A fourth area person has died from COVID-19 and a Charlottesville funeral home has placed a refrigerated storage container on their property to help stave off possible overwhelming of mortuaries when the disease peaks.
Thomas Jefferson Health District officials confirmed the fourth death on Wednesday. No further information about the person was released.
Officials with the Charlottesville-UVa-Albemarle Regional Emergency Operations Center, the area’s joint emergency management team, also announced that they are working with Hill and Wood Funeral Home to help store bodies of those who die from the disease and other causes.
The rented storage unit at the funeral home is considered a contingency plan, operations center official said.
“At this time, we at Hill and Wood have heard of other funeral homes being overwhelmed, especially in areas with large populations, which leaves a gap in the community’s response to offer critical services for lost loved ones” said Stephen Christianson, of Hill and Wood Funeral Home, in a statement. “We are renting this unit as a back-up plan for the community to ensure there are adequate facilities available during this challenging time.”
Funeral homes in New York City, Louisiana and other areas hit hard by the COVID-19 disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus have reported being overwhelmed by the sudden number of victims coming to the mortuaries.
The unit at Hill and Wood would provide a storage location “that establishes means and methods for the sensitive, respectful, and orderly care of those who have died, from COVID-19 and other causes,” the operations center statement reads.
Because of Virginia’s restrictions on public gatherings to 10 or fewer people, health district officials recommend that burials and cremations take place soon and that memorial services be held at a later date.
“Funerals are an important time for families and friends to come together to celebrate a loved one’s life. During this difficult time, we are finding that many families want to delay funerals due to Virginia’s stay at home order,” said Dr. Denise Bonds, the health district’s director, in a prepared statement.
“While we are sympathetic and understand how important funerals are, we encourage families to consider cremation or burial at this time, and plan a larger memorial service after the ‘stay at home order’ is lifted,” Bonds said.
Health district officials told The Daily Progress that they are working with the Virginia Department of Health, UVa and other agencies to try and determine when the number of cases in the area will hit peak, creating the heaviest demand on medical, and possibly mortuary, resources.
Also on Wednesday, the National Park Service officially shuttered the entire Shenandoah National Park, closing the park’s borders to all activities.
“[The park service] received a letter from the Rappahannock Rapidan Health District of the Virginia Department of Health recommending the full closure of Shenandoah National Park,” officials said.
The park is closed until further notice. No date was given when it may be reopened.
U.S. 211 and U.S. 33 will remain accessible to pass through the park.
Virginians planning to hike or picnic through state wildlife management areas should be aware of the start of spring turkey hunting season, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries said.
The season starts Saturday and continues to May 16.
“During this time, hunters will be utilizing [areas] statewide to turkey hunt. Visitors can expect that hunters will be widely present on [the] properties,” officials warned in a statement.
The wildlife management areas are purchased and managed using funds generated from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and through a federal excise tax on hunters and fishermen. The areas are open to other activities besides hunting.
“Whether you’re biking, hiking, fishing, or just out for some fresh air, please be cognizant of your surroundings and hunters in the field,” officials said.
Aqua Virginia, which provides water to Lake Monticello residents and other areas of the state, announced Wednesday that it would donate $10,000 to three food banks across its service territory as a way to support communities in the pandemic.
The money will be divided between the Blue Ridge Food Bank, which serves Central Virginia and Feeding America, in southwest Virginia and Feed More, which serves the Richmond area.
UVa officials have deployed a website for qualifying employees of the university and its contractors to apply for assistance through a $2 million fund announced earlier this week by UVa President Jim Ryan.
According to the website, https://hr.virginia.edu/assistance-fund, to be eligible to receive a payment from the fund a person must be employed the university, UVa Medical Center, UVa College at Wise, University Physicians Group, employed or temporarily furloughed by a contracted firm or an associated organization or foundations.