Virginia Ranks Among Top States Most Prepared for Public Health Emergencies

Doctor with arms folded, holding stethescope

Virginia’s preparedness for public health emergencies ranks it among the top four in the U.S., according to the 2021 National Health Security Preparedness Index (NHSPI). The index looks at data from 64 sources across the public and private health sectors, creating an overview of health protections in place in each state; the national preparedness level is 6.8, but Virginia scored 7.4 out of ten.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been a real-world stress test of the readiness of Virginia governmental, health care delivery, and emergency management systems to respond to a major public health threat. Throughout this time, Virginia’s hospitals, public health and emergency management agencies, and other public and private sector stakeholders have effectively navigated this unprecedented crisis while facing many pandemic-related challenges,” states a Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association (VVHHA) press release.

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Some Virginia Schools Temporarily Close or Go Virtual When Dealing with COVID-19 Cases

Virginia public schools are reopening under a new law, SB 1303, which requires all schools to make in-person instruction available for the minimum standard required instructional hours — virtual learning can be provided, but must be optional. However, that doesn’t mean that local districts can’t choose to go virtual-only for limited amounts of time, as Rappahanock County Public Schools is currently demonstrating. On Monday, the district announced that amid rising COVID-19 and flu cases, the school was moving to virtual-only until August 27 while the district implements new mitigation strategies.

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300,000 Gallons of Raw Sewage Flowed into the James River Upstream of Richmond, Virginia

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) is warning people to avoid contact with water in a 12-mile stretch of the James River in Richmond. On Tuesday evening, a Goochland County sewer main ruptured, and remained open for several hours. 300,000 gallons of raw undiluted sewage flowed into Tuckahoe Creek, which flows into the James.

“For the safety of people and pets, VDH is advising that recreational water activities, such as swimming, wading, tubing, and whitewater kayaking (where submersion in the water is likely), should be avoided,” the VDH said in a Thursday press release. “Activities on the waterbodies, which are not likely to result in water submersion (boating, fishing, canoeing), may continue with proper caution to avoid contact with the water.”

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Virginia Department of Health Teams Up with Washington Football Team for Vaccine Promotion

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) teamed up Wednesday with the Washington Football Team to offer incentives for fans to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in Richmond. 

“We are pleased to work with the Washington Football Team to help ensure that Training Camp is a fun, safe, and educational environment for everyone in attendance,” State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, M.D. said, according to a press release. “Plus, with our mobile vaccination site set up all week at Training Camp, this is another wonderful opportunity for anyone who is able to get vaccinated to do so. Your best protection from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated.”

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Virginia Department of Health Recommends Local School Districts Require Masks in Elementary Schools

New guidance from the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Education asks local divisions to implement their own mask guidelines based on the local COVID-19 environment.

The guidance doesn’t include mandatory policies for the whole Commonwealth, but does recommend requiring masks for everyone in elementary schools regardless of vaccination status until vaccines are available for children under 12. They also recommend that middle- and high-school staff and students should wear masks if not vaccinated.

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Biden Door to Door Vaccination Campaign Launched in Western Tidewater Region of Virginia

Door knocking

The United States federal government is coming to Virginians’ doorsteps to ask for their personal medical information and vaccination status.  Vaccination efforts in the western Tidewater counties of Franklin, Suffolk, Isle of Wight County, and Southampton County are ramping up to include door-to-door operations.

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Watchdog: Virginia Employment Commission Still Struggling

A spokesperson for the Virginia Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) told legislators that the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) is still unable to answer most of its incoming calls and expressed concern about the backlog of certain types of claims requiring extra review. On Tuesday, JLARC Principal Legislative Analyst Lauren Axselle gave a brief update to legislators, noting that an interim report will be complete in September with a final report on the VEC scheduled for November.

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Virginia Department of Health Nominated for Emmy for ‘Students for COVIDWISE’ Video

Call it the Emmy-nominated Virginia Department of Health (VDH) now. On Tuesday, the VDH announced that a short video advertising the state’s COVID-19 tracking app has been nominated for a regional Emmy and won a Silver Telly Award.

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Virginia Launches Pandemic-Style Equity Dashboards

Virginia’s Health Equity Leadership created two new dashboards displaying equity data in a style similar to pandemic metric dashboards. The dashboards display data on current conditions in Virginia and on mitigation efforts.

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Virginia’s COVID-19 Case Numbers, Hospitalizations Down to Spring 2020 Levels

Virginia’s COVID-19 case numbers hit a new milestone on Monday: just 336 reported cases, according to the Virginia Department of Health; the last time numbers dropped below 400 was in June and April of 2020. According to the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, COVID-19 hospitalizations are low as well, with the seven-day moving average at 775 on Thursday; that number hasn’t been below 800 since late March 2020.

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COVID-19 Hospitalization, Daily Case Numbers Drop to October 2020 Levels

empty hospital room

After a major wave of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations during the winter, Virginia’s COVID-19 daily case and hospitalization statistics have gone down to levels not seen since October 2020.

On Sunday, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) reported 761 new cases, and on Monday, the VDH reported 611 new cases, down from the worst days January 16, 17, and 18 which reached respectively, 6,757 new cases, 9,914 new cases, and 7,245 new cases.

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2020 Was Record Year for Fatal Drug Overdoses in Virginia

Virginia had another record year for fatal drug overdoses in 2020. In 2019, Virginia had a record 1,627 fatal drug overdoses, but in 2020 that number spiked by 41.2 percent to 2,297, fueled by fentanyl overdoses, according to a fourth-quarter report from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH).

“The pandemic exacerbated drug deaths and last I checked, something like 40-plus states reported big increases in overdose deaths since the pandemic began,” VDH Statewide Forensic Epidemiologist Kathrin Hobron told The Virginia Star.

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Virginians 16 and Older Eligible for COVID-19 Vaccine

All Virginians 16 years old and older are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, as of Sunday.

“Over the past few months, we have made tremendous progress vaccinating Virginians as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible, and we need to keep up the good work,” Governor Ralph Northam said in a press release.

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Virginia COVID Vaccine Registration Site Launched, Immediately Crashes

A website launched by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) Tuesday allowing residents to register online to receive the COVID-19 vaccine immediately crashed due to high volume.

“The website was crashing early Tuesday morning, but was still working for some people,” WAVY reported. “As of 10:30 a.m., the issues appeared to have mostly subsided.”

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Virginia House Health, Welfare, and Institutions Committee Shoots Down Two VDH Sex-Ed Hotline Bans

The Virginia House of Delegates killed legislation that would have banned the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) staff from reaching out to minors about topics including sex, family matters, and unwanted pregnancy without parents’ permission. On Thursday, the Health, Welfare, and Institutions Committee voted to table SB 1235 after it passed in the Senate with narrow bipartisan support.

“This a parental rights [bill],” SB 1235 sponsor Senator Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg) said in subcommittee on January 28. “It just says that before anyone can contact our children anonymously, that they have to get parents permission.”

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Two New Dashboards Offer COVID Data for Virginia’s Colleges and Universities

Two new online dashboards have recently been launched to help provide awareness and track the spread of the coronavirus at Virginia’s colleges and universities as many institutions in the Commonwealth have already begun or are starting in-person classes soon.

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) launched its COVID-19 Outbreaks in Virginia Higher Education dashboard roughly two weeks ago.

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First Case of UK COVID-19 Variant Identified in Virginia, Health Department Says

The first confirmed case of the United Kingdom COVID-19 variant strain in Virginia has been identified, according to a press release on Monday from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the Department of General Services Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS).

What is currently known to be the only case in the Commonwealth so far was discovered in a sample from an adult residing in Northern Virginia with no recent travel history reported. The case was confirmed by DCLS using next-generation sequencing and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been informed of the matter, the release said.

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Virginia Senators Push Bill to Help Speed Up State Vaccination Effort

A bill to help Virginia speed up its mass vaccination effort by expanding who is allowed to inoculate citizens and where those injections can occur is being pushed by a bipartisan group of state Senators.

Flanked by various medical professionals, Senators Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City), Todd Pillion (R-Washington), Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach), George Barker (D-Fairfax) and Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico) held a news conference to discuss Senate Bill 1445 in Richmond on Thursday.

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Additional Walgreens in Virginia to Offer Free COVID-19 Antigen Testing, Health Department Says

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announced on Thursday that it is expanding its partnership with Walgreens to offer Abbott BinaxNOW rapid antigen COVID-19 testing for free at specific locations throughout the Commonwealth, according to a press release from the agency.

Before the expanded agreement only four Walgreens in the state were providing the drive-through tests, but now that number has increased to 15 select locations, the release said.

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Virginia Governor Expands Eligibility for Phase 1b COVID-19 Vaccinations

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) has expanded the eligibility for Phase 1b of the state’s vaccination effort to include people 65 and up as well as those between the ages of 16 to 64 who have high-risk medical conditions, he announced during a COVID-19 press briefing on Thursday. 

“This means about half of Virginia is now eligible to receive the vaccine,” the governor said. “That’s a major logistical effort and it is not going to happen overnight. Everyone will need to be patient; it’s going to happen as fast as it can be done.” 

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VDH launches Online Tool to Help Determine Virginians’ Vaccine Eligibility

With mass vaccination efforts now a month in, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has released a new online tool to help Virginians determine their eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine under the state’s multi-phase plan and when they can get it.

Completing the process is relatively simple and should not take more than 5 minutes maximum. Here is a step-by-step rundown

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Virginia Teachers Union President Calls for All-Virtual Learning Until School Staff get Vaccinated

Virginia Education Association (VEA) president James Fedderman wants public schools in the Commonwealth to go to fully virtual learning until teachers and school staff receive vaccinations to stop the spread coronavirus in schools.

Fedderman asked the governor and school leaders around the state to facilitate the instructional switch in a video published to the VEA website on Friday.

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Virginia Department of Health: Vaccinations for Second Phase Group Starting Next Week

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) said Friday that 11 select health districts around the state will begin vaccinating the second phase of priority populations, group 1b, this week, according to a press release from the agency. 

VDH’s announcement comes two days after Governor Ralph Northam held his first COVID-19 press briefing of 2021, where he said the state would be faster at administering vaccines, implemented a “use it or lose it” policy for providers and released specifics on the people in group 1b. 

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Governor Northam Appoints Dr. Danny Avula to Lead Virginia’s Vaccination Program

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has appointed Dr. Danny Avula, director of the Richmond City and Henrico County health departments, to lead the Commonwealth’s ongoing COVID-19 vaccination program.

Northam made the announcement during a coronavirus press briefing on Wednesday afternoon, the first time he has provided updates on the virus to the public in the new year.

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Bill Allowing Religious Exemptions for COVID-19 Vaccines to be Considered Again by General Assembly

With multiple COVID-19 vaccines now being distributed and administered across the Commonwealth of Virginia, a Republican state Senator is looking to revisit the topic of religious exemptions to immunizations when the General Assembly convenes for its regular session in ten days.

Senator Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg) has introduced and pre-filed Senate Bill 1116, which would allow for a parent or guardian to object to the vaccination of a child on the grounds that immunization conflicts with their religious practices or tenets, even during an emergency declared by the state board of health.

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Falls Church City Public Schools Plans to Have All Students Back In-Person by End of January

Falls Church City Public Schools plans to have all students back to in-person classes by the end of January, according to a notice from Superintendent Peter Noonan.

“ALL students are slated to return in the month of January,” Noonan said on Monday. “We plan to return students in phases beginning on January 5, 2021, consistent with employee capacity to clean our buildings. We will open, starting with the smallest cohort and lead up to the largest cohort.”

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Falls Church City Public Schools Plans to Have All Students Back In-Person by End of January

Falls Church City Public Schools plans to have all students back to in-person classes by the end of January, according to a notice from Superintendent Peter Noonan.

“ALL students are slated to return in the month of January,” Noonan said on Monday. “We plan to return students in phases beginning on January 5, 2021, consistent with employee capacity to clean our buildings. We will open, starting with the smallest cohort and lead up to the largest cohort.”

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Vaccinations in Virginia Are Lagging Behind Distributed Doses

Coronavirus vaccination efforts by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) have been ongoing since December 15, but the number of administered doses is significantly less than the amount distributed throughout the Commonwealth.

According to the COVID-19 vaccine dashboard, as of Thursday, Virginia has distributed 388,100 doses, but only 64,882 have actually been administered so far.

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More Than 40,000 Virginians Have Received COVID-19 Vaccines So Far

Roughly 41,709 Virginians have received first doses of the COVID-19 vaccines so far, according to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), as the state continues its efforts to reach herd immunity and put an end to the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week, the VDH launched the COVID-19 vaccine data dashboard, which will be updated daily to keep the public informed about the number of vaccines distributed and administered as well as the demographics of recipients.

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140,000 Doses of Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine Arrive in Virginia

Roughly 140,000 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are expected to arrive in Virginia on Wednesday after the state had initially placed an order with the company last week, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) said in a news release.

Shipments of Moderna’s vaccine, approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration on Friday, as well as Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine are being delivered to healthcare facilities and health departments across the Commonwealth this week. The two vaccines are going to 96 “geographically diverse locations” in the state, according to the release.

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CVS Begins Effort to Administer COVID-19 Vaccinations

CVS announced Monday that it has formally launched its program to administer COVID-19 vaccines to residents and staff of long-term care facilities and will begin its efforts in Virginia on December 28th, according to a press release. 

The company said that its teams will start administering doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine this week across 12 states – including Ohio, Connecticut, Florida and Oregon, among others – and expects to vaccinate a total of four million residents and staff at over 40,000 long-term care facilities through the program. 

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Virginia to Receive Over 100,000 Fewer COVID-19 Vaccine Doses Than Anticipated

Virginia is now expected to receive just under 110,000 fewer COVID-19 vaccine doses from the federal government than originally anticipated.

Operation Warp Speed, the government’s vaccination program, informed the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) late Thursday night, and now the state is preparing to get 370,650 vaccine doses by the end of December instead of the initial 480,000 projection, according to a press release.

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Virginia Hospitals Receive First Shipments of COVID-19 Vaccine

The coronavirus vaccine has finally arrived in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Several hospitals in Virginia received initial shipments of the newly approved Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine this week, kicking off the state’s months-long plan for mass vaccinations and finally signaling a potential end to the pandemic.

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Virginia High School League: Athletes Advised to Wear Masks During Competitions

The Virginia High School League (VHSL) is requiring participating schools to follow health recommendations from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) that strongly advise student-athletes to wear masks at all times while on the sidelines as well as during practices and games, the league said Thursday.

In a press release emailed to media outlets, VHSL Executive Director John “Billy” Haun announced the decision to adhere to the state health department.

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Northam Imposes Curfew, New Mask Requirement, Updated Gathering Limits for Virginia

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam issued increased statewide restrictions during a press briefing Thursday afternoon to combat rising coronavirus numbers in the Commonwealth as the Christmas holiday approaches.

Starting at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, December 14th, a modified stay-at-home order will be in place with a curfew for all Virginians from midnight to 5 a.m. The only exceptions are getting food and goods, seeking medical attention as well as traveling to and from work.

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Virginia Department of Health Adopts CDC Quarantine Guidelines

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announced Tuesday that it is adopting newly revised COVID-19 quarantine guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that were released earlier this month.

VDH and the CDC recommends people who test positive for coronavirus or may have been exposed to quarantine for a full 14 days, but the new guidelines have two additional alternatives for a shorter length of isolation.

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Department of Health: Virginia to Receive 480,000 Vaccine Doses by End of December

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announced on Friday that the Commonwealth is preparing to receive 480,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of December based on new information from the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed.  

As Governor Ralph Northam noted during a coronavirus briefing on Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted last week to officially recommend healthcare personnel and long-term care facility residents as top priority for vaccination.

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Virginia Could Receive Vaccine Doses by Mid-December, Northam Says

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said that initial doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine could arrive in the state as early as mid-December.

During a coronavirus press briefing Wednesday afternoon, the governor shared details on the state’s COVID-19 vaccination plans instead of implementing new statewide restrictions.

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Virginia Could Receive Vaccine Doses by Mid-December, Northam Says

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said that initial doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine could arrive in the state as early as mid-December.

During a coronavirus press briefing Wednesday afternoon, the governor shared details on the state’s COVID-19 vaccination plans instead of implementing new statewide restrictions.

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Virginia COVID-19 Update: Coronavirus Numbers Rising Throughout the State, Vaccine Expected by Year End, Officials Say

As the winter months, colder weather and the holiday season are approaching, the coronavirus numbers, encompassing a number of different metrics, have been increasing throughout Virginia over the last month or so, according to government officials.

At a televised briefing Tuesday afternoon, Governor Ralph Northam said the state is seeing a rise in cases, percent positivity – now at 6.2 percent – and hospitalizations.

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COVID-19 Update: Virginia’s Current Outlook by the Numbers

A report from the University of Virginia (UVA) Biocomplexity Institute published last Friday showed that the statewide COVID-19 reproduction rate is above 1.0 (1.031) and in all regions except one, meaning the virus is spreading quickly across the Commonwealth, and classifies five out of 35 health districts as a surge.

The UVA Biocomplexity Institute also uses an adaptive model, tracing past and current trends, to predict what could happen in the future. In that report, the model predicted there could be 202,040 total confirmed cases in Virginia by Thanksgiving, an increase of 41,197 confirmed cases from Saturday’s count.

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New Research Shows Excess of Non-COVID Deaths Increased Over Course of Pandemic

New research from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) shows that excess, non-COVID-19 deaths increased over the course of the pandemic. The authors theorized that the pandemic caused “disruptions” that led to these deaths.

Non-COVID deaths accounted for over thirty percent of the overall excess deaths. The most significant non-COVID causes of death were heart disease, Alzheimer disease, and dementia. 

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VA Democrats Want To Issue Mandatory ‘Vaccination Cards’ Costing $121 Million

Virginia plans on spending nearly $121 million on CARES funding for COVID-19 vaccine equipment and advertisement. This according to a proposal draft, reportedly submitted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last week.

Nearly $6 million will be spent on equipment: over $111 million on administration and staffing and $3 million in a “public education campaign.”

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Virginia Department of Health Spent Over $56K to Sign Teens up for Sex-Ed Texting

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) appropriated over $56,000 to fund a sex-help texting line for teenagers. The resource, BrdsNBz, doesn’t require parental permission.
VDH sent out postcards across the state inviting anyone ages 13-19 to anonymously text a number for sex education. BrdsNBz says it provides “medically-accurate information about sexual health topics” relayed by a trained “Health Education team.” It also promises “local resources and referrals,” though it does not mention what those entail.

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Rip Off: Over $1.7 Million of CARES Funding Wasted on COVID-19 Exposure App Used by Only 13.5 Percent of Cell Phone Users

The Virginia government will reportedly have spent over $1.7 million for the COVID-19 exposure reporting app COVIDWISE, which 13.5% of cell phone users have downloaded. Approximately $1.5 million was spent on marketing alone.
The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and SpringML Inc. received $229,000 in CARES federal emergency funding to co-develop and launch COVIDWISE. The app allows users to upload their positive test results, which allows other users to receive exposure notifications. Users will only be notified if they have been within a 6 foot vicinity for over 15 minutes.

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Virginia Department of Health Launches New Pandemic Metrics Dashboard

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) on Monday launched a new pandemic metrics dashboard with more specific, aggregated data to show where COVID-19 is spreading in Virginia’s different regions and any changes occurring over time. 

The new dashboard will be updated weekly and features three different tabs: About the Data, Daily Region Metrics, Weekly Transmission Extent. Additionally, School Metrics from the CDC are included within the dashboard.  

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Governor and First Lady Northam Test Positive for COVID-19

Governor Ralph Northam announced Friday that he and his wife, First Lady Pamela Northam, have tested positive for COVID-19. The Northams received testing after learning that one of the governor’s staff members tested positive. 
Northam reports that he is asymptomatic; his wife is experiencing “mild symptoms.” The pair plan to isolate for ten days and then undergo another examination, according to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) guidelines.

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Hispanics in Virginia Significantly More Likely to Have COVID-19 Antibodies than Other Adults, VDH Study Says

Hispanic adults are four times more likely to have prior traces of a COVID-19 infection when compared to the average Virginian, according to a Virginia Department of Health (VDH) study published Friday.

The Coronavirus Serology Project was conducted this summer from June 1 to August 14 by adult patients in Virginia presenting non-COVID related symptoms agreeing to complete a questionnaire and provide a blood sample for antibody testing. 

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COVID-19 Update: New CDC Information Raises Questions, Virginia’s Outlook

It has been six months since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States in March forcing nationwide shutdowns and changing the way millions of people live, but new information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) raises questions about the severity of coronavirus and who is impacted most.

For six percent of the deaths between February 1 and August 29, COVID-19 was the only cause mentioned. Conversely, 94 percent of deaths involving COVID have additional causes or conditions, according to the CDC.

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Fatal Overdoses and Emergency Calls Rise in Virginia, Highlighting Impact of COVID-19 on Substance Abuse

Fatal drug overdoses and non-alcohol overdose calls have increased in Virginia since the beginning of the COVID-19 shutdown, highlighting a troubling trend and fallout from the deadly virus.

“[COVID-19] has undoubtedly increased the overdoses as well as overdose death as well as relapse for those who were in recovery from addictions,” John Shinholser, president and co-founder of the McShin Foundation, said in an interview with The Virgina Star. 

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