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Northam: 'I want Virginians to prepare themselves for the long haul' of coronavirus

Projection models show COVID-19 cases in Virginia could surge between late April and late May, Gov. Ralph Northam said Wednesday, reiterating his stay-at-home order, which extends until June 10.

“I want Virginians to prepare themselves for the long haul,” he said.

At Northam’s briefing, Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said officials are working on models that project the spread and peak of the outbreak, and they hope to be able to share Virginia models in the coming days.

Oliver said there were 1,484 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across the state, an increase of 234 over from the previous day, with 34 deaths in Virginia. A woman in her 90s was the third death in Richmond from the coronavirus, officials said Wednesday.

The Virginia Department of Health said Wednesday that 15,344 people have been tested for the virus in Virginia. There are coronavirus cases in 98 Virginia cities and counties. On March 19, state health officials said there’s a lag in the reporting of statewide numbers on the VDH website. Figures on the website might not include cases reported by individual localities or local health districts.

Virginia had reported 739 cases of COVID-19 between March 7 and March 28. It has added 745 more in the past four days.

Northam said the state has received a third shipment of PPE — personal protective equipment for medical workers such as gowns, face shields and masks — from the national stockpile, but he said the state still needs more.

“PPE remains a critically important issue,” said Secretary of Health and Human Resources Daniel Carey.

Northam said he understood that Virginians are struggling with isolation and job loss amid the coronavirus spread.

“I’m already thinking and planning on how we can land this plane on the backside of the curve,” Northam said, referring an expected surge of coronavirus cases in coming weeks. “But for now, we are at the beginning of this virus, and that is why it is so important for Virginians to stay at home. If we can all stay home, we don’t give the virus the chance to infect the next person. We slow it down.”

Botanical Garden lays off 83% of its staff

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden announced Tuesday staff layoffs due to the economic impact of the coronavirus.

A spokeswoman for the garden said 89 staff members — or 83% of its staff — will be laid off by June. Lewis Ginter has 107 staff members.

The garden hopes to re-open positions as soon as they can, and will let current staff know when that has happened with the hope that they will want to return. A core group of staff will remain to maintain operations and prepare the garden for its reopening, according to a news release.

The remaining staff is taking significant pay cuts.

“With this move, the Garden is putting its affection for neighbors, partners and community first. The steps allow it to remain viable during this time of indefinite closure and ensures the nonprofit Garden will be here to reopen as soon as conditions allow,” Beth Monroe, a spokesperson for the garden, said via email.

More than 65% of Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s operating budget comes from a variety of earned income sources, including admission, membership, Garden Shop sales and facility rentals, classes, etc.

Since the garden’s closure on March 15, those income streams have dropped to zero. The garden said that a draw from the Garden’s endowment provides financial stability, but only for limited operations while the garden is closed.

In a message posted to the garden’s website announcing the layoffs, the garden said, “Our hearts are broken, but our spirit is resolute … We recognize the passion and efforts so many have put into the Garden, and we honor the work by ensuring the Garden can reopen.”

No severance is being offered at this time, but those being laid off will be paid through April 17. Accrued vacation time will be paid out where available.

Pence tours Walmart distribution center

Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday traveled to Gordonsville in Orange County to tour a Walmart distribution center and highlight the importance of its supply chain amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Pence, accompanied by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, thanked workers at the center for being “on the frontlines” and “putting food on the table for Americans.”

“Thank you for doing a great job and keeping food on the table for the American people,” Pence said.

He added: “Here’s to that day in the future when we put the coronavirus in the past and come back stronger than ever before.”

Before his remarks, Pence chatted with Earnest Allen, a delivery truck driver for Walmart Transportation.

“I had to come out and see a truck driver. You guys are burning up miles every day making sure the American people have food, supplies,” Pence said.

Employees at Amazon, Kroger test positive

An employee at an Amazon package sorting center in Hanover County has tested positive for the coronavirus, the company confirmed on Wednesday.

An Amazon spokeswoman said the employee tested positive for the virus on Tuesday but had not been at the facility since March 22, about 10 days earlier. She said the sorting center employs about 200, many of whom work part time.

“We are supporting the individual who is recovering,” spokeswoman Rachel Lighty said. “We are following all guidelines from local health officials and are taking extreme measures to ensure the safety of employees at our site.”

Amazon said it has notified all employees at the center of the confirmed case. The company said it would alert anyone who had close contact with the infected employee and ask them to not return to the site until after a self-quarantine of 14 days, for which they would be paid. The company said any employee diagnosed with COVID-19 would receive up to two weeks of pay while they recover, in addition to unlimited unpaid time off for hourly employees through the end of April.

Amazon also outlined steps it has taken to prevent the virus from spreading in its facilities, including frequent deep cleaning of all sites, especially surfaces such as door handles, stair rails, elevator buttons, lockers and touch screens. The company also said they are taking measures to encourage social distancing, such as the elimination of meetings during shifts, spacing of chairs in break rooms and staggering work shifts.

An employee at the Kroger store at 1510 Eastridge Road in Henrico County has tested positive for COVID-19, an official with the grocery store chain said Wednesday. That Kroger associate is quarantined at home, said Allison McGee, corporate affairs manager with Kroger Mid-Atlantic.

“We are saddened by this news and wishing this associate the best as they get well,” McGee said in a statement. “We remain committed to the health and safety of our associates and customers. Since this associate last worked, an extensive deep cleaning & sanitation was completed. On an ongoing basis, we have aggressive cleaning and sanitation procedures in place at all of our stores and are continuing to adhere to all guidance from local, state and federal agencies, including the CDC.”

The employee has not worked at the Kroger store since March 13, McGee said. The store remains open.

School playgrounds closed in Henrico

Public playgrounds at Henrico County schools are now closed.

The school district announced the closures Wednesday in accordance with Northam’s stay-at-home order issued earlier this week. The order applies to playgrounds, restrooms, ball fields, basketball courts and tennis courts. Tracks and open field space on school grounds remain open to the public.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney on Monday announced similar closures at city schools and public parks. The city is also limiting access to the James River. Swimming, sunbathing, congregating in groups are forbidden, but people are still permitted to hike or run along the river.


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