June 18, 2021: Albemarle briefed on use of COVID recovery funding; Juneteenth is a national holiday


In today’s Patreon-fueled shout-out: Code for Charlottesville is looking for volunteers to help with the Summer Session of their Pro Bono Tech Consulting Shop! The Shop is a pro bono IT consulting and problem-solving service for nonprofit organizations in Charlottesville and Central Virginia. Code for Charlottesville assigns small teams of volunteers to work directly with someone at a nonprofit to solve a specific issue with tech, data, or web design. RSVP for the info session Monday, June 21 at 7pm at this link

In today’s edition:

  • Albemarle Supervisors say goodbye to some key staff members and get an update on how the county will utilize America Recovery Plan funding

  • The University of Virginia will soon close their community vaccination center at Seminole Square Shopping Center

  • A new connector road opens in Albemarle County 

Tomorrow is Juneteenth, marking the end of two and a half centuries of slavery in British colonies in North America as well as the young United States of America. The day parks the day in 1865 federal troops entered Galveston, Texas two months after the  Civil War to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. Here’s Vice President Kamala Harris at a bill signing yesterday.

“Throughout history, Juneteenth has been known by many names,” Harris said. “Jubilee Day. Freedom Day. Liberation Day. Emancipation Day. And today? A national holiday.”

Harris said there is much more work to be done to address racism in the United States, but the creation of a national holiday makes a statement. In this case, it’s to acknowledge history that many continued to be enslaved in Confederate states long after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863. 

“For more than two years, the enslaved people of Texas were kept in servitude,” Harris said. “For more than two years, they were intentionally kept from their freedom. For more than two years!” 

The Jefferson School African American Heritage Center will celebrate from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 19, with food, music, and “a non-sewing sewing event” from Stitch Please. That’s the podcast hosted by Lisa Woolfork. The event is free, but donations are encouraged. (register) For more on what’s happening this weekend to mark Juneteenth, visit this article on C-Ville Weekly

Just under half of Virginians are fully vaccinated according to the Virginia Department of Health. Becker’s Hospital Review ranks the Commonwealth number 16 among the 50 states and D.C. for percent of the population vaccinated, with Vermont at number one and Mississippi last. What do those numbers look like locally? Dr. Costi Sifri is director of hospital epidemiology for the University of Virginia Health System.

“Right now 79.9 percent, you know, 80 percent of all adults in Albemarle County have received at least one dose of vaccine,” Dr. Sifri said. “In Charlottesville that number is 68.1 percent.” 

Dr. Sifri said Nelson is also at 68.1 percent and Louisa is at 56.7 percent. 

Tonight, UVA Health will hold a vaccine clinic at the first Friday’s After Five event in over 21 months. Justin Vesser is a pharmacy supervisor for UVA Health who said the event is in partnership with Red Light Management. 

“We know we wanted to go to the Downtown Mall because that’s where people have gathered in Charlottesville from all different walks of life so they offered the perfect space at the Pavilion,” Vesser said. “We’ve had a fair number of vaccinations there but even more important I think we’ve had a great series of conversations with people especially about the topic of vaccine hesitancy. We’ve seen hesitancy head on down on the Downtown Mall.” 

UVA Health will close their community vaccine center at Seminole Square by the end of July and move it back to the hospital’s west complex at Jefferson Park Avenue and Lee Street. Justin Vesser is a pharmacy supervisor for UVA Health. 

“The Seminole Square vaccine site has been a huge boon to the community,” Vesser said. “We’ve been able to offer just a massive number of vaccines there with a really good experience for everyone who’s gone there. But the roster there has gone down and down and down. I think that shows signs of progress that we’re reaching most people who at this point want to get the vaccine.” 

A program to bring vaccines to people in their homes will continue.

“Those patients are often the most vulnerable among us who would potentially have the worst outcome if they were to get sick with COVID,” Vesser said, “We will continue to work with the fire departments and with the Blue Ridge Health District to offer those homebound vaccines until there’s nobody left, until there’s no demand for that.”

The seven-day average for new cases is 139 a day and the seven-day average for positive results is 1.5 percent. 

The state of emergency will lapse on June 30. Yesterday, the Commonwealth’s Attorney in both Albemarle and Charlottesville issued a joint statement that anyone who decides after that day to continue wearing a mask for COVID purposes will not be prosecuted. 

“A state law making it unlawful to wear a mask in public with the intent to conceal one’s identity will go back into full effect on that day,” reads the statement. “The same law permits the wearing of masks to protect the safety of the wearer and other persons.”

A new piece of roadway in Albemarle County has opened this week. The $2.9 million Rio Mills Connector runs for a quarter mile between Berkmar Drive Extension and Rio Mills Road and is now complete. This road allows for a gravel road that had lead to U.S. 29 to be closed to traffic, including trucks that access the Luckstone Quarry in the vicinity. 

This project is one of six designed and built by Curtis Consulting as part of a single contract. Two other recently completed projects are the new traffic light on U.S. 29 at Interstate 64, and improvements to the Fontaine Avenue interchange with U.S. 29. Coming up next is the diverging diamond at U.S. 250 and I-64 and roundabouts at U.S. 250 and Virginia Route 151 and Route 20 and Proffit Road.  (VDOT’s design-build project page)

Time now for another subscriber-supported PSA!

The Rivanna Conservation Alliance is looking for a few good volunteers to help out on Clean Stream Tuesdays, a mile and a half paddle and clean-up to remove trash and debris from popular stretches of the Rivanna River. Trash bags, trash pickers, gloves, and hand sanitizer/wipes will be provided, though volunteers will need to transport themselves to and from the end points. Kayaks for the purpose can be rented from the Rivanna River Company. Visit the Rivanna Conservation Alliance's volunteer page to learn more about upcoming dates.

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors said goodbye Wednesday to three employees, two of whom are retiring and one who is moving on to the School of Data Sciences at the University of Virginia. 

Michael Frietas has been the Chief of Public Works for Albemarle for the past 15 years, and the resolution in his honor recognized his work to help the conversion of the former Yancey Elementary School into the Yancey School Community Center.

Phyllis Savides was honored for 22 years in the county’s social services department as well as the director for the past several years. Here’s Deputy County Executive Doug Walker. 

“She is forever a champion of the underdog and that is a role that she relishes in all of our conversations by making sure that we don’t forget,” Walker said. 

The next person recognized hasn’t been with the county as long but has played a significant role in the past few years. Here’s County Executive Jeff Richardson. 

“I appreciate the Board’s formal resolution of recognition of Michael Freitas’ retirement and Phyllis Savides’ retirement,” Richardson said. “The third person this afternoon, Siri Russell, the situation is a little different. Siri will be leaving our organization at the end of the month and she will be taking a great opportunity to further her career.” 

Russell has been the director of Equity and Inclusion for Albemarle and will now be the Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the School of Data Science.

“”The good news is that Siri Russell will still be part of our community,” Richardson said. “She will still be part of our organization as a key partner agency.”

Richardson lauded Russell for her office’s recent annual report. For her part, Russell thanked the Board for taking the work seriously.

“It’s been a resolve for equity, a commitment to inclusion, to a diverse community, to justice, to recognizing lesser told histories and stories and to really furthering the work,” Russell said. “To collaboration with our partners like the city, the University of Virginia, and others.” 

Russell and Supervisor Ann Mallek recently appeared together on a panel discussion run by the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society.  

Later in the meeting, Supervisors discussed possible ways of using their share of American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding. At the public comment period, Roy Van Doorn of Charlottesville spoke on behalf of the area chapter of the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging, and Travel Association and asked for direct funding for recovery funds. 

“The ARP stipulates that 25 percent of these local funds be devoted to hospitality but the legislative text is not specific on how local governments should meet that goal,” Van Doorn said.

Van Doorn pointed to a decline in property assessments for hotel properties, as well as the shuttering of the wedding industry for 15 months, as signs of how the hospitality sector has been hurt. 

Courtney Cacatian, the executive director of the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau, said tourism provided 3,400 jobs and generated $14 million in tax revenues for Albemarle.  In 2020, that changed.

“COVID hit the tourism industry especially hard,” Cacatian said. “As our industry begins to climb back, it’s essential that we invest in promoting the county in order to have a strong recovery.”

The CACVB is funded in through transient lodging taxes, which means the budget for marketing is down. Cacatian asked the Board to consider using the ARP funds to make up the difference as well as support for the lodging industry. 

“The lodging industry has not received local COVID relief to date and I humbly ask the Board of Supervisors to consider providing grants to the sector for recovery,” Cacatian said. 

Chief Financial Officer Nelsie Birch then briefed the Board on what’s happening with the ARP. In all, the county will receive $21.2 million from the legislation, and half has already been distributed to the county. 

Unlike with the previous federal CARES funding, the U.S. Treasury directly funded localities, bypassing state governments. Birch described the broad category for how $4 million of the first portion will be spent. 

“We wanted to continue the work that we had started with the CARES CRF funding that we did on human services, economic activity and business support,” Birch said. “The Board also supported the use of about $3 million for broadband, knowing that that’s probably not all that we may want to contribute, but there was significant funding for broadband.” 

The rest of the funding could go to help Albemarle government as an organization, but staff are still seeking to identify how the funding would comply with federal rules. The Treasury Department is still taking comments, and so Supervisors won’t be asked to take a final vote on how to use the money until July.

Birch recommended a flexible approach to using the balance of the funding, given there are multiple sources of funding. 

“There is continued need right now because people are not out of the woods, businesses and households are not out of it,” Birch said. “The state is going to have a lot of funding available with respect to mortgage offset, rent relief, utility relief. We don’t yet know specifically how that is going to fund down to a local resident, but we know that there is something there.”

The Albemarle Broadband Authority could take up how to use the $3 million at their meeting next Wednesday. The Board of Supervisors will appropriate the full amount of ARP funding at their meeting on July 7.