Richmond police detained several people equipped with assault-style rifles, handguns, ammunition and body armor early Friday after a confrontation at the Robert E. Lee monument, a department spokeswoman said.
One person was arrested.
Around 12:55 a.m. Friday, officers in the area of the Lee circle saw several pickup trucks approach a group that had dismounted their bicycles in the traffic lanes, police spokeswoman Amy Vu said in an email.
“Words were exchanged between the individuals and the drivers of the pickup trucks,” she said. “One pickup truck sped off and then another pickup truck ran over a bicycle while fleeing the area.”
It’s unclear if anyone was injured.
Vu said the victim whose bike was run over refused medical treatment, but police called an ambulance anyway, and the person was cleared.
Officers pursued the trucks, making three traffic stops: in the 2700 block of Hanover Avenue, about 1 mile from the monument; on the Huguenot Bridge, about 6 miles away; and in the 6500 block of Three Chopt Road, a little over 5 miles from the confrontation.
Vu said officers detained multiple people but didn’t know exactly how many, adding that none had addresses in the city. The stops revealed the individuals had multiple assault-style rifles, handguns, ammunition and body armor. Three assault-style rifles and one handgun were seized.
One person was arrested and charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
According to multiple accounts on social media, the individuals on bikes were linked to protesters who took to the streets for the 14th straight night after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis on May 25.
“Further investigation may lead to additional charges in relation to this incident,” Vu said. “Detectives are working to make contact with any victims associated with this incident.”
Anyone with information should call Crime Stoppers at (804) 780-1000.
SPERRYVILLE — Coming to a road crossing in Shenandoah National Park, Sophia Lohrman was almost shocked to see another human being.
She’s been on the Appalachian Trail — essentially off the grid — for over 500 miles and 2½ months.
Through all that time, she’s rarely seen more than one or two people every day.
On March 23, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy requested that hikers leave the trail due to the coronavirus pandemic, but it’s estimated that a few hundred, including Lohrman, continued on.
The “AT” is more than 2,000 miles long and stretches from Georgia to Maine. It can take five to seven months to complete, meaning anyone attempting to hike it has to be in a position to leave day-to-day responsibilities — a job, rent, children or a spouse — behind. For Lohrman, the stars aligned this year, and she doesn’t know if she’ll ever get the opportunity again.
She also believes the pandemic has been dramatized by the media.
“I’m not going to completely discredit the virus,” Lohrman said. “I know people have died from it, but I don’t think it is as scary as some people have made it out to be. That may just be my distrusting brain.
“I figure if something happens to me, then either I’ll figure out a way to get some sort of help, or I’ll end up dying out here — and that’s all cool, too. There are worse places, and I’d much rather die on the trail than being at home and dying in my bed. I don’t really think dying is a risk.”
Those who kept hiking received massive amounts of backlash online. There are a range of arguments, but the general sentiment is that people who decided to stay on the trail are selfishly endangering the lives of others for their own hiking experience.
Rahawa Haile, a writer working on a book about her experiences on the AT, has been especially outspoken on this issue.
“It’s reckless beyond belief,” she said.
Neville Harris, owner of the Woods Hole Hostel and B&B in Pearisburg, stressed that for some, the decision to stay on the trail is much more complicated.
“It’s a self-exploratory territory, and people gain a lot from being on the trail,” Harris said. “They get a lot of personal growth. For some, it’s physical. For some, it’s spiritual. For some, it’s mental. It has many layers of growth.
“Some decided emotional trauma would come up if they were breaching the fact of coming back home. Some decided to stay out here because of drug addictions.”
While William Welch and his partner, Kera Passante, are extremely concerned about the coronavirus, they didn’t see any other choice than to stay on the trail. Like many thru-hikers, Welch and Passante moved out of their home before starting their journey.
“We can’t just go home in the middle of a pandemic and get new jobs and find a place to rent,” Welch said. “It just isn’t that easy. Literally everything we owned was on our backs, and we decided we weren’t going to leave unless they dragged us out.”
The couple understood people’s reasons for leaving the trail as well.
For many people, the community aspect is the biggest reason to hike the AT. Derek Lugo, the author of “The Unlikely Thru-Hiker: An Appalachian Trail Journey,” considers meeting the locals and other thru-hikers a vital part of the Appalachian Trail experience that will be missing for those who choose to hike during the pandemic.
For others, it was strictly an issue of safety.
Lugo first hiked the AT in 2012. If he’d been on the trail this year, he would have left it because of how heavily hikers have to rely on the small towns along the trail. With the stores and hostels along the way closed, a thru-hiker could easily get into serious trouble.
Even during the height of the pandemic, hikers such as Welch and Lohrman say practically everything along the trail was open, whether they were legally allowed to be or not.
“They needed business, so they let us stay,” Welch said. “We found that a lot. These towns rely on hikers, so the economies for them were more important.”
Some business owners such as Harris did follow the stay-at-home order. Woods Hole has started a “quiet reopening.” Harris is diligent about following precautions and making sure social distancing is followed.
Joe Mitchell, owner of the Four Pines Hostel in Catawba, has had less than half the number of visitors he usually does during this time of year.
Mitchell said he finds the ATC’s handling of the situation “ludicrous” considering the virus’s limited impact in his area. He’s in a rural part of Roanoke County, where overall there had been 132 COVID-19 cases as of Friday, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
As a sole proprietor, Harris knows how devastating a hit like this can be for a small business, especially considering how short the window is for trailside hostels. In Virginia, the busy season starts in mid-March and is over by early June.
“I’ve never sat down and figured out what I had in my bank account and how many months I could live for,” Harris said. “I was like ‘OK, I can do this.’ ”
Harris recently received her first unemployment check, which she used to pay her staff.
While these towns do rely on the trail for business, there is also a concern that hikers could be transmitting the virus up and down the coast.
Someone completing the AT travels through 14 states and countless towns. While the majority of the trail is in remote areas, thru-hikers have to go into towns at least every four or five days to resupply themselves.
“This is more states than I’ve ever visited in my entire life, and I’m doing it during a pandemic,” Welch said.
Many people have said they support the thru-hikers’ decision to stay on the trail as long as they practice social distancing measures and wear masks.
Lugo doesn’t believe the hikers are endangering anyone. He compares it to his home of New York City. He said that even with social distancing, he probably encounters more people on a trip to the grocery store than thru-hikers do on the majority of the 2,190-mile trail.
But as states begin to reopen, that’s becoming less and less true.
Since starting the trail 1,000 miles and three months ago, Welch and Passante have seen an average of five people a week.
When they got to Bear Mountain State Park in New York state a few days ago, they were shocked. There were thousands of day hikers at the park.
“It’s insane out there,” Welch said. “As soon as you get near a public area there [are] thousands of people. They all migrated from [New York City]. It’s crazy, being in the epicenter of the pandemic, basically. Nobody’s wearing masks. Nobody’s social distancing. It’s very shocking for us having been in the woods though this whole thing and coming out to see thousands of people.”
Even if it is possible for people to social distance on most sections of the trail, it’s only because so many other people left the trail early on.
There are typically over 1,000 people who hike the AT each year, leading to crowded campsites and shelters.
Harris worries that those who have disobeyed the ATC’s instruction are being “rewarded” with an even better experience than they would have had in a typical year.
While most Americans have been forced to stay at home for the past few months, Lohrman has been absent.
She hasn’t experienced the Zoom calls, working from home, or the drive-by birthday parties and graduations that have become their own culture amid the pandemic.
She’s hardly heard anything about the Black Lives Matter protests that have sprung up around the country in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Thru-hikers are typically able to check the news every few days, whether that’s on a smartphone or from a newspaper when they reach a town. But neither Lorhman nor Welch feels particularly connected to what they’ve read.
These things could be happening in a different country or even on a different planet.
“Thirty years from now, when somebody talks about the pandemic and the riots, our story is going to be that we were literally off the grid walking from Georgia to Maine, and we had nothing to do with it,” Welch said. “We were living our own lives in the woods when everybody else was locked down inside their homes. We were the free ones, and everyone else had their freedom kind of taken away.”
Harris believes that it’s important to step away from the news from time to time and that there’s a healing power in nature.
Lugo agrees completely. When he was hiking, Lugo felt he was finally able to have a complete thought. He could have deeper conversations about life, the government and race.
This is one of the reasons he is working to increase diversity on the Appalachian Trail, historically an extremely white community.
In 2012, Lugo was the only black or Latino person who completed the AT. Since then, he has been an influential member of the hiking community, writing about his experience as a person of color on the trail and speaking at events across the country.
He believes it is primarily an issue of education — people in black and brown communities aren’t always aware of opportunities like the Appalachian Trail.
While the AT feels very removed from the Black Lives Matter movement, both Lugo and Harris believe the trail is the right environment for discussions about race.
Lugo found white hikers to be open to conversations about race even if it was as simple as mentioning that they hadn’t met a lot of black hikers. While the interactions were awkward at times, they never came off as offensive.
“When you’re on the trail, and you’re at a shelter with someone with a completely different background than you, you could care less about coming from different backgrounds,” Harris said. “You’re just glad to have company because you’re lonely. … There’s a healing that happens to our whole psyche, and it happens, not because of some agency. It happens because we’re interacting with each other in a really wholesome environment.”
Harris believes that regardless of the trauma — whether it stems from drug addiction, racial injustice or any number of other things that bring people to the Appalachian Trail — change starts on an individual level.
“If I need to hike in order to change me,” she said, “I need to hike.”
In Nation & World | CDC releases long-awaited guidelines on reducing COVID-19 risks | Page A12
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While signs show the U.S. economy is rebounding somewhat from the severe downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the recovery could be slow, the top official with the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond said Friday.
Thomas I. Barkin said the speed of the recovery will depend a lot on the future spread of the virus and the ability of businesses to adapt to new health protocols and job-training needs.
“The time of being fully locked down seems to be over,” said Barkin, who has been president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond since January 2018. “Localities are in the process of reopening. Assuming no significant resurgence [in the coronavirus], we should see a positive trajectory from here.”
Yet Barkin raised some concerns about the economic recovery during a speech Friday to members of the Richmond-area business community in a webinar hosted by the business organization ChamberRVA.
One area is the jobless rate, which stood at 13.3% in May, the U.S. Labor Department reported last week.
But the real unemployment rate is likely in the “high teens”’ when taking into account people who have simply dropped out of the workforce and those who have not reported being out of work, Barkin said.
“The reality is actually worse than the 13.3% headline number. And distressingly, those job losses have disproportionately fallen on people of color, underscoring a historic set of fault lines in our society that are painfully tangible right now,” Barkin said.
“For the tens of millions of people who have lost their jobs, their future is hazy,” Barkin said. “Will they be called back to their former places of employment? If not, what jobs will be available to them? Will the industries for which they have been trained continue to exist at the scale they did in the past, or continue to exist at all?”
He also noted a difference in how the economic crisis has affected white-collar employees compared with blue-collar workers, and urban and rural workers.
The jobless rate is around 7% among white-collar workers, about 63% of whom have been able to work from home. But the unemployment rate is around 20% among blue-collar and service-industry workers, and many of those people who are still working have had no choice but to potentially expose themselves to the virus by working outside their homes.
The pace of recovery “is going to be slow” without systematic efforts to protect workers and consumers, he said.
“People are going to have to feel comfortable shopping and traveling, and eating out,” he said.
“Our legislators and monetary policymakers have taken extraordinary steps to support the health of the economy, but if we are going to get to the other side of the crisis, we have to also be thinking about the longer-term changes that will enable our economy to recover and give more people a shot at participating when it does,” Barkin said.
“For me, that starts with aggressive and consistent workplace health protection protocols,” he said. “These are critical for essential workers. They are also critical to convince displaced workers it is safe to come back and then critical to make consumers feel safe when they visit a store or restaurant.”
The crisis has further spotlighted the need for additional resources for education and job training, along with child care and elder care, with many people facing barriers to returning to work during the pandemic because they have limited access to those services. He said the crisis represents “an opportunity to bolster community colleges in job-training programs” along with online job training.
“There is no getting around expanding public and private investment in early child care and elder care,” he said. “With an aging population and millions of working families depending on child care to work, we need to find a way to make these business models safe, sustainable and affordable.”
While retail sales and manufacturing production both have declined by double digits, Barkin also pointed to some recent signs of a rebound, including a rise in positive consumer sentiment, a recent improvement in credit card spending, and signs that people are driving and traveling more than they were in the early stages of the crisis. Automobile dealers have reported a rebound in demand.
But much will depend on whether there are future surges in infection rates, and how long government-backed fiscal stimulus lasts, Barkin said.
The scale of the crisis prompted the Federal Reserve to signal Wednesday that it expects to keep its key short-term interest rate near zero through 2022 as a way to provide stimulus to the economy.
Barkin — who is not a voting member this year of the Federal Open Market Committee, a panel of rotating regional bank presidents and Fed board members that meets regularly to set the federal funds rate — said he sees little chance the Fed will take the extraordinary step of pushing interest rates below zero. He will be a voting member in 2021 as he was in 2018.
“There is economic theory that suggests that it provides more stimulus for the economy,” he said. “I don’t see that happening in practice. If you look at the results in Japan and Europe, they don’t seem to be compelling at all.”
With the Hispanic community being disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic, a team from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be doing community surveys in several local neighborhoods this weekend.
In the city of Richmond, Hispanics and Latinos represent only 6 percent of the population but account for 32% of COVID-19 cases and 30% of coronavirus-related hospitalizations.
The Richmond and Chesterfield County health districts collaborated with the CDC to bring in the team of six individuals, all of whom are Latino themselves, to help define the local response. Since arriving here, the team has been studying local data and meeting with stakeholders.
Dr. Danny Avula, the director of Henrico’s and Richmond’s health districts, said the spread in the Hispanic community is largely due to three factors: employer-based outbreaks in large facilities and factories, home situations that make it difficult to self-isolate, and distrust or fear of government institutions.
“Early on, it was travelers coming into our community from elsewhere; it was the long-term care facility impacts of COVID-19; it was the racial disparity in the African American community; and over the last few weeks we’ve really seen the significant degree of spread in our Latinx community,” Avula said at a news conference Friday. (“Latinx” is a gender-neutral term for the community.)
Avula led the news conference in collaboration with the Chesterfield Health Department, the Virginia Hispanic Chamber and Richmond’s Office of Multicultural Affairs.
Aside from the CDC partnership, the city of Richmond had established a website with COVID-19 information — RVAStrong.org — that includes pages with Spanish translations, as well as informational videos. Avula said health officials also have been “working really hard to do the rounds with both Spanish TV and radio.”
In addition,the Virginia Hispanic Chamber has been communicating with companies that employ a large proportion of Latino workers.
“One of the challenges particularly for the undocumented community is that they don’t have access to things like paid sick leave,” Avula said. “Part of our work needs to be educating employers on signs and the requirements to really screen employees before they come in.”
Avula said that in cases where paid sick leave is unavailable, the health districts are working to disburse philanthropic funds to those in isolation.
Monica Sarmiento, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Immigrant Rights, said in an interview that the lack of governmental support during the pandemic leaves Latino and immigrant families, many of whom are living paycheck to paycheck, in a particularly precarious situation.
“The fear of homelessness is also looming as well as disease,” she said. “Ultimately we are still pushing and waiting and demanding that the governor’s office and local municipalities do more for the community.”
Avula said a program was set up three weeks ago to move individuals in living situations that complicate self-isolation or quarantine into hotels — a program with very limited uptake so far, with only four people participating. The low participation, he said, is likely tied to government distrust within the Latino community.
“It’s still the health department that’s reaching out to individuals and offering this, so we’ve got to figure out how to do a better job of reassuring people that no name, no information is going to be shared with any other entities,” Avula said.
Meanwhile, the Virginia Department of Health reported Friday that the statewide total for COVID-19 cases is 53,211 — an increase of 564 from the 52,647 reported Thursday.
The 53,211 cases include 50,853 confirmed cases and 2,358 probable cases. Also, there have been 1,534 COVID-19 deaths in Virginia — 1,426 confirmed and 108 probable. That’s an increase of 14 from the 1,520 reported Thursday.
The VDH defines probable COVID-19 cases as people who are symptomatic with a known exposure to COVID-19, but whose cases have not been confirmed with a positive test.
Of the tests reported Friday, a whopping 43,000 new diagnostic COVID-19 tests were part of backlog of tests from two labs. VDH said the backlogged tests all represent negative results; positive backlogged tests were entered into the system manually in past days.
As the overall number of positive COVID-19 test results in Virginia grows, data from the VDH coronavirus dashboard show that the percentage of positive results from testing is down. The seven-day average for percent of positive test results was at 8% as of Friday. That’s down from a peak of 22.2% on April 19.
In the Richmond area, there are 6,397 cases: 2,193 in Henrico County, 2,109 in Chesterfield County, 1,733 in Richmond and 362 in Hanover County.
Also, the region has 227 deaths attributed to the virus: 136 in Henrico, 38 in Chesterfield, 28 in Richmond and 25 in Hanover.
Fairfax County, the state’s most populous locality with more than 1.1 million people, has the most cases with 12,863 and 421 deaths.
VDH said there are 410 outbreaks in the state, with 224 of them in long-term care facilities. These facilities also account for 870 of the state’s deaths attributed to the virus.
State health officials have said there’s a lag in the reporting of statewide numbers on the VDH website. Figures on the website might not include cases or deaths reported by localities or local health districts.