SW Va. sees COVID increase; governor urges caution
State will add $30M to Rebuild VA fund
Although Virginia’s overall COVID-19 infection rate is much lower than other states that are currently experiencing spikes, the number of new cases in Southwest Virginia has been steadily increasing over the past two weeks, Gov. Ralph Northam said Wednesday in a COVID-19 update.
According to health directors in the region, the percent of positive cases is around 8% and has reached 9% in some localities, about twice the current percentage in Virginia’s Eastern and Northern regions, which saw spikes earlier in the pandemic. Northam said family gatherings are at fault for much of the spread in the Southwest region. He advised residents to step up their precautions and to wear face masks.
Ballad Health, which runs hospitals and health care facilities in Southwest Virginia and eastern Tennessee, has seen an uptick in cases from Tennessee. That impacts the care of Virginians, Northam noted. He said that a shipment of 26,000 rapid antigen tests funded with assistance from the Rockefeller Foundation have been received in Virginia, and will be sent soon to nursing homes and long-term care facilities. A second order of more than 200,000 tests has been ordered, he said.
“I know that many people are tired of COVID restrictions,” the governor said. “Most people are doing the right thing, and they are tired of other folks disregarding the rules and disregarding the health of other people.”
Northam also announced an expansion of the Rebuild VA program. Launched in August with $70 million in federal CARES Act funds, Rebuild VA assists small businesses and nonprofits that did not receive federal relief funding. With the expansion, the state will allocate $30 million more in federal funds and allow applicants to receive up to $100,000 each, a significant increase from the previous $10,000 cap. The field of eligible businesses and nonprofits also will expand to include camps and some other businesses, Northam said.
Regarding Virginia Military Institute, which has come under scrutiny for what some Black students and alumni characterized as an atmosphere of “relentless racism at the nation’s oldest state-supported military college,” according to a recent Washington Post story, the governor reiterated the need for a third-party investigation.
Current and former Black VMI cadets said that they were harassed and subjected to racist epithets and threats of violence, which have made headlines in recent weeks in the Post and The Roanoke Times. After the Post’s Oct. 17 expose, the governor, a 1981 VMI alumnus, and other top Virginia Democratic elected officials called for a third-party review of the school’s culture. VMI Superintendent J.H. Binford Peay announced his resignation Monday.
“I love VMI. It means the world to me,” Northam said of the state-funded military institute. However, he added, “These allegations are very troubling,” and reiterated his earlier statements about the need for a full, independent investigation into the school. Northam said he expects full cooperation from VMI’s Board of Visitors, some of whom he appointed as governor.
In other news, the state’s Department of Elections has received 2 million early ballots, a record-breaking number, Northam said. He cautioned that ballot counting will continue past Election Day, as Virginia will count all absentee ballots postmarked Nov. 3, as long as they arrive by Nov. 6. The election results will be certified Nov. 15.