Oct 4, 2021 • 24M

October 4, 2021: Public hearings underway for legislative redistricting in Virginia; Suicide prevention hotline to be reachable at 9-8-8

Also, I try to take transit to a new destination. Did I make it on time?

Sean Tubbs
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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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Let’s begin today with two Patreon-fueled shout-outs. One person wants you to know:

"We keep each other safe. Get vaccinated, wear a mask, wash your hands, and keep your distance."

And in another one, one brand new Patreon supporter wants you to go out and read a local news story written by a local journalist. Whether it be the Daily Progress, Charlottesville Tomorrow, C-Ville Weekly, NBC29, CBS19, the community depends on a network of people writing about the community. Go learn about this place today!

On today’s show:

  • A local nonprofit that focuses on water quality releases a report card for the Rivanna River

  • The legislative redistricting process continues this week with a public hearing scheduled for Thursday

  • The September surge of COVID-19 cases continues to slow down, but there’s still cause for concern

  • I try to take transit to a campaign forum! 

The summer COVID surge continues to wane in Virginia, with a seven-day average of new cases at 2,748 and the seven-day positive test rate is 8.5 percent, down from 10.9 percent three weeks ago. The number of COVID deaths continues to increase with 819 fatalities reported since three weeks ago. 

The Blue Ridge Health District reports another 69 new cases today with a percent positivity rate at 7.2 percent. There have been 17 deaths reported since September 13. 

Case counts are trending downward but are still higher than at the beginning of the summer. 

“There are a lot of factors that play into that,” said Dr. Kyle Enfield, an assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Virginia. “One is that as lots of people have been infected, there are fewer people that are susceptible to Delta at this point in time.  We have seen locally based on data that was collected through social media that mask usage has gone up and there was an uptick in vaccination that has probably contributed to this.”

However, Dr. Enfield said behavioral changes that come with seasonal transitions could push case counts back up. 

“If we look at what happened in October and November and December of last year, we saw increased spread as people moved from the outdoors into the indoors more often so I think there is still some thought and some pause in the epidemiology community that we could see that surge again,” Dr. Enfield said. 

A COVID-19 model developed by the University of Virginia’s Biocomplexity Institute currently shows a downward trend in cases. Dr. Enfield said epidemiologists remain concerned about the emergence of a new variant, and the best way to reduce the risk of that taking hold is for people to get vaccinated and to continue to wear masks. 

If our collective efforts to guard the health of the Rivanna River were graded, we’re doing about average. The Rivanna Conservation Alliance has presented their first Rivanna River Report Card by sifting through five years of data from the 50 monitoring sites they have throughout the watershed to look for the presence of E. coli bacteria. 

“A stream’s biological health is measured by catching, identifying, and counting the different small organisms that live in it,” reads the report card. 

The RCA has been monitoring water quality since 2003 when part of it was known as StreamWatch. Monitoring sites closer to developed areas tend to register as poor or fair. 

The RCA further breaks the watershed down into five subwatersheds. The Lower Rivanna in Fluvanna county scored the highest with a health rating of 63.7 and South Fork Rivanna subwatershed #1 in western Albemarle scored second at 62.4. Anything over 60 meets the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s water quality standards. 

The South Fork Rivanna subwatershed #2 is at 57.8. The North Fork subwatershed covers portions of Greene and Orange counties as well as northeastern Albemarle and is at 54.9. The Middle Rivanna which includes Charlottesville and southern Albemarle is at 51.9. 

To learn more about the RCA’s monitoring efforts, visit their website at rivannariver.org

If you live in the 804 or 276 area codes, you will soon need to dial ten numbers when making a phone call. That’s because of a need to prepare for the launch next year of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Beginning on July 16, 2022, people in crisis will be able to call 988 to connect with mental house counselors. Both the 804 area code for Richmond and the 276 area area code for southwest Virginia have exchanges that start with 988, hence the need to switch to ten-digit dialing. For now if you or anyone else need to access the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, you can do so at 1-800-273-8255. Learn more about the transition at the Federal Communication Commission’s website

Public hearings are underway today for maps for new legislative boundaries in Virginia with virtual events for northern Virginia and southwest Virginia. Over the weekend, the 16-member redistricting committee worked to finalize maps for the 100-member House of Delegates as well as the 40-member Virginia Senate. They did not reach consensus, and four sets of maps are still under consideration. 

On Saturday, they discussed two approaches to how the Charlottesville area would be redrawn. We are in the Central Region and the public hearing for the area is Wednesday at 4 p.m. Register here

Under the A7 Statewide map for the House of Delegates drawn by the Republican consultant, Albemarle County is split into three legislative districts. Northern Albemarle would be in the 74th District along with all of Greene and some of Orange County. Charlottesville would be in the 75th District along with much of Ivy in Albemarle County. Southern Albemarle would be in the 76th District along with all of Amherst and Nelson counties. (A7 map comment page)

Under the B6 Statewide Map for the House of Delegates drawn by the Democratic consultant, Albemarle is in two districts. Charlottesville would be in the 80th district with central-eastern Albemarle. All of Albemarle County would be in the 81st District along with a portion of eastern Augusta County. (B6 map comment page)

Under the A5 statewide map for the Senate drawn by Republican consultant, Albemarle and Charlottesville would be within the 31st District along with Nelson, Fluvanna, and Buckingham counties. (A5 Senate map)

The B4 statewide map drawn by Democratic consultant is similar, but the 31st District would include Greene rather than Nelson. (B4 Senate map)

The Redistricting Commission did not reach consensus on how to proceed with the House of Delegates before the public hearings began. The Commission next meets on October 8. Watch Saturday’s six hour meeting here

In another sign that the pandemic is loosening its grip on the delivery of some government services, walk-in service will begin tomorrow at Virginia Department of Motor Vehicle customer service centers across the Commonwealth. 

“At the direction of the General Assembly, DMV is integrating walk-in service back into its operations in addition to appointments,” reads a press release sent out this morning. “Based on research, surveys, experience, and the ongoing pandemic, DMV developed a hybrid service model to offer options and flexibility.”

Walk-in service will be available Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Appointments are required for Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The release states that masks are required and long wait times should be expected. Appointment service began in May 2020 after a two-month closure due to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in the early days of the pandemic. 

In today's subscriber-fueled public service announcement: Lovers of used books rejoice! The Friends of the Jefferson Madison Regional Library will resume the tradition of their annual Fall Book Sale this October 2nd through October 10 at a new location! The Friends of the Library sale will take place at Albemarle Square Shopping Center from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day. Half-price days on October 9 and October 10. Questions? Visit jmrlfriends.org for more information.

October is Try Transit month, and anyone who follows me on Twitter knows I have a real passion for getting around the world without driving alone. Maybe it was those old Greyhound ads, but I’d rather leave the vehicle maneuvering to someone else. 

So, over the next month I’m going to take a little time in some of these newsletters to document my attempts to get to various places without getting in a car. Some context. I own a car, but it’s at a point where I need to make a repair before I can use it again. I do plan to do that in the near future, but for now I’ve been using the new Charlottesville Area Transit app. Again, anyone who’s followed me on Twitter the past few years knows I like to document my regular journeys. 

My view of the app as I tried to decide if I had enough time to take the bus to get from Fifeville to the Hillsdale Conference Center

The new app presents an opportunity for me to describe a little bit about how I personally use it to try to get around. I am not an advocate and none of this is intended to persuade any policy decisions. I’m simply going with what I have. (download the app)

So, in a future installment of Charlottesville Community Engagement, you will hear clips from a Charlottesville City Council campaign forum that my company Town Crier Productions held with the Free Enterprise Forum. This in-person event was to be held at the Hillsdale Conference Center on Hillsdale Drive just over the border into Albemarle County. For some context, a friend of mine asked if she could store a car in my driveway, and I had permission to use it. But, as our audio story begins, with no further narration outside the moment, I was determined not to use it. 

Yesterday’s newsletter, however, was delayed by a total crash of the work I’d put into the podcast close to the end of production. I had to take an hour to recreate things. 

I’ve been using the new SPOT app which makes it easier to see where the buses are in relation to each other. The app I had before just told me the estimated times before a bus would show up at a stop. That was not enough information to be able to rely on to get to where I am going.

This app, though? After you get used to it, it’s easier to see where the buses are in relation to each other. In the past few weeks, I’ve been using it to time my trips to the grocery store. I’ve gained a new appreciation for the Willoughby Shopping Center, which is currently a de facto hub for the southern end of Charlottesville. I’ve seen a lot, and don’t yet know how to report it all. 

So, this is the first of a series of trips I hope to record and document. It’s October, but in the late afternoon of September 30, 2021, I was still trying to complete a newsletter. My intention had been to be done early, but… fate intervened. I still wanted to try to use the bus to get to the campaign forum, and this is an attempt to document that journey. 

Newsletter readers: You’ll have to listen to the rest to find out how I got to the event. I did get there, and you can watch the forum on YouTube.

But if you want to skip to the end, watch the video conclusion of my journey, also on YouTube.