President Donald Trump on Thursday approved a major disaster declaration for Virginia stemming from COVID-19.

The White House said in a news release that Trump “ordered federal assistance to supplement commonwealth, tribal, and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic beginning on January 20, 2020, and continuing.”

The White House said federal funding is available to Commonwealth, tribal, and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations for emergency protective measures, including direct Federal assistance, for all areas in the state impacted by COVID-19.

Pete Gaynor, Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security, named MaryAnn Tierney as the federal coordinating officer for U.S. recovery operations in the affected areas.

Tierney leads the federal government’s response to presidentially declared disasters and emergencies in the Mid-Atlantic.

- Andrew Cain

Woman in 40s who died of coronavirus did not live in Chickahominy Health District

Update: A spokesman for the Chickahominy Health District said the coronavirus-related death of a woman in her 40s did not live in the district’s jurisdiction of Hanover, Goochland, New Kent and Charles City counties.

No other details were immediately available.

Earlier story: A woman in her 40s that resides in the Chickahominy Health District has died of the coronavirus, district officials announced Thursday afternoon.

The health district, which covers the counties of Hanover, New Kent, Goochland and Charles City, did not specify where she lived and said no additional information will be provided at this time.

The death was not included in the statewide count released Thursday morning.

“Our hearts and our prayers go out to her family and friends,” said Chickahominy Health District Director, Dr. Thomas Franck. “This death, along with the increasing number of coronavirus cases being discovered in the community, is a reminder that we all share a responsibility in slowing the spread of this virus.”

- Chris Suarez

1,706 cases of coronavirus in Virginia; 7 new deaths

The Virginia Department of Health reported Thursday that 1,706 people in Virginia have tested positive for COVID-19.

That’s an increase of 222 cases from the 1,484 reported Wednesday.

The VDH also said that 17,589 have been tested for the virus in Virginia and 246 have been hospitalized.

There have been 41 deaths in the state. That’s an increase of 7 from Wednesday.

There are now 220 cases in the Richmond area: 87 in Henrico County, 73 in Chesterfield County, 52 in Richmond and 8 in Hanover County.

Coronavirus cases have been confirmed in 100 of Virginia’s 133 cities and counties. Fairfax County has 19 percent of the cases with a total of 328.

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.

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

HCA Virginia says staff with reduced hours will be redeployed or get 70% of base pay

HCA Virginia, which runs seven regional hospitals, announced Thursday that staff members who have had a reduction in hours because many non-urgent surgeries and outpatient services have been canceled in response to the COVID-19 pandemic will either be redeployed within the health system or will receive 70% of their base pay for up to seven weeks.

The health system also said that those staff working in patient care facilities who are quarantined will receive 100% of their base pay regardless of where they were exposed to the virus, and those who don’t work in patient care facilities will be eligible for short-term disability.

HCA Virginia also instituted a universal masking policy, saying that all staff and providers in patient care areas will be required to wear masks at all times, that employees will have the option to have their scrubs laundered at work so as to avoid bringing contamination home, and that the company is working with hotel chains to provide free housing for those caring for COVID-19 patients if they don’t feel safe returning home.

HCA Healthcare announced that its senior leadership team will take a 30% pay cut until the pandemic passes and that its CEO Sam Hazen will donate 100% of his paycheck for eight weeks to the HCA Hope Fund, which aids health system staff in need.

The announcement of the changes comes as National Nurses United, a nationwide union for nurses, publicized this week that registered nurses at 15 HCA Healthcare hospitals in seven states planned to protest the hospitals’ lack of preparedness for the pandemic and saying that some nurses were required to work unsafely without masks. Virginia was not among the states listed as having a planned protest.

NNU said in a press release that, in a national survey of nearly 10,000 registered nurses across the U.S., HCA had among the worst record for pandemic preparedness. The survey found that 35% of nurses at HCA hospitals reported having access to N95 respirators on their unit, compared with 52% at other facilities and 7% reported having enough protective equipment for staff and patients, compared with 19% of all nurses.

“HCA can well afford to be property prepared for the pandemic,” the NNU said in the press release, calling HCA the “wealthiest hospital corporation in the United States.”

Amazon employee, Kroger employee test positive for virus

In separate cases, an employee at an Amazon package sorting center in Hanover County and an employee at the Kroger store at 1510 Eastridge Road in Henrico County have tested positive for COVID-19, officials with Amazon and Kroger confirmed Wednesday.

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

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

Amazon said it has notified all employees at the center of the confirmed case. The company said it would alert anyone who had close contact with the infected employee and ask them to not return to the site until after a self-quarantine of 14 days, for which they would be paid.

The company said any employee diagnosed with COVID-19 would receive up to two weeks of pay while they recover, in addition to unlimited unpaid time off for hourly employees through the end of April.

The Kroger associate is quarantined at home and hasn’t worked at the store since March 13, said Allison McGee, corporate affairs manager with Kroger Mid-Atlantic. The store, according to McGee, has had “an extensive deep cleaning” and remains open.

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

Amazon also outlined steps it has taken to prevent the virus from spreading in its facilities, including:

  • frequent deep cleaning of all sites, especially surfaces such as door handles, stair rails, elevator buttons, lockers and touch screens;
  • measures to ensure social distancing, such as the elimination of meetings during shifts, spacing of chairs in break rooms andstaggering work shifts; and
  • adjusting attendance policies and requiring employees to remain home and seek medical attention if they are unwell

- Michael Martz and Sean Gorman

Virginia projections show COVID-19 could surge in late April, late May

Gov. Ralph Northam said Wednesday available projection models show COVID-19 cases in Virginia could surge in late April or late May.

In explaining his stay-at-home order, which extends until June 10, Northam said, “I want Virginians to prepare themselves for the long haul.”

During the regular briefing by the governor and state health officials, Dr. Norman Oliver, Virginia Health Commissioner, said the University of Virginia is working on models projecting the spread and peak of the outbreak, and the state hopes to share Virginia-specific models in the next couple days.

Northam also said the state has received a third shipment of PPE—personal protective equipment for medical workers—from the national stockpile, but he said we still need more.

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

- Paul Whelan

Vice President Pence tours Walmart distribution center in Virginia

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

Pence, accompanied by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, thanked workers at the center, about 65 miles northwest of Richmond, for being “on the frontlines” and “putting food on the table for Americans,” according to a pool report from Gabby Orr, Politico’s White House correspondent.

Orr reports that one of the workers who oversees the loading dock wore a camouflage Trump hat and told Pence he’s been working there since 1996.

Orr reports that an employee cleaned the handle of a phone with a Clorox wipe to let the vice president speak over the intercom. Pence was introduced by Walmart CEO Doug McMillon.

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

“We’re grateful for our farmers. We’re grateful for our grocery store operators. We’re grateful for Walmart.”

“The fact that you’re showing up every day – rolling your sleeves up and doing the work – it shows you love your neighbor and you love your country... Every day you come here, you’re making a difference for America.”

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

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

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

At the end of their conversation, Pence told Allen: “I’ll come back for that handshake. God bless you.”

- Andrew Cain

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden lays off 83% of its staff

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

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

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

The remaining staff is taking significant pay cuts.

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full statement here: https://www.lewisginter.org/visit/about/news/garden-message/

- Colleen Curran

School playgrounds closed in Henrico

Public playgrounds at Henrico County schools are now closed.

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

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

- Chris Suarez

PHOTOS: Richmond and other parts of Virginia in the time of coronavirus and social distancing

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