept some of the material.
“We’ve been approached three times in the last about 12 months by some regional and local large construction firms [such as] Faulconer Construction, Curtis Construction, and they’ve been looking to find a solution for disposing of clean fill from some large projects,” said Phil McKalips, the solid waste manager at the RWSA.
First, a definition of clean fill. That refers to uncontaminated soil, bricks, dirt, concrete without extended rebar, asphalt, and other solid material that does not contain chemicals that can leach into groundwater.
“No roofs, not grass, no organics, things like that,” McKalips said. “So, it’s pretty inert material.”
Steps need to be taken to make sure the final resting place for the material has stormwater controls. Currently the RWSA performs that work and accepts the material at $10 a ton. Contractors argue that’s too high.
“They wanted to see if there was some way that if they did all of the grading and the placement and the backfill and everything else, is there a way we could come up with a reduced fee,” McKalips said.
Under the new arrangement, the new fee would be $3.50 a ton.
McKalips said the space would last between five to ten years based on the amount of construction going on in the area. He estimated this would bring in up to $1.4 million in revenue. To make it work, the fee schedule needs to be updated with a public hearing at the RSWA’s next meeting on March 22.
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