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Virginia sees first death from coronavirus; first Chesterfield resident tests positive

Virginia saw its first death from the coronavirus, the Virginia Department of Health said Saturday.

The Health Department said the death occurred in the Peninsula Health District, which covers Newport News, Poquoson, Williamsburg, James City County and York County.

Rep. Rob Wittman, R-1st, said in a statement that the death was in James City, which is part of his district.

“My heart breaks for that patient, their family, and all those affected around the world by this virus,” Wittman said. “My staff and I are working extremely closely with Governor Northam and his staff as well as the Virginia Department of Health to address this ongoing situation.”

The patient was a hospitalized man in his 70s who acquired the virus through an unknown source, the Health Department said. The cause of death was respiratory failure as a result of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Also on Saturday, state health officials announced Chesterfield County’s first positive test for the coronavirus, a man in his 60s who was said to be doing well and is isolated at home.

In a statement on Saturday, Gov. Ralph Northam said he and first lady Pam Northam were saddened by the news that COVID-19 had killed a Virginia resident.

“And we grieve for everyone this virus has touched around the world,” Northam said.

The governor added that officials have taken a series of actions in the wake of the virus’s arrival in the state, including declaring a state emergency, closing schools for two weeks, limiting visits to nursing homes and canceling large events.

“This is a public health crisis — we must all treat it as such,” Northam said.

Dr. Norman Oliver, the state health commissioner, expressed sympathy for the family and loved ones of the patient who died, “as well as the families of everyone who has been affected by this outbreak.”

“The health of our residents and the community is our top priority, and we will continue working together to care for the patients, protect the safety of health care workers, and protect the people in our Commonwealth,” Oliver said in a statement.

In the Chesterfield case, health officials received the positive test results late Friday night.

“Confirming a case of COVID-19 in a Chesterfield resident does not come as a surprise given international travel from an affected area,” Dr. Alexander Samuel, director of the Chesterfield Health District, said in a news release. “We have been on high alert for possible cases of residents with COVID-19 and are working hard to identify possible cases.”

The Chesterfield man recently returned from international travel from an area with confirmed cases, according to the release, and upon his return to the U.S., he stayed home to monitor his health. After developing symptoms, he was tested by the Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services in Richmond.

As of Saturday evening, there were 41 coronavirus cases in Virginia, according to the state Department of Health’s tally, which includes “presumptive positive” cases as well as confirmed ones.

The Chesterfield case is the second positive case in the Richmond metro area. A Hanover County teenager who recently had returned from traveling overseas tested positive for the coronavirus Wednesday.

Concerns over the spread of the disease continued to ripple through the Richmond region on Saturday.

The Byrd Theatre in Carytown announced that it was temporarily closing effective Saturday in response to coronavirus concerns.

“This is a precautionary and voluntary measure as we currently have no known cases of novel coronavirus COVID-19 associated with the Byrd Theatre,” says a notice posted on the theater’s website.

The notice goes on to say that the move was the most “responsible and prudent action” given recommendations from the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that emphasize “social distancing.” Theater officials said that all previously purchased tickets for canceled screenings would be refunded.

“We appreciate your support in this unprecedented time and will share our plans as we re-evaluate,” the Byrd’s website says.

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has closed its doors for the next two weeks, the museum wrote in a Facebook post that says it “tentatively” plans to reopen on March 28.

The Virginia Museum of History and Culture, which is next to the VMFA, also plans to close for two weeks.

“Along with other museums in Richmond and across the Commonwealth, we feel that it is our duty to help prevent any opportunity of this virus spreading,” the Virginia Museum of History and Culture says on its website.

Two-week closures are affecting other local museums, including the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia, the Children’s Museum of Richmond and the Science Museum of Virginia.

At the ACAC Fitness Center on Robious Road in North Chesterfield, customers heading into the gym on Saturday morning passed by a sign at the front door telling them not to come in if they or their child have been experiencing signs of illness — such as coughing, sneezing, chills or a fever. The sign also said that people shouldn’t go in if they or their children have traveled outside the U.S. in the past 30 days or if they have been in close contact with someone who is sick within the past two weeks.

Inside the gym, electronic message boards displayed a letter from ACAC’s owner, Phil Wendel, who said the gym — which has 13 locations in Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland — plans to stay open as it takes “extraordinary measures” to prevent the spread of the disease.

Just down the road at the Kroger on Polo Parkway in Midlothian, customers were gathering groceries for their refrigerators and pantries on Saturday morning. A couple of customers perused the aisles wearing gloves. The shelves for some items, including bananas, toilet paper and sweet potatoes, were bare.

Publix, which has 13 grocery stores in the Richmond region, on Saturday started curbing store hours. Those stores, which typically close at 10 or 11 p.m. in the Richmond area, are now closing at 8 p.m. The early closings are to give employees time to conduct additional preventive cleaning and to restock shelves.

The Richmond General District Court will be closed to the public on Monday, Chief Judge L.B. Cann III wrote in a Friday order that details a series of scheduling changes that are being made in response to the coronavirus .

The general district court’s clerk’s offices will resume normal operations on Tuesday, March 17.

Criminal cases set for the 9 a.m. weekday docket and traffic cases set for the 11:30 a.m. docket that are scheduled to take place from March 16 through April 16 will have those hearings postponed for 28 days. The exception to that rule is that incarcerated defendants will keep their currently scheduled court date.

The court will still hold hearings on bond motions, protective order applications and emergency motions filed during the coming month, Cann wrote. The judge added that some cases, including parking and Virginia Employment Commission cases, are postponed for 56 days from their currently scheduled date.

Cases in the city’s Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court that involve support, civil custody and visitation, juvenile delinquency cases and adult criminal cases where the defendant is not behind bars are also being postponed.

A public notice from Richmond Circuit Court says that attorneys who have civil and criminal trials scheduled to take place over the next couple of weeks are being strongly encouraged to postpone them amid concerns about the coronavirus.

Alisa Gregory, the Henrico County sheriff, said Saturday that she wasn’t aware of any scheduling changes in the county court system. Still, she said, judges are making case-by-case decisions on whether to postpone a defendant’s court date.

“They are taking into consideration that some people may not be feeling well or are really concerned about coming into the court, so they are giving them an opportunity to get continuances,” Gregory said.

Andy Jenks, a spokesman for Henrico County Public Schools, said in an email Saturday that the school system plans to provide a “grab and go” food service for students who receive free and reduced-price meals during its two-week closure.

Jenks also said that Henrico school officials are working to address concerns from parents whose children don’t have access to a computer or the internet as a result of the schools being closed, and how to help students who have issues using school-issued laptops. The school system’s spring break, which runs from April 6 through April 10, will take place as scheduled, Jenks said.

“At this time, there are no considerations about lengthening the school year,” Jenks wrote.

The Chesterfield school system on Saturday announced that during its two-week closure, the school system would be providing free meals to students. The meals can be picked up at food services kiosks located outside the schools and other community locations, generally from 11 a.m. to noon on weekdays, although the times vary among locations.

PHOTOS: Coronavirus fears causing empty shelves, long lines at Richmond-area stores

Richmond-area parents plan for kids being out of school for two weeks

Just when Richmond-area parents thought they squeaked by without a single snow day so far this school year, along comes the coronavirus. Fears over the virus prompted Richmond-area school officials last week to close schools.

Schools in Richmond and Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico counties will close for two full weeks, starting Monday.

On Friday, Gov. Ralph Northam ordered schools across the state to close for at least two weeks.

“I think it’s a small sacrifice to make to try to help to contain something that we are all so unfamiliar with,” wrote Henrico County parent Carissa Garabedia by email. She said that while children do not seem to be the most impacted demographic, “they certainly can be carriers and bring it home to others who may have immune deficiencies or our elderly.”

She said being home from school means that parents have to be vigilant.

“My extreme worry right now is that with schools closing, the individuals that are not taking it seriously ... will allow their kids to go out in public,” she said.

Everyone should be working together to try to contain the virus, she added.

Working parents around the area now face the age-old scramble to arrange child care.

Learning Playhouse, a child care facility in Chesterfield, plans to remain open during the school closures.

“Right now, we’re just taking it day by day,” owner Mary Cheatham said. “And following procedures from the Virginia Department of Health.”

The facility has been asking the kids to wash their hands frequently and has been cleaning all classrooms daily, focusing on high-traffic areas and door handles.

Learning Playhouse has a preschool and an after-care program. The preschool is fully booked, but there are a few slots available for school-age children. The after-care program will be expanded.

“For school-age children, we’ll take up to 100 kids,” Cheatham said.

Michelle Hendricks and her husband, Alex Mayers, are both self-employed and plan to tag-team child care. They have three children, ages 10, 8 and 2.

Hendricks owns a small screen-printing and graphic design company in Midlothian and is more concerned about how the virus will affect her business.

“I work with athletic leagues,” she said. “This is my busy time of year and I’m worried with all these event cancellations and how it will impact my business.”

Hendricks and her husband plan to take their children to work when they are able.

Many large Richmond employers such as Capital One, Genworth Financial, Altria and CarMax are urging employees to use caution and work from home.

Malik Berger works for a major business that has asked employees to work from home, and his wife is a full-time homemaker. They have two 8-year-olds, a 12-year-old and a 15-year-old.

“We’ll manage fine,” Berger said. “But I’m worried about people in the lower economic echelon and how this will impact them. I’m worried that our overreaction will harm more people than it helps.”

Beth Tolley has an 8-year-old and a 5-year-old at Bon Air Elementary. She works part time, and her husband works full time and has been given work-at-home options. They plan to coordinate child care between them.

“I feel for people who are struggling and what they’re going to do,” she said. “We have to think about vulnerable people like older people or those with chronic conditions.”

Jennifer Curran, a city firefighter with a 16-year-old at Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School and a 13-year-old at Albert Hill Middle, described the two-week hiatus as “involuntary home-schooling.”

A single parent who shares custody, she had already planned to take time off work and will be home most of the time to guide her kids with their studies.

“I’m just thankful ... my kids aren’t 6 and 3,” she said.

Regan Kain from Midlothian has two kids, ages 5 and 8. She and her husband both work full time.

“Our plan is to rotate morning and afternoon who is going to be ‘on’ with the kids while trying to keep up with our work duties while working from home. We have also discussed with neighbors rotating and doing co-ops [for mornings and afternoons] to help maintain our work duties as well,” Kain said. “We’ve also had offers from friends and family that stay at home with their kids to help out, too, but how do we all maintain for an indefinite period of time?”

'This is far from usual': Small Richmond-area retailers coping in the era of coronavirus


Gelati Celesti has seen an upswing in sales of its brand of ice cream in recent weeks despite the news about the worldwide spread of the coronavirus.

Same-store sales are up 25% over the last two weeks compared with the same period last year, co-owner Steve Rosser said. The upswing at the company’s five locations in the Richmond region and one in Virginia Beach might be the result of people seeking out a treat amid the news about the spread of the virus, he said.

But Rosser said he does not anticipate the booming business to last. He expects customer traffic and revenue to dip in the coming months.

“We’re doing quite a bit of financial planning for the next four or five months, and we have stopped all nonessential spending,” Rosser said Thursday, adding the chain has cut back on marketing and training costs.

“In the event of substantial decline in sales, I really want to pay all of my [26] full-time employees. I want to be able to pay all of my financial obligations,” he said. “So it’s all about conserving cash right now.”

Like other brick-and-mortar retail locations throughout the Richmond region, Gelati Celesti is urging sick employees to stay home and has been encouraging social distancing between customers and employees as well as undertaking additional steps to curb the spread of germs.

Gelati Celesti is requiring more frequent hand-washing from employees and increasing the number of times they wipe down all the door handles, countertops and tables, Rosser said.

The company no longer allows customers to grab their own spoons, and it has one employee dedicated as store cashier who wears gloves and uses hand sanitizer while working the register, Rosser said.

While some businesses can have their employees work remotely from home — Capital One and Genworth Financial made those moves recently — the retail sector relies in large part on customers interacting with employees at brick-and-mortar locations.

Some retailers interviewed last week said they’ve seen foot traffic to their stores drop off due to the coronavirus concerns.

“It has definitely curbed foot traffic,” said Sarah Paxton, co-owner and president of contemporary home furnishings retailer LaDiff in Shockoe Bottom.

Amid the stock market downturn, customers tend to rethink their plans to buy durable goods such as furniture, Paxton said.

Employees at LaDiff are communicating more with customers via texting, web chats and phone calls, she said.

“Our team has been very vigilant about wiping down banisters and door knobs,” said Paxton, adding that the company has been making sure bathrooms and other key areas are clean.

Although some other local merchants interviewed said they’ve seen foot traffic wane amid the coronavirus concerns, James Kinard, who owns For the Love of Chocolate in Carytown, said sales have increased in recent days.

But he’s not too concerned about the virus’s impact on future sales, adding that in times of crisis, chocolate sales rise as people turn to comfort foods.

“I think some people are not in their office anymore,” Kinard said. On Wednesday, “We had crowds of people who are off work, so they don’t have anything to do but be out shopping.”

Still, Kinard said corporate clients who order boxes of candies for conferences seem to be inquiring more about the store’s return and cancellation policies.

“We had people [Wednesday] come in to buy all their Easter stuff early just in case something happened where they were quarantined with their kids at home,” Kinard said. “I think people are more concerned with the [stock] market right now than the actual virus.”

David Gallagher, co-owner of Tang & Biscuit Shuffleboard Social Club, an entertainment and food service venue in Scott’s Addition, is concerned how his business will fare in the weeks ahead.

“That is the one that is really scary to me,” Gallagher said. “We get 500 to 800 people in there on Fridays and Saturdays. I don’t have many numbers yet, but I can already see that the revenue has taken a punch. We have had bookings canceled, and that is a big deal to us.”

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney has recommended that events of more than 100 people be canceled. “Unfortunately that affects my event business at Tang & Biscuit,” Gallagher said.

Kevin Reardon, co-owner of Franco’s Fine Clothier, a men’s clothing retailer with locations on Lakeside Avenue and in Short Pump Town Center, said it is too early to tell how the coronavirus will affect his business.

“We haven’t seen anything as far as supply chain interruptions or anything like that, and so we are just going to continue on and hopefully this will resolve itself in not too long a period,” Reardon said.

Gary Weiner, president of Saxon Shoes, which has stores in Short Pump Town Center and in The Village at Spotsylvania Towne Centre in Fredericksburg, said his company is trying to conduct business as usual amid the coronavirus concerns.

“But this is far from usual,” Weiner said. “I would say that absolutely [foot] traffic is off over the last few weeks, but the nice thing is that this good weather is helping a little bit.”

Weiner said his business is focusing on cleanliness.

“We are being very vigilant with our staff and our surroundings to be as clean as possible and, number one, that starts with hand-washing many times during the day. We are trying to continue to buy as much hand sanitizer and cleaning fluids as possible.”

But almost everywhere he has checked for those cleaning supplies, they are sold out, Weiner said.

The local Retail Merchants group launched a new online toolkit last week where its 400 members in the Richmond region can get advice on how to respond to the virus, including tips on preparing for supply chain disruptions, dealing with sick employees, navigating staff shortages and communicating with customers about steps that have been taken to clean self-checkout kiosks and the location of hand sanitizers in the stores.

The takeaway from the association’s online tip sheet is businesses don’t need to panic, but they should map out how to deal with the challenges the coronavirus raises.

“The whole key is to have a plan and execute it,” said Nancy Thomas, the president of the Retail Merchants.

Concerns over the virus were affecting other small businesses last week, including Maiden Motion, a local fitness studio in the Fan District, and the Humble Haven Yoga studio downtown. Officials at both businesses told customers in emails that they were taking extra steps to clean their equipment.

The Sports Center of Richmond complex at 1385 Overbrook Road, meanwhile, told customers in a Facebook message on Thursday that the facility would be shutting down temporarily out of an abundance of caution. A tentative reopening date was set for March 21, the SCOR post said.

LaDiff’s Paxton said that once the coronavirus crisis has passed, she hopes consumers will patronize local stores hurt by the drop in business.

“Once we are all OK’d to spend time with each other again, please go out and support the local businesses,” Paxton said. “They are going to be the ones who need the business the most.”

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Richmond restaurants ready for coronavirus, some already seeing a drop in sales and some adding paid sick leave for employees

Chris Staples and his team at his Richmond restaurants have been cleaning for days — and they don’t have any plans to stop.

As director of hospitality and marketing for EAT Restaurant Partners, Richmond’s largest local restaurant group, Staples said his group sprang into action last week to implement new cleaning protocols at EAT’s 12 local restaurants to address any guests’ potential coronavirus concerns.

“Once the first case was in D.C., we started gearing up,” Staples said. EAT’s restaurants include Fat Dragon, Boulevard Burger and Brew, Foo Dog, Beijing on Grove, Pizza and Beer of Richmond, and Wild Ginger.

In addition to the usual cleaning and sanitation regimes required by the Virginia Department of Health, EAT restaurants have added hand sanitizing stations throughout the restaurants and brought in a hospital-grade disinfectant to wipe down everything — menus, tables, condiments, ordering kiosks, door handles, faucets and more — after every use.

“We’re just going to project cleanliness,” he said. “What you as a guest are going to see if you walk into any of our stores is clean things and people cleaning.”

EAT isn’t alone. Across town, Richmond restaurants are cleaning, disinfecting, sanitizing and then doing it again — anything to ease diners concerns about the potential spread of germs or viruses as the coronavirus pandemic spreads throughout Virginia. Some restaurants are changing their hours and menus; others, including Dutch and Company in Church Hill and Perch in Scott’s Addition, have removed some tables to increase space between customers; and many, including Perly’s, Parterre and Tarrant’s Cafe, are advertising and encouraging existing takeout and delivery options.

Some are even adding new options outright, including Secco Wine Bar and Perch, two restaurants that just launched special dinners for two to-go, featuring multicourse gourmet menus — and pickup options that limit interactions with people (Secco is offering curbside delivery and Perch is doing pickup through a special window).

“There are a lot of concerns from all the closings [and this] shows the team we are working hard to keep the business going and the guests we are adaptable,” said Mike Ledesma, chef and owner of Perch.

Local restaurant owners say they’re doing anything they can to weather what they know is a coming storm. A bad one.

They’re taking their cue from Seattle, which saw the first U.S. death related to COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, on Feb. 29. Within two weeks, more than 40 local restaurants were shuttered due to lack of diners, according to Eater Seattle, a restaurant-specific publication — some of them permanently.

In New York City, more than two dozen restaurants have closed temporarily, according to Eater New York. In the nation’s capital, reports put D.C. restaurant sales this week down between 25% and 40%, a fraction of what Seattle is currently experiencing. The Seattle Times reported Thursday that one restaurant group saw sales decline up to 90%.

“We’re all worried about it. There’s the fear of getting sick balanced with the fear of not being able to afford to stay open,” said Liz Kincaid, co-owner and chief operating officer of RVA Hospitality, whose restaurants include Tarrant’s Cafe.

Kincaid said business is already down at some of their restaurants, with some seeing a decline in sales of up to 40%. She said there was a slight decline when the stock market first took a dip, but the real hit started Monday, after the first Virginia case of COVID-19 was reported.

“There’s only so long small businesses can take the loss. We’re lucky we’re pretty financially conservative without investors to worry about, but yeah, we’re scared of the health, emotional, financial and spiritual impact of COVID-19. I think you’d be pressed to find an operator that isn’t right now,” Kincaid said.

In addition to extra cleaning, spacing tables, and promoting its takeout and delivery options, RVA Hospitality restaurants are closing an hour early to save on labor, extending happy hour until 9 p.m., and adding a free kids meal for children under 10 with any adult meal purchase until schools are back in session.

Longoven restaurant in Scott’s Addition made the dramatic decision Saturday afternoon to close after Saturday’s service and remain closed until the crisis is over. It was a striking change; just 24 hours earlier, the restaurant planned to operate with a limited menu and reduced hours.

“We take the rapidly changing circumstances of the COVID-19 virus very seriously, and what has become obvious is that taking steps to curb the spread of the virus by limiting non-essential social contact is the most effective means we have at this time to lessening its impact on our community,” the restaurant wrote on social media.

And while most Richmond restaurant owners are encouraging sick employees to stay home, some have taken the added step of offering paid sick leave to employees to ensure they do. Tazza Kitchen implemented a paid leave policy this week as an extension of an existing PTO bonus program it had in place for employees of its three Richmond-area restaurants, according to spokeswoman Susan Davenport.

“Because of the unprecedented situation around COVID-19, we realized that we needed to do something more immediate,” Davenport said. “This current fund is a temporary, emergency policy to get us through this period and to support our employees if they have specific symptoms related to COVID-19 or a communicative illness. Our resources will probably not allow us to replace someone’s entire income, but we want to lessen their burden as best we can. And honestly it’s something that may change daily.”

The need for immediate change is something all restaurant owners are planning for.

Donnie Glass, owner of Grisette, said it’s business as usual for now at his Church Hill restaurant, aside from more frequent and deeper cleaning, but he plans to reassess operating hours and increased takeout options after the weekend.

“We always do food to-go and we’re not yet looking into [delivery service], but we’re certainly open to it,” he said. “Perhaps we change course. I don’t want to change course, but we’re prepared to do that.”

And paid sick leave for employees has always been the policy at Grisette.

“Everyone who works here has paid time off,” Glass said. “In our industry, a lot of people feel pressure to work and to show up to work. We’d rather our employees stay home if they’re sick.”

But the hope for many Richmond restaurant owners over the next few weeks is that the diners show up, too. If not, no one is quite sure what it will mean.