2021-2-25

First Case of B.1.1.7 COVID-19 Variant Identified in the Central Region of Virginia

(RICHMOND, Va.) – The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) today announced that the first case of the SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.7 has been identified in a sample from an adult resident of Central Virginia who had no history of travel during the exposure period. The B.1.1.7 variant, which first emerged in the United Kingdom in late 2020, is associated with increased person-to-person transmission of COVID-19. A preliminary report from experts in the United Kingdom indicates that this variant causes more severe illness than other variants, but more studies are needed to confirm this finding. To date, the B.1.1.7 variant has been identified in 44 other U.S. states.

The Department of General Services Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS) confirmed the case using next-generation sequencing that provides a genetic blueprint of the virus that causes COVID-19. In addition to this case of the B.1.1.7 variant, eleven other cases of the B.1.1.7 variant and three cases of the SARS-CoV-2 B.1.351 variant (first identified in South Africa) have now been identified in Virginia, as of February 24. With the combined state and national surveillance efforts, it is likely that additional cases with SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern will be identified.

Viruses change all the time, and VDH expects to see new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus as disease spreads. As our public health officials closely monitor the emergence of these SARS-CoV-2 variants in our Commonwealth, it is critical that all Virginians comply now with mitigation measures. We are in a race to stop the spread of these new variants. The more people that become infected, the greater that chance the virus will mutate and a variant will arise that could undermine the current vaccination efforts. Public health recommendations for stopping the spread of COVID-19 will work for all COVID-19 variants. This means wearing masks correctly, staying at least six feet from others, avoiding crowds, washing hands often, getting vaccinated for COVID-19 when it is your turn, and staying home if you are infected with COVID-19 or if you have had close contact with someone with COVID-19.

As of February 23, 2021, approximately 1.9 million Virginians have joined the fight against COVID-19 using their mobile devices. This includes 1,008,322 downloads of COVIDWISE – the nation’s first app using the Google/Apple framework and the second most downloaded exposure notifications app in the United States. An estimated 900,975 additional iPhone users have also turned on COVIDWISE Express, which is a secondary exposure notifications option specifically for iPhone users.

DCLS began sequencing positive COVID-19 samples in March 2020, becoming one of the first public health labs in the nation to use this technology to examine the genetic makeup of the virus and track how it is changing and being transmitted in the Commonwealth. DCLS is working with other labs in Virginia to solicit additional positive samples to sequence so public health officials can get a representation of variants circulating throughout Virginia.

For more information about COVID-19 variants, visit the VDH COVID-19 Testing website and the CDC New COVID-19 Variants website. For more information on DCLS and its use of next-generation sequencing, visit dgs.virginia.gov/dcls.

Benchmark Community Bank Scholarship application round extended through March 7th

KENBRIDGE, VA. February 22, 2021. Benchmark Community Bank has extended the deadline for its annual $mart$tart Community Commitment Scholarships. Due to widespread power outages experienced by many households following recent ice storms in the Benchmark service footprint, the bank has extended the deadline until 11:59 pm on Sunday, March 7, 2021.

“The ice storms earlier this month continue to wreak havoc on so many of the families in our area,” said President/CEO Jay Stafford. “We want the application opportunity for our scholarships available to as many high school seniors as possible.”

The $mart$tart Community Commitment Scholarship is based on a student’s demonstrated involvement in extracurricular school and community activities rather than their academic achievement, Stafford said. 

“We are looking at how a student is serving at school and in the community, as well as what they share in a brief essay regarding their feelings on community involvement. We have some really great students committed to giving back to their communities now and in the future.”

The application can be found online at https://www.bcbonline.com/scholarship. Students may also obtain a paper application by contacting their local Benchmark branch. A list of branches is available at www.bcbonline.com/locations.

Benchmark Community Bank, based in Kenbridge, VA, has 17 locations throughout Southside Virginia and northern North Carolina. Founded in 1971 as The Lunenburg County Bank, Benchmark is celebrating its 50th year serving businesses and consumers throughout its service footprint. You are invited to visit the bank’s website at www.bcbonline.com or follow them on Facebook/bcbonline to learn more about Benchmark Community Bank. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender. With you for life!

Anonymous Foundation Replaces Floors at Jackson-Feild

After twenty-six years of hard use, two classrooms at Jackson-Feild’s Gwaltney School have been replaced thanks to grant funding from a Southside Virginia foundation that wishes to remain anonymous.

The Gwaltney School provides both regular and special education for the youth at Jackson-Feild. Great emphasis is placed on assisting students improve their academics in order to restore them to their grade level, to prepare them to take the GED exam, or earn sufficient credits to earn their diploma. Students also receive online vocational training to assist them in transitioning into independent living.

This anonymous foundation has made prior grants addressing specific needs at Gwaltney School to help students achieve their academic goals.

“There Is No Context”: General Assembly Votes To Remove Byrd Statue

By Zachary Klosko, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Virginia General Assembly has voted to remove the statue of former U.S. Sen. Harry F. Byrd Sr. from Capitol Square, the area around the Virginia State Capitol.

House Bill 2208, introduced by Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, instructs the Department of General Services to place the statue in storage until the General Assembly chooses its final location. The bill passed the House in late January on a 63-34 vote, while the Senate approved the measure Tuesday on a 36-3 vote.

Byrd served as state governor from 1926 to 1930 and U.S. senator from 1933 to 1965. His massive resistance campaign pushed for Southern states to reject the ruling of Brown v. Board of Education, cutting off state funding and closing schools that tried to integrate.

Jones called the statue a reminder of the institutional racism in Virginia during the bill’s first committee hearings. Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, echoed Jones’ sentiments during the bill’s final reading on the Senate floor.

“When I was an intern working for the first African American governor and walked past that statue every day, I knew I was his worst nightmare,” McClellan said. “I feel it every time I walk past it.”

McClellan spoke of the pain African Americans have endured in Virginia due to Byrd’s disenfranchisement of Black voters and the dehumanization that Byrd cast on them.

“There is no context that could be placed on a statue on Capitol Square, the ultimate public park with public art, that could erase the pain that Harry Byrd and his legacy invokes for African American Virginians,” McClellan said.

Sen. Jill Vogel, R-Warrenton, gave a speech on the Senate floor portraying Byrd as a humble, industrious man who worked in the apple business, saved a local newspaper and improved Virginia’s highway infrastructure. Vogel described Byrd’s “massive resistance” campaign against school integration in the 1950s as a stain on an otherwise remarkable career.

“That is a great stain on his career and a great embarrassment,” Vogel said. “But he was a man of a certain time in a certain era.”

Vogel asked the senators to “look at the whole man and consider that we are each a sum of all our parts, the good and the bad.”

Sen. Richard Saslaw, D-Springfield, pushed back on Vogel’s request, saying probably 100,000 students if not more were kept out of school for years due to Byrd’s push for segregation.

“I just don’t see how we can overlook the fact that all of these children … were kept out of school for four years,” Saslaw said. “I think that we should not be honoring people to that degree in Capitol Square.”

Del. Wendell Walker, R-Lynchburg, introduced a bill last year to remove Byrd’s statue. Walker later pushed for his bill to be removed.

Walker voted against HB 2208 during its final reading in the House on Jan. 27.

The push to remove statues of Confederate leaders accelerated after protests began following the death of George Floyd last May. Floyd died in the custody of a Minneapolis police officer who has been charged with second-degree murder.

The Department of General Services estimated the statue’s removal will cost approximately $250,000, according to the bill’s impact statement. Storage costs are estimated at $7,000 per year until the final home of the statue is determined.

Byrd’s statue was erected in Richmond’s Capitol Square in 1976 after his death in 1966. The bipartisan vote to remove it comes on the eve of the 65th anniversary of Byrd’s massive resistance campaign, according to the Virginia Museum of History and Culture.

Sens. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, and Vogel were the only senators to vote against the bill.

Rita Davis, council to Gov. Ralph Northam, spoke of Northam’s support for the bill during committee hearings. Northam is expected to sign the bill.

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University's Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

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