Two residents of Canterbury Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center in Henrico County are the Richmond area’s first COVID-19 fatalities, bringing the state’s death toll to nine.
The Richmond and Henrico County Health Districts on Tuesday described the residents as “elderly” and said they were among several patients at the center receiving treatment for the coronavirus at a Richmond-area hospital.
The deaths come amid an outbreak at the center that local officials have struggled ‘to measure and contain. A similar facility in Washington state experienced one of the first outbreaks of the disease in the United States earlier this month. More than three dozen patients at the facility outside Seattle have died.
Dr. James Wright, Canterbury’s medical director, has raised concerns about staffing shortages and delays in testing over the past week. Canterbury Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center, near Lauderdale Drive and John Rolfe Parkway in western Henrico, is not to be confused with the Westminster Canterbury Richmond retirement community in Henrico near Richmond’s North Side.
Staff at the center declined to answer questions in person Tuesday. A written statement attributed to Wright said 10 patients have tested positive for the virus.
Four remain in the hospital while the other four are being treated at the center in an isolated unit. Three of the center’s health care workers have also tested positive.
After a case is confirmed, the health department regards anyone else in the facility displaying symptoms a presumed positive, and 20 of the facility’s 160 residents had fevers or coughs, Wright said in an interview Monday.
Answering through a media liaison Tuesday, Wright did not say how many tests have been administered or how many people are awaiting results.
“Fortunately we have been able to access both supplies and testing facilities and expect to have a much clearer picture of COVID-19 cases soon,” he said. “We would ask that we be allowed to evaluate those results before we make any conjectures regarding the total number of cases.”
On Monday, Wright said he has been short-staffed because several of the nurses and aides work at other long-term care facilities in the area and have been instructed by the other facilities not to return to Canterbury because of the outbreak.
Wright said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not impose these restrictions and the situation calls for all hands on deck.
He said he has several staff members who have been working with very few breaks, returning to work after only six-hour breaks.
“I understand the caution but at this point in a pandemic we really need to adhere to the guidelines because everyone’s going to see a case and if they keep these restrictions in place you’ll be left without anyone to work,” Wright said.
Wright and several other long-term care directors raised concerns last week with the delays in testing nursing home residents, a measure the Virginia Department of Health adjusted over the weekend.
“I’m happy with the response of the VDH to our request for speedier testing and it wasn’t the delay of testing that led to our COVID-19 related deaths,” Wright said in a text message Tuesday night.
In its news release, the county health district said it began working with the facility more than a week ago to implement measures such as a dedicated ward for symptomatic residents.
“The health department is continuing to collaborate with the facility to reduce risk of transmission, conduct contact investigation and to implement control measures,” the news release says.
Henrico County Manager John Vithoulkas said the center had not responded to the county’s offer earlier on Tuesday morning to set up an incident management team to help the facility cope with the deteriorating situation.
He said the county offered to help coordinate additional nursing staff and cleaning the facility, as well as other types of logistical support.
“The facility is one that needs help and needs help soon,” he said. “I think their internal resources are going to be exhausted.”
The nursing home had been working directly with local health officials, but Vithoulkas said the county’s emergency management team got involved after learning on Tuesday morning that one resident had died overnight.
“This morning, we moved into a different mode,” he said, noting that he had personally tried to call the home’s administrator twice without success.
Wright did not respond to questions about the county manager’s comments. Danny Avula, the executive director of the Richmond and Henrico County Health Districts, said he tried to facilitate communications between Canterbury and the county Tuesday.
“The sense I got is that they aren’t ready. I don’t think they’re rebuffing the county,” he said. “My team has been on site with them. They’ve been more than accommodating, working alongside with us.”
The Virginia Department of Health has confirmed 42 COVID-19 cases in the Richmond region, including 14 in Henrico. The VDH reported Tuesday that there are 290 cases statewide, an increase from 254 on Monday.
While 4 in 5 people recover from the disease without needing special treatment, according to the World Health Organization, older people and people with underlying medical problems — high blood pressure or diabetes, for example — are more likely to develop serious illness.
The announcement Tuesday of the Canterbury deaths comes as Virginia has ratcheted up its response to the virus, closing schools for the rest of the academic year and closing nonessential businesses.
In a statement on behalf of Gov. Ralph Northam, spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said he is “deeply saddened” about the news.
“Our state and local health departments are working closely with this facility to provide ongoing support, protect the safety of residents and staff, and stop the spread of this virus,” she said.
With schools now in the second week of a state-mandated shutdown due to the outbreak of COVID-19, teachers across the region are navigating remote instruction.
Gov. Ralph Northam announced Monday all schools would remain closed until the end of the year, but school systems are still required to offer meal assistance and continued instruction through the break.
Deanna Fierro, a Henrico County middle school teacher, said teachers in her district have been encouraged to create videos and lessons for students to check during the closure, but many face the challenge of trying to reach students who lack internet access.
She said Monday’s announcement has already sparked questions and concerns from teachers about logistics and how to serve students without internet access.
Fierro has created instructional videos for students and tried to contact parents through phone calls and email but has not been able to reach more than a quarter of her students.
“The gaps are already there, and I can’t imagine them asking us to move forward with new material when we’re not able to reach some kids,” Fierro said.
Kristin Felix, a fourth-grade teacher in Chesterfield County, said working with younger students presents an extra challenge. Even those with access may not be able to operate devices themselves.
“Before we left, we really didn’t know what we were in store for. There wasn’t much time to prepare anything,” she said.
Felix has hosted a handful of Google meetings with about half of her class and has made phone calls and sent emails to others to try to stay in touch as much as possible.
She said she was saddened by the news Monday because she loves her students and knows it will affect their learning.
The directive for most districts so far has been not to cover new information because not all students have access to the materials. Felix said she does not see how that will be sustainable with a full quarter of the school year left, or what it means for students next year in a higher grade when they have missed out on valuable learning time.
“I worry about them falling behind. Especially for the kids who don’t have a lot of connections outside of the school. The school really is their community,” Felix said.
Anxious about his students, Andy Brower, a first-grade teacher at Richmond’s Broad Rock Elementary School, wanted to make sure they heard from him and went old-school to do it.
He mailed postcards to his 20 students on Wednesday, hoping to brighten their day.
“I just wanted each kid to get a personal note from me to let them know we’re still thinking about them,” said Brower, adding that students learning English — roughly 2 in 5 at the school, according to state data — received a note in Spanish.
Broad Rock teachers have alternated nights reading aloud children’s books over Facebook Live, with Brower, for example, reading “Bear Snores On” by Karma Wilson on Wednesday.
Brower’s postcards project has grown within the South Side school, he said. About a dozen teachers have followed suit.
“I hope you’re still learning something new every day,” Michelle Brown’s postcards read. She shared her Instagram handle (@ready_set_teach) with her fifth-graders — a more modern way to stay in touch.
Robert Dunham of Richmond’s Overby-Sheppard Elementary School uses technology in a different way. He’s using Zoom to teach a daily reading and math class that is open to his students and others. On Monday, for example, students learned about fractions and how to find the main idea in a story.
“I am a teacher and if I am not teaching, I feel out of place,” Dunham said. “This is something that none of us expected, but as teachers we have to remain intentional and find ways to continue to educate our students.”
Rachel Levy, a Hanover County resident and Caroline County teacher, said she has also been putting extra resources online for students and sending daily emails to try to stay in touch.
Levy said that even in a district like hers where all teachers and middle and high school students have school-issued laptops, there isn’t a magical switch to flip when it comes to moving instruction online.
She called the requirements of teachers and students in this situation “uncharted waters” because teachers cannot introduce new material without leaving some behind.
“There’s going to be students left behind by this optional remote instruction and do you say, ‘We do the best we can for who we can reach,’ or do you say, ‘Hey this isn’t fair,’” Levy said.
As teachers try to continue doing their jobs outside the physical classroom, the Virginia Department of Education has released new guidance related to virtual learning.
The guidelines, issued after Northam’s school closures order, give districts the option of using distance learning to teach students while schools are closed; offering education over the summer; or extending the current school calendar or adjusting the 2020-21 calendar so lessons not covered by March 13 can be taught to students.
“As school divisions review our guidance and plot a course forward that best fits their unique circumstances, they should make sure that every decision is equitable and meets the needs of all learners, including early learners, English learners and students with disabilities,” Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane said in a statement.
Tracy Epp, Richmond Public Schools’ chief academic officer, said RPS is keeping the accessibility gap in mind but still encouraging teachers to keep students engaged any way they can.
Roughly 27% of households in Richmond do not have a broadband internet subscription, according to the most recent estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, so the district has also been distributing hard-copy packets of schoolwork through its meal distribution centers.
The district is in talks with philanthropic partners to begin expanding access through hot spots and devices for students to temporarily take home, and Epp said it hopes to have more details next week.
In the meantime, Jason Kamras, Richmond’s schools superintendent, began broadcasting math lessons at 2 p.m. each day, Epp said, and other broadcasts through local TV stations are in the works.
Last Wednesday, Henrico County Public Schools began stationing mobile technology hubs at some of its schools and made 400 mobile hot spot devices available for students and staff members without internet at home.
As districts continue to iron out plans for continuing instruction, Levy said she and other teachers are committed to helping students any way they can.
Guidance from the Virginia Department of Education released after Gov. Ralph Northam ordered state schools to be closed for the rest of the school year provides leniency so members of the senior class can still graduate.
The guidelines, sent to superintendents across the state Monday night, allow school districts to waive eight graduation requirements in an effort to not further burden seniors, who will miss out on staples such as prom and a commencement ceremony after the decision Monday to shutter school buildings for the remainder of the academic year. Seniors who were on track to earn a diploma later this spring, the state Education Department said, will be able to graduate.
“The governor and I agree that every student who was on a trajectory toward earning a diploma should be able to graduate on time and move on to the next stage of his or her life,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane in a Tuesday statement. “I hope the flexibility that I am announcing today will help students and teachers as they cope with the deep disappointment of having their time together unexpectedly cut short and of not being able to enjoy the recognitions and celebrations that should be a part of every student’s graduation experience.”
Requirements can be waived for students in the following situations, according to the state Education Department:
The state agency said more guidelines will come for the final four requirements listed because those can’t be waived outright.
Lane said the “vast majority” of the state’s high school seniors — roughly 94,000, according to state data — have already met most graduation requirements.
While Lane, under an executive order from Northam, has the power to renounce the requirements, some — students who have not completed training in emergency first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and the use of automated external defibrillators, and students who haven’t finished a virtual course — require action by the General Assembly.
The legislature is scheduled to reconvene April 22 for a one-day veto session, during which it could take action on those requirements.
“I am confident that everyone recognizes that students should not be prevented from graduating because of unforeseen circumstances beyond their control,” Lane said.
The Education Department also said in its guidance that students enrolled in cosmetology or master barber courses will be eligible to take the licensing test if their instructor submits a form certifying that the student completed the VDOE-required training.
The Virginia Board of Education, the state’s K-12 governing board, discussed the possibility of extreme flexibility for seniors during a conference call meeting Friday, with board members saying unprecedented times call for unprecedented action.
“We recognize that because this is such an extraordinary situation, the principle of flexibility, that we want students to be able to graduate, to be able to move on to next year, with the anticipation that this will pass eventually and we were well past the midmark of the school year, the presumption should be in favor of helping everyone move on successfully to their next step,” said Anne Holton, a member of the board.
Dan Gecker, president of the board, said, “We are all in this together.”
The guidance released Monday night goes beyond just graduation.
It applies to underclassmen taking classes needed for graduation — districts must give credit by “ensuring that students have completed a majority of required standards, competencies, and objectives, including those that are essential for success in subsequent coursework” — and students in elementary and middle school.
“School division leaders will decide how students can learn the information they were meant to cover for the remainder of the year,” Northam said Monday.
For students through eighth grade, the state encouraged school systems to offer virtual learning, which most are already doing, while also giving districts the flexibility to offer summer school to students who couldn’t receive teaching during the closure, adjusting the current school calendar or the 2020-21 school calendar, or incorporating lessons students would have learned this year into next year’s schedule.
“As local school divisions begin to explore options for virtual or online instruction and other instructional delivery methods, these decisions should be done with careful consideration of providing equitable access and support for a variety of student learning needs,” the guidance reads.
School systems will retain the power to award grades and determine grade point averages, according to the guidance, but the state is recommending against grading work that is done during the closures.
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Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday batted down a suggestion from President Donald Trump that the nation’s economy could be “open by Easter.” Hours later, the Richmond area reported its first two coronavirus deaths, pushing Virginia’s statewide toll to at least nine.
“While it would be nice to say that this will be behind us in two weeks, that’s really not what the data tells us,” Northam said in a briefing with reporters. “The data tells us that this will be with us for at least two to three months and perhaps even longer.”
Trump said Tuesday during a Fox News virtual town hall that his administration is exploring ways to adjust measures that have led businesses to close or lay off workers, in an effort to “have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter.”
Decisions on restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus have largely been made by state governors and vary widely across the country, from shelter in place orders to requests that people avoid social gatherings.
Trump’s statements come as health officials in Virginia and elsewhere escalate admonitions to stay home and warn that the new normal of shuttered schools and businesses won’t be a quick fix against the coronavirus.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Virginia climbed to 290, up 36 from Monday, the Virginia Department of Health reported in its once-daily update.
Northam said it’s important that the public not receive “mixed messages” from officials.
“It’s fair to say that we all want our lives to return to normal as fast as possible, but I think we have to use science, we have to use data,” Northam said, adding that Virginia is looking at other countries and states to understand the spread of COVID-19.
The roads around Richmond were noticeably less congested Tuesday as people anxious about the coronavirus stayed home. Some were able to work at home. Thousands have lost jobs as a result of mandatory shutdowns.
Nearly 4,500 Virginians had been tested for the virus and 45 had been hospitalized, the VDH reported at midday Tuesday.
It wasn’t clear whether the VDH’s numbers included the 10 residents of Canterbury Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center in Henrico County who have tested positive. Two have died, officials said Tuesday. Four others have been hospitalized.
Health officials last week explained that there’s a lag in the reporting of statewide infection numbers, and said figures on the VDH website might not be the same as numbers reported by individual localities or local health districts.
The state has a 5 p.m. cutoff for tabulating daily numbers, so the numbers reported on the website at noon each day are 19 hours old.
The deaths of the two Canterbury Rehab residents were the first COVID-19 fatalities in the Richmond area. Prior to Tuesday, Virginia had recorded seven virus-related deaths: five in the Peninsula Health District, which serves Newport News, Poquoson, Williamsburg, James City County and York County; one from the Fairfax County Health Department; and one in Virginia Beach.
Despite a state-ordered crackdown on gatherings, revelers determined to enjoy Richmond’s nascent spring have descended on the James River as companies and schools have closed down.
“If folks are at Texas Beach with a bunch of PBRs, then obviously we’re going to provide some guidance that they should disperse,” Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said Tuesday, referencing a popular river hangout spot and a brand of beer. “That’s going to be happening throughout the city.”
Stoney threatened to shutter the city’s parks if people didn’t stop flocking together in violation of Northam’s executive order banning gatherings of more than 10 people.
Police will warn violators initially, said Police Chief William Smith, but they could issue summonses. Officials said they did not want to resort to park or river access closures but would take the step if large groups continued to congregate.
“We’re not seeking to be punitive,” Stoney said. “We’re seeking to protect the lives of all Richmonders, and every resident has a role to play.”
Also on Tuesday, the region’s public transit company, GRTC, escalated protective measures, banning children under age 18 from riding the bus alone unless they are headed to a job and wearing a work uniform or have their employee badge.
The company last week eliminated fares in an effort to limit contact between passengers and drivers. Passengers now enter through the rear door unless they require the boarding ramp and are asked to sit one per row unless families are riding together. Violators of these policies will be subject to removal from the bus.
“Immediately after suspending fares, our ridership jumped by several thousand trips a day. Some were kids out of school with energy to burn and some were people wanting to enjoy the beautiful spring weather,” CEO Julie Timm said in a statement. “But some were budget-conscious people looking for employment, making trips to the grocery store, or going to the doctor. While overall daily ridership is still well-below normal levels, we need to take additional measures for those who desperately need our service during this crisis.”
VCU clinical trials
VCU Health said Tuesday that it was working on a potential treatment for moderate and severe cases of the virus.
Researchers with Virginia Commonwealth University received approval from the National Institutes of Health to enroll patients in two global clinical trials testing an antiviral drug called remdesivir, which was previously tested on people with Ebola and showed promise in animal trials for Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which are caused by other coronaviruses, according to the NIH.
VCU is one of a handful of institutions in the U.S. to make these clinical trials available for patients, according to a news release from the university.
Trial patients with moderate cases could undergo five or 10-day remdesivir treatments, or no treatment; patients with severe cases are randomly assigned to five or 10-day remdesivir treatments.
The state’s liquor monopoly will reduce operating hours at 364 stores, in addition to the 24 stores on the Peninsula that already are operating under limited hours because of the COVID-19 virus.
Currently, state ABC stores operate from 10 a.m. to as late as 10 p.m., but they will operate from noon to 7 p.m. seven days a week, beginning on Friday.
In a statement on Tuesday, ABC said the reduced operating hours would give the authority more time to restock shelves, more flexibility in staffing and the opportunity to “thoroughly disinfect store surfaces to protect employees and customers.”
WASHINGTON — Congress and the Trump administration on Tuesday closed in on a massive $2 trillion stimulus package to address economic fallout from the coronavirus, as lawmakers reviewed final language and the Senate aimed for a swift vote.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch Mc-Connell, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — the top White House negotiator — all said they expected resolution quickly. However, lawmakers were still hashing out details and the situation was fluid.
Hopes for a vote Tuesday evening dissipated as the hours passed without resolution, with lawmakers engaged in protracted haggling among themselves and with Trump administration officials.
Exiting an early evening meeting in Schumer’s office, Mnuchin told reporters: “I know you’ve heard this before, but everyone’s trying to close this out today. ... We are going back and forth on text.”
The package would extend extraordinary — and unprecedented — taxpayer assistance to potentially millions of American and foreign companies that have been hammered by the fast-moving economic crisis.
It would extend one-time cash payments to most Americans, aimed at flooding the economy with money. The bill is being rushed through Congress without public hearings or formal review, and it’s unclear how effective the measures would be in arresting the economy’s sudden fall.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told colleagues on a conference call that the Senate bill had made “a big advance” but “doesn’t have everything we want,” according to multiple people with knowledge of the call who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe its contents.
The stock market rose sharply in anticipation of the deal. The government is dealing with a number of competing pressures, though, as President Donald Trump declared that he’d like much of the country to be up and running by April 12 even though the number of people testing positive for the virus in the U.S. continues to climb.
The Senate bill would direct payments of $1,200 to most American adults and $500 to most children, create a $500 billion lending program for companies, states, and cities, and extend another $367 billion to help small companies deal with payroll problems.
It would bolster the unemployment insurance system and pump $150 billion into U.S. hospitals. The bill more than doubled in size in just a few days, amounting to the largest emergency stimulus package in American history.
Larry Kudlow, director of the White House National Economic Council, called it the “single largest Main Street assistance program in the history of the United States.”
The largely upbeat mood on Capitol Hill was a dramatic shift after days of partisan rancor in the Senate, as lawmakers squabbled over who was at fault for their failure to address the crisis that has shaken the economy, led many businesses to dramatically scale back operations, and forced millions of Americans to seek unemployment benefits.
“Today, the Senate can get back on track. Today, we can make all of the Washington drama fade away,” McConnell said. “If we act today, what Americans will remember, and what history will record, is that the Senate did the right thing.
“The urgency and the gravity of this moment cannot be lost on anyone,” he added. On the negotiations, he said, “It’s taken a lot of noise and a lot of rhetoric to get us here.” Still, “we are very close. We are close to a bill that takes our bold Republican framework, integrates further ideas from both parties, and delivers huge progress.”
As lawmakers neared a deal, the White House made a significant concession to Democrats’ demands, agreeing to allow enhanced scrutiny over the massive loan program that is a centerpiece of the package.
This pertains to the $500 billion loan and loan guarantee program that the Treasury Department would be tasked with administering for companies, states, and cities. Of that amount, $425 billion is supposed to go to businesses, cities and states.
An additional $50 billion would go to passenger airlines, $8 billion more for cargo airlines, and $17 billion would be directed for firms that are deemed important to national security.
When he was asked Monday evening who would perform oversight of the program, Trump responded, “I’ll be the oversight.” But during closed-door negotiations on Capitol Hill, White House officials agreed to allow an independent inspector general and an oversight board to scrutinize the lending decisions, senators said.
Democrats welcomed the development.
“The oversight basically is saying that you know you can’t just ... exempt everybody and give all your corporate executives, based on the backs of the taxpayers, free carnival,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
Manchin has been vocally critical of the bill being weighted more toward Wall Street than average America.
The legislation would also significantly boost unemployment insurance, expanding eligibility and offering workers an additional $600 a week for four months, on top of what state unemployment programs pay.
“We had asked for four months and four months looks like what we’re going to get,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “It will put money into the hands of those who need it so much because they lost their jobs, as I said, through no fault of their own.”
Lawmakers of both parties are under extreme pressure from their constituents and health care providers in their districts and states to act to provide desperately needed money and supplies amid widespread shortages and waves of layoffs.
As of Tuesday afternoon, there were more than 53,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States, and the numbers were rising by the hour.
All parties would like to act swiftly, so if the Senate is able to pass a bipartisan package quickly, the expectation is that the House would follow suit.
House Democrats released their own larger and more generous stimulus package on Monday, stuffed with provisions that would be nonstarters for Republicans such as a $15 minimum wage requirement for airlines and businesses that receive funds. But that legislation would be set aside and Pelosi would attempt to move the Senate bill through the House.
One outstanding issue Pelosi raised is that Democrats are pushing for a dramatic increase in food stamp benefits in exchange for accepting billions more in funding for the administration’s farm bailout that Republicans have included in the stimulus bill.
The House is currently out of session, and it would be tricky for House members to return en masse to Washington to vote. Democratic aides said they were optimistic that a strong bipartisan Senate vote would make it possible to pass the bill by unanimous consent in the House.
“The easiest way for us to do it is to put aside our concerns for another day and get this done,” Pelosi said Tuesday in her CNBC interview. “My goal always has been to bring this bill to the floor under unanimous consent.”
However, any lawmaker of either party could object, and in an early warning sign Tuesday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., voiced concern about the legislation over Twitter, writing that despite “vague statements,” no one had seen text of the legislation.
Among House Republicans, there is similar reticence to commit to approving a still-unseen bill, according to GOP aides familiar with internal conversations.
If unanimous consent is not possible, aides of both parties said the most likely scenario would be a daylong vote where members would be encouraged to spread out their trips to the floor and not congregate as the vote is taken.
At least two House members and one senator have tested positive for the coronavirus, while others remained quarantined, and multiple Democratic lawmakers have voiced trepidation about returning to the Capitol.
Meanwhile on Tuesday, top defense and military leaders warned department personnel that the virus problems could extend for eight to 10 weeks, or longer. Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a Defense Department town hall meeting that the crisis could even extend into July.
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