Richmond has experienced the city’s first coronavirus-related deaths.

The Richmond City Health District reported Tuesday that two city residents—men in their 70s—have died from COVID-19. The men had underlying, chronic health conditions and died while they were hospitalized, the health district said in a news release.

Both men had recently worked in New Jersey, according to the health district, which is investigating who may have been in contact with the men.

“We are deeply saddened to learn that this pandemic has claimed its first lives in our community, and my condolences go out to the families of these men,” said Mayor Levar Stoney in a statement. “This virus knows no borders, which is why it is critically important that we continue to follow health protocols established by the Centers for Disease Control and adhere to Governor Northam’s executive order. Stay home and keep Richmond safe.”

The Virginia Department of Health reported earlier Tuesday that 27 people had died from the virus and 1,250 people had tested positive. That includes 26 positive cases in Richmond.

Now the city has its first COVID-19 deaths.

“Every loss we experience at the hands of this disease is tragic,” said Dr. Danny Avula, director of the Richmond City and Henrico Health Districts. “I hope this news gives our community even more resolve to stay home, strictly follow the isolation and quarantine guidelines, and to limit our physical interactions with others.”

- Justin Mattingly

Petersburg Area Transit shutting down fixed-route bus service

Petersburg Area Transit is canceling fixed-route service effective 4:30 p.m. April 1 in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Two Petersburg residents were confirmed as having the virus as of Tuesday in data provided by the Virginia Department of Health online.

The company said Tuesday afternoon that it will provide emergency para-transit services for current para-transit riders.

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Bon Secours St. Francis Medical Center opened in Chesterfield County in 2005. 

Bon Secours to furlough some staff not directly working to fight COVID-19

Bon Secours Mercy Health, which runs four hospitals in the Richmond region, announced Tuesday that it would place staff who are not directly supporting work on COVID-19 response on furlough without pay for up to three months.

The total number of furloughed employees includes 700 total full-time equivalents across seven states and 12 markets, which is less than 1% of the 51-hospital system’s total workforce of 60,000, according to Bon Secours.

In an email to staff, Bon Secours CEO John Starcher said that a recent projection estimates that the health system will have operating losses of more than $100 million a month as a result of the impact of COVID-19, including the cancellation of elective surgeries and primary care services.

“These decisions will help our ministry preserve life and provide vital health care services to the increasing number of patients that require care; be good stewards of our resources and provide adequate support to our care givers as they care for our communities; and be thoughtful about caring for those associates whose roles are vitally important to our ministry but are not directly supporting patient care during this time of crisis,” Bon Secours said in a statement.

The furlough is expected to last 30-90 days and employees will first collect paid time off until it runs out. After that, they will be eligible for unemployment benefits, according to the statement from Bon Secours. The health system’s foundation also has a $60 million Associate Emergency Fund to help those employees who face serious financial challenges.

HCA Healthcare, which runs several Richmond-area hospitals including Chippenham and Henrico Doctors’, said that it has not made any decisions to furlough or lay off employees.

“HCA Virginia continues to plan to ensure we have the capacity, staffing, supplies, and equipment needed as the situation continues to evolve,” said Jeff Caldwell, spokesman for the health system.

VCU Health said that it is not planning staffing reductions or furloughs related to COVID-19.

- Bridget Balch

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L-R, Becky Patterson, RT and Monica Moore, NP perform COVID-19 testing at BetterMed Urgent Care on N. Parham Rd. in Henrico, VA Tues. March 31, 2020.

BetterMed Urgent Care offering drive-through coronavirus testing

BetterMed Urgent Care is offering drive-through testing for coronavirus at locations in the Richmond and Fredericksburg areas, with test results ready within 24 to 48 hours.

Testing is done by appointment only and appointments must be made on BetterMed’s website, www.bettermedcare.com, said Dr. Mark Rausch, the founder and a medical director of the clinics. BetterMed accepts commercial insurance or $250 for the test, in which patients do not need to leave their vehicles.

The locations doing testing are in Short Pump, Regency Square in Henrico, Ashland, Fredericksburg and Chester will start Wednesday, Rausch said. They will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week.

The locations are only for COVID-19 testing and only one staff person at each facility comes into contact with patients in order to minimize risk, Rausch said. Patients who have other medical needs are directed to BetterMed locations that are practicing regular medicine but not treating COVID-19 patients.

Rausch declined to say from which lab he obtains testing kits and said BetterMed is operating on a day’s supply of kits or so. The company receives packages of testing kits almost daily. “They’re really difficult to come by,” he said.

He said BetterMed had tested about 350 people for COVID-19 as of Monday.

- Patrick Wilson

230 new COVID cases

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The Virginia Department of Health reported Tuesday that 1,250 people in Virginia have tested positive for COVID-19.

That’s an increase of 230 cases from 1,020 reported Monday.

The VDH also said that 13,401 have been tested for the virus in Virginia, and 165 people have been hospitalized.

There have been 27 deaths in the state.

There are coronavirus cases in 96 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.

Highest case rate per capita in Virginia

This uses April 1 data from the Virginia Department of Health and 2018 population estimates for Virginia cities and counties according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Highest case rate per capita Cases Rate per 100,000
James City County 95 124.4
Williamsburg 9 60.4
Arlington County 119 50.1
Charlottesville 16 33.3
Goochland County 7 30.1
Louisa County 11 29.9
Charles City County 2 28.8
Loudoun County 105 25.8
Greensville County 3 25.8
Fairfax County 288 25
Northumberland County 3 24.7
Poquoson 3 24.6
Henrico County 78 23.7
York County 16 23.6

This is the breakdown of cases across the state according to the VDH website:

Virginia cases by locality

Locality Total Cases
Fairfax 288
Arlington 119
Prince William 106
Loudoun 105
James City 95
Virginia Beach 88
Henrico 78
Chesterfield 59
Norfolk 33
Richmond City 33
Alexandria 32
Chesapeake 31
Newport News 29
Stafford 28
Albemarle 21
Charlottesville 16
York 16
Frederick 15
Hampton 14
Portsmouth 13
Louisa 11
Harrisonburg 10
Manassas City 9
Rockingham 9
Williamsburg 9
Gloucester 8
Prince George 8
Shenandoah 8
Spotsylvania 8
Accomack 7
Fauquier 7
Goochland 7
Lynchburg 7
Botetourt 6
Hanover 6
Roanoke City 6
Suffolk 6
Amherst 5
Culpeper 5
Franklin County 5
Isle of Wight 5
Winchester 5
Danville 4
Hopewell 4
King George 4
Mecklenburg 4
Orange 4
Petersburg 4
Roanoke County 4
Bedford 3
Fluvanna 3
Greensville 3
Madison 3
Northumberland 3
Poquoson 3
Powhatan 3
Warren 3
Amelia 2
Buckingham 2
Campbell 2
Charles City 2
Henry 2
Lee 2
Mathews 2
Nelson 2
Prince Edward 2
Rockbridge 2
Smyth 2
Tazewell 2
Washington 2
Waynesboro 2
Wythe 2
Alleghany 1
Augusta 1
Bristol 1
Brunswick 1
Carroll 1
Clarke 1
Covington 1
Franklin City 1
Fredericksburg 1
Galax 1
Greene 1
Halifax 1
King William 1
King and Queen 1
Lancaster 1
Manassas Park 1
Montgomery 1
New Kent 1
Northampton 1
Nottoway 1
Page 1
Pittsylvania 1
Radford 1
Southampton 1
Surry 1
Sussex 1

(This is breaking news. This story will be updated.)

Chesterfield to furlough 500 employees starting Saturday

Chesterfield County has furloughed more than 500 part-time and full-time employees in response to the economic uncertainty due to COVID-19.

The county announced the furloughs, which start Saturday, in a new release on Monday.

“Unfortunately, we find ourselves in unusual circumstances as the national, state and local economies continue to be negatively impacted by COVID-19 and the subsequent quarantines,” said Dr. Joseph P. Casey, county administrator. “It’s projected that the nation will be facing the worst-ever financial quarter. With a significant impending economic downturn, as good stewards of taxpayer monies we’ve already had to make some tough decisions and take money-saving measures.”

Employees were notified last week, the release said. They were given information about their eligibility for unemployment as well as information regarding six-months of dental and health benefits paid by the county.

(This is breaking news. This story will be updated.)

NEWS FROM MONDAY

Northam issues statewide stay-at-home order effective through June 10

{strong style=”font-size: 20px;”}Update:{/strong} Gov. Ralph Northam on Monday ordered state residents to remain at home except for certain necessities, stepping up the state’s restrictions on public activity to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

The order—which went into effect Monday and will remain in place until June 10—allows people to leave their homes if they “must go out for food, supplies, medical care, or to get fresh air or exercise,” Northam said during a news conference.

The order also allows people to travel to work, places of worship and child care providers and for volunteering, caretaking and to seek social services.

“You should stay home to the greatest extent possible,” Northam said.

The order comes as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb in Virginia, where 1,020 people have tested positive for the virus. On Monday, the Virginia Department of Health reported 130 new cases of COVID-19 and that the state was up to 25 deaths. So far, 12,038 people have been tested.

Virginia’s coronavirus stay-at-home order: What is and is not allowed

Richmond to restrict access to some public spaces, including James River

Earlier: Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam will order state residents to remain at home with some exceptions, as the state steps up its effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, a source familiar with the order said.

Northam’s order will allow people to leave their homes to seek a wide array of essential services like medical attention, food, banking and more.

The order will also limit access to the state’s beaches, barring swimming and sunbathing.

People will still be allowed to engage in outdoor activities, as long as they follow the state’s ban on gatherings larger than 10 people and remain 6 feet apart from others. The state’s parks will remain open.

The decision represents an about-face for Northam, who on Friday suggested that there was virtually no difference between issuing an order and his ongoing requests for people to stay at home except for essential outings.

“We’re talking semantics here. We’re talking about how to enforce this,” Northam said on Friday. “However you want to describe it, all of the states giving the same direction, which is to stay at home.”

The Northam administration has not shared details of the order, but Northam said he is making a “major announcement” during a scheduled press conference at 2 p.m.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan issued a similar order Monday, directing Maryland residents to leave their homes only for “essential” reasons, which includes procuring food, medicine or reporting to work if they are essential workers.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper also issued a stay-at-home order, which will go into effect at 5 p.m. Monday.

- Mel Leonor

Three Richmond ambulance employees test positive for COVID-19

Three Richmond Ambulance Authority employees have tested positive for the coronavirus, the ambulance service said Monday.

The employees include a paramedic, EMT and a support staff member. The authority said in a news release that none of the three “are believed to have contracted” the virus while at work and didn’t interact with their co-workers or patients while they were ill.

All three self-quarantined, according to the news release, and one employee has returned to work after being isolated for two weeks. The other two are still quarantined at home.

“Our agency has and will continue to communicate with our staff members about the importance of practicing social distancing when possible, good hygiene, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), self monitoring during work days and days off, and notifying the agency should they start to exhibit any symptoms associated with COVID-19,” the city’s ambulance service said in the release. “We will continue to take steps to ensure our agency can provide necessary emergency services to the citizens of Richmond and we ask that (everyone) continue to do what they can to mitigate the spread of this disease.”

- Justin Mattingly

SOLs officially canceled

With Virginia schools shuttered for the rest of the academic year, most state testing is officially canceled.

The U.S. Department of Education approved on Saturday the state’s application for a waiver from federally-mandated state testing, something the federal agency said it would do earlier this month to ease the burden families, students and teachers are facing trying to balance school closures and a public health crisis.

Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane submitted the application on Friday, according to a Virginia Department of Education news release on Monday, with the approval coming a day later.

“I would like to thank USED for how quickly they are granting these waivers so that we can provide certainty for our educators and students,” Lane said in a statement.

Lane and the state Education Department had initially said the application required approval from the Virginia Board of Education, but the federal agency said that wasn’t needed, according to the news release.

The Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal government’s primary K-12 education law, requires annual testing in third through eighth grades in reading and math, while mandating that states test students in science at least once during elementary, middle and high school.

While the reading, math and science tests have been canceled, Virginia’s testing system also includes tests in writing and social studies. Those tests aren’t mandated by federal law, but by state statute.

The state Education Department said it is “exploring options” for canceling those tests when the General Assembly reconvenes for its veto session April 22.

- Justin Mattingly

Richmond City Hall

Richmond City Hall

Richmond city offices to remain closed until April 12

Richmond city offices will remain closed to the public until April 12.

“The continued closure is designed to ensure the health and safety of residents, employees and the general public in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the city said in a release Monday morning.

The city said essential city personnel will continue to work. A list of essential city services can be found here.

- Paul Whelan

Sentara warns of testing scam

Sentara Healthcare said a Virginia Beach resident received a bogus call over the weekend offering in-home COVID-19 testing.

Sentara said a caller claiming to be with the hospital system asked to come to the person’s home to conduct a test. The caller claimed the person may have been exposed to someone with the virus. The Virginia Beach resident was suspicious, denied the request and contacted Sentara.
“No one from Sentara will call and ask to come to your home to conduct a coronavirus test,” Sentara said in a news release Monday. “If someone tries this tactic, deny the request and hang up. We are heartsick that in the midst of a national health crisis, scammers would use our name to prey on worried people.”

The hospital system, which is the largest in the state and serves the Hampton Roads area, said they notified local authorities.

- Paul Whelan