If this were a Leap Year, July 18 would be the 200th day of 2022. However, this Monday is in fact the 199th day of the year and we are 532 days away from 2024. Are these numbers compelling or a distraction from the beginning of this 409th installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement? Let’s ask the Magic 8-ball! I’m your host, Sean Tubbs.
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In today’s installment:
An update on the COVID-19 pandemic as local experts anticipate a future surge
The Virginia Department of Health is cautioning swimming in the western tributaries of Lake Anna
The latest campaign finance numbers are in for Virginia’s Fifth District
Storefront vacancies are up in the six commercial areas tracked by the city of Charlottesville
And some updates on infrastructure projects in Albemarle County
First shout-out: Piedmont Master Gardeners want to help you rethink your lawn
In today’s first subscriber supported public service announcement: Have you thought about changing up your lawn to something more sustainable for pollinators and other creatures? The Piedmont Master Gardeners wants you to know about a program called Healthy Virginia Lawns which can assist you in your transition. The program is a joint venture of Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. If interested, the first step will be for a Piedmont Master Gardener to come for a visit for an assessment and soil tests.
Healthy Virginia Lawns will give you a customized, science-based roadmap to a greener landscape that protects water quality, wildlife and other resources along the way. Visit piedmontmastergardeners.org to learn more!
Youngkin’s health department makes COVID quarantines optional in education and childcare setting
On Friday, Governor Glenn Youngkin announced that the Virginia Department of Health has updated its guidance for children, teachers and staff in educational and camp settings.
“This revised guidance outlines that quarantine is no longer routinely recommended for asymptomatic individuals after exposure to COVID-19 infected individuals,” reads the updated guidance “In general masks are not routinely recommended in these settings, indoors or outdoors, except during isolation.”
The guidance continues a shift away to individual decisions related to the pandemic rather than mandates. The federal Centers for Disease Control has a much more broad system of quarantine protocols, which can be reviewed here.
Dr. Costi Sifri, director of hospital epidemiology at the UVA Health System, said schools and day care facilities should do what they can to improve spaces to reduce transmission, especially before the school year begins.
“Those include things like just understanding whether there are more opportunities to improve ventilation and those other engineering type approaches to reducing risk of transmission within schools,” Dr. Sifri said. “We know the virus is not going to go away.”
Today the Virginia Department of Health reports a seven-day average of 2,930 new cases a day and the seven-day percent positivity ratings for PCR tests is at 23 percent. This continues an upward trend that dates back to the spring as newer strains became more prevalent.
Dr. Sifri said the Omicron subvariant BA.5 continues to spread and he expects an additional surge in cases at some point in the near future.
“We’ve had new variants that have replaced previous variants and for most of 2022 what we’ve seen is that these variants are descendants or are related to the Omicron variant that was called BA.1,” Dr. Sifri said.
Dr. Sifri said reinfection is becoming more likely due to the new strains.
“That really helps us think about perhaps whom we should be trying to protect by revaccinating,” Dr. Sifri said. “The challenge is that the COVID vaccines are based on the original strain of COVID and the protection from that or from previous infection is unfortunately not as robust for general infection due to BA.5 or some of these newer variants.”
Dr. Sifri said vaccination and previous infections do protect against serious outcomes, except for those who are immunocompromised.
“So the CDC guidance and our recommendations are that if you are in a high-risk group, then you should make sure you are up to date with your COVID vaccine,” Dr. Sifri said.
Dr. Sifri noted that nearly half of the country is currently considered by the CDC as an area of high transmission. He recommends people wear masks, but acknowledged the political reality of America in the third year of the pandemic.
“We know that’s not being done in many places around the country,” Dr. Sifri said. “I just flew in from the west coast earlier this week and masking is really the exception to the rule on airplanes and in more airports right now. If you are in those situations and you’re not wearing a mask, you should anticipate that you could be exposed to COVID.”
To find out if you are eligible for another vaccine dose or to get vaccinated for the first time, visit vaccinate.virginia.gov to learn more.
Harmful algae bloom at Lake Anna
The Virginia Department of Health is asking people to avoid swimming in or contact with waters on the western side of Lake Anna and its tributaries due to the presence of a harmful algae bloom.
“Samples collected at six sites on the Upper and Middle Pamunkey Branch, including Terry’s Run, and the Upper and Middle North Anna Branches indicated a cyanobacteria bloom with cell concentrations at unsafe levels,” reads a VDH update posted on Friday.
The next update from VDH will be given some time in the second week of August. Until then, VDH cautions people to not fish, swim, or let pets in bodies of water that smell bad, look discolored, or have visible foam or scum on the surface.
For more on the topic across Virginia, visit www.swimhealthyva.com.
Good leads Throneburg in fundraising for 5th District Race
There are 113 days until election day and 59 days until the next time that candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives will have to file campaign finance reports. The most recent deadline was this past Friday for activity through June 30.
In the Fifth District, Republican Incumbent Bob Good of Evington has raised $848,271 in his reelection campaign for a second term, including $149,017 in transfers. Of the $679,372 in contributions, nearly 75 percent comes from individuals or entities who contributed $200 or more. About eleven percent came from political action committees.
Good has spent $570,585 and had an ending cash balance of $328,023 on June 30.
Democratic challenger Joshua Throneburg of Charlottesville has raised $446,579 so far, including $50,000 in loans. Just under 77 percent of the $396,379 in contributions came from individuals or entities who gave $200 or more.
So far, Throneburg has spent $320,531 and had $126,048 in cash on hand at the midway point of the year.
Second shout-out is for LEAP’s new Thermalize Virginia program
In today’s second Patreon-fueled shout-out: Have you been thinking of converting your fossil-fuel appliances and furnaces into something that will help the community reduce its greenhouse gas emissions? Your local energy nonprofit, LEAP, has launched a new program to guide you through the steps toward electrifying your home. Thermalize Virginia will help you understand electrification and connect you with vetted contractors to get the work done and help you find any rebates or discounts. Visit thermalizeva.org to learn more and to sign up!
Storefront vacancies up slightly in Charlottesville
Storefront vacancies are up in the six commercial areas tracked by the City of Charlottesville. That’s according to the latest twice a year report put together by the Office of Economic Development (read the report).
“This study examines only the ground-level retail storefronts at the six major shopping centers, so vacancies on the second floor and higher are not included,” reads the report. “Not all vacant buildings are included in the vacancy rate provided .”
Those six commercial areas include Barracks Road, the Downtown Mall, McIntire Plaza, Preston Plaza, Seminole Square, and the Corner.
There were 22 vacancies in January and that has risen to 33 in July. That does not include storefronts that are under renovation. When factored in percentage, the vacancy rate increased from 5.01 percent to 7.21 percent.
The study also does not cover West Main Street, which has some buildings that have storefronts that have never been filled.
The Flats at West Village used to have a restaurant that closed before the pandemic, and one retail space required to be built due to the zoning has never been occupied.
The Lark has seen two breweries come and go but the second closed during the pandemic. A retail space on Roosevelt Brown Boulevard has never been occupied.
The Standard has several retail spaces, and only one has been occupied. Another appears to be a storefront, but is actually an advertisement for a ghost kitchen.
Urban sidewalks are among several infrastructure projects under construction in Albemarle
Every quarter, Albemarle County’s Facilities and Environmental Services Department puts out an update of its activities. The latest is on the consent agenda for Wednesday’s meeting of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors. (read the report)
Here are some of the highlights:
Construction got underway in June on over 2,000 feet of sidewalk to connect Albemarle High School to Greer Elementary School. Funding comes from a one-time Neighborhood Improvements Funding Initiative as well as the Safe Routes to School program.
Replacement of 376 exterior windows at the county’s office building on McIntire Road is also underway. The windows all date back to the late 70’s when Albemarle bought the former Lane High School from the city of Charlottesville. This will reduce energy costs and the report notes that electricity consumption in June was down 13 percent over the same month in 2021.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency recently awarded Albemarle a $96,261 grant to study the potential for flooding in the 770-acre Branchlands watershed. This may take some years to complete.
Design for an entrance road for the first phase of Biscuit Run is still ongoing with negotiations continuing between county staff and the Virginia Department of Transportation. The first phase will consist of that road, restrooms, and a parking area. According to the report, completion of the first phase is now expected in September 2023.
Albemarle is considering using land proffered to the county as part of the Brookhill development for many uses, including a relocation of the vehicle maintenance facility used by Albemarle Public Schools. Other uses might include a solid waste convenience center, such as the one that will soon get under construction in Keene. A feasibility study for the Brookhill land should be ready in mid-August. The Southern Convenience Center is expected to be completed in December on a nearly $1.1 million budget.
Completion of several sidewalk projects is expected in the coming weeks. Albemarle was successful in getting revenue-sharing funds from the Virginia Department of Transportation for sidewalks and improvements on Rio Road, Avon Street, and U.S. 250 West in Crozet.
“The Rio Road Sidewalk Improvement project will connect the Stonehenge residential neighborhood to the John Warner Parkway and Rio Road sidewalk system. The Avon Street Walkway/Crosswalks Improvement project will provide sidewalks on the east side from Swan Lake Drive to Mill Creek Drive and then to Cale Elementary School [sic] and on the west side from Stoney Creek Drive to Arden Drive. The US 250 West-Crozet project will consist of the construction of sidewalk and crosswalks from Cory Farms to the Cloverlawn commercial area and Blue Ridge Shopping Center.”
Cale Elementary was renamed Mountain View in 2020.
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This is episode 409 of this program and I’ll be getting to work on 410 and beyond. I really want to get to 818, 820, and so on. This is the work I want to do and I believe the community benefits when I’m able to spend my time as a reporter.
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For more information on all of this, please visit the archive site Information Charlottesville to learn more, including how you too can get a shout-out! Thank you for reading, and please share with those you think might want to learn a few thing or two about what’s happening.