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Schools, nonprofits hustle to feed over a half million Virginia students: ‘It’s incredible’

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RICHMOND, Va. — Richmond school bus driver Tyrone McBride is still driving a big, yellow bus through Richmond neighborhoods, but these days, he’s transporting boxes of food for kids in need.

“It gets me out of the house,” said McBride, who has been a school bus driver for 18 years, “and you know, you’re doing a great deed and helping people out.”

More than a week has passed since Gov. Ralph Northam announced students will not return to school this academic year, and volunteers are still working to feed the 590,000 children in Virginia eligible for free or reduced lunches who were ordered to remain home during the coronavirus pandemic. Schools have been closed since March 16, though students were originally slated to return by March 27.

Whitcomb Court resident Simone Sanders said her children are now eating at home during the day, but she didn’t receive an increase in food stamps. One child is disabled, which prevents Sanders from being able to work.

“It’s affecting us bad, especially in the projects, and there’s nothing for the kids to do all day,” Sanders said. “And then you have to worry about your child just being outside getting shot.”

Sanders said she’s grateful for the food from Richmond Public Schools and says she occasionally gives food to neighborhood kids who say they’re hungry.

The Richmond Public Schools meal distribution program, like others around the state, continues to evolve during the coronavirus pandemic that caused a surge of Virginians to file for unemployment. Almost 46,300 Virginians filed for unemployment between March 15 and March 21. The previous week 2,706 people filed an unemployment claim, according to the Virginia Employment Commission.

The program started with 10 school sites and has since grown into at least 43 sites throughout the community and 10 school sites.

Erin Stanley, director of family engagement at Richmond Public Schools, said volunteers, bus drivers and the district’s nutrition staff have made the efforts possible. Volunteers were using personal vehicles to drop off food, but RPS decided that school buses would better suit the cause.

“We did that for a couple of reasons,” Stanley said. “One, so we can get more food out, and two, because school buses are a bit more well known and probably more trusted than individual volunteers going in with their personal vehicles.”

Plastic bags filled with milk cartons, sandwiches, apples, and snacks are handed out in neighborhoods found on the Richmond Public Schools’ website. School distribution sites are open Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and neighborhood times vary by location. Any student in the school district can use the program, Stanley said.

Volunteer Natalie Newfield said many families she gave meals to lost jobs in the restaurant industry.

“They’re changing the way they do deliveries, which is amazing,” Newfield said. “Every day you give them a count. If they need more food, the next day, all of a sudden your bus has more food. It’s incredible.”

Statewide efforts to feed children in Virginia
When schools closed, the U.S. Department of Agriculture activated the Summer Meals Program, which funds public schools and local organizations to serve breakfast and lunch during the summer.

Del. Danica Roem, D-Prince William, pressed the USDA to change its policy which required parents to have their child with them when picking up food.

Roem said it was difficult for a Prince William County mother to access food for her two children. Her daughter has an immune system deficiency caused by recent cancer treatments, making her susceptible to the COVID-19 virus.

“When you’re talking about a 7-year-old with cancer, we have to really evaluate what is it that our policy is trying to prevent that is more important than feeding a child with cancer,” Roem said.

Roem said she was able to bring groceries to the family, who live in the representative’s district. As they carried bags of food inside, Roem said the mother told her children, “We’re eating tonight.”

“I fought with the USDA for a full week and won a major, major victory for kids throughout Virginia and across the country, and especially immunocompromised kids, to make sure that they stay safe, that they stay home,” Roem said.

The USDA waived the restriction last week, and states can now choose to waive the in-person policy for students to receive food.

No Kid Hungry, a national campaign launched by nonprofit Share Our Strength, is offering emergency grants to local school divisions and organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The grants can help people who are trying to make meal distribution possible but may lack the equipment necessary to feed children outside of a school setting.

Sarah Steely, senior program manager at No Kid Hungry Virginia, said the grants can fund necessities like vehicles, gas, coolers, and equipment to keep food safe during distribution.

“Those might not be resources that folks already have, because those aren’t service models that were expected of them before,” Steely said, “so we’re here to support community organizations and school divisions as they figure out what it is they need to distribute to kids.”

The organization works with YMCAs, childcare centers, libraries and all 133 of Virginia’s public school divisions.

The organization recently activated their texting hotline for those unsure of where their next meal is coming from text “FOOD” to 877-877. The hotline is generally used during the summer months but was reactivated to combat food insecurity during the coronavirus pandemic.

Steely called the hotline “a tool in a bigger toolbox of resources” and encouraged families to contact their local school board for updated information about their locality.

“They count on that as a primary source of nutrition, so with schools closed, we want to make sure that the students who are accessing meals at school are now accessing those meals at home,” Steely said.

By Hannah Eason
Capital News Service

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Governor Northam declares State of Emergency and authorizes assistance to localities; curfew in the City of Richmond

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Governor Ralph Northam today, May 31, 2020, declared a state of emergency and authorized assistance to localities in response to escalating violence across the Commonwealth. The Governor granted a request from Mayor Levar Stoney to extend a curfew in the City of Richmond.

“This emergency declaration will provide the necessary support to localities as they work to keep our communities safe, said Governor Northam. “There are many voices speaking out for justice and healing across the United States and in our Commonwealth, but others are exploiting this pain and inciting violence.”

A state of emergency allows the Commonwealth to mobilize resources, including the Virginia National Guard, and preposition people and equipment to assist localities in their efforts to deescalate violent protests and protect public safety.

The declaration allocates $350,000 for state and local governments and state response and recovery operations authorized and coordinated through the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

The order extends a curfew in the City of Richmond between the hours of 8:00 PM and 6:00 AM from Sunday, May 31, 2020, through Wednesday, June 3, 2020. While the curfew is in effect, people must remain in their homes and may only leave to seek emergency services or travel to and from home, work, or places of worship.

The full text of the emergency declaration can be found here.

Governor Ralph Northam also issued the following statement about protests in the City of Richmond.

“I acknowledge each of the voices crying out for justice and healing across the United States and in our Commonwealth. I affirm the deep concerns from the black community.

“I hear you. I know your pain is real. We have all seen too many people harassed, abused, and killed by law enforcement officers, in too many places, for too long—just for being black. I also know that others are exploiting this pain and are now causing violence.

“I spoke with Mayor Levar Stoney throughout the night; pursuant to the Mayor’s requests, I have authorized a curfew in Richmond and placed the Virginia National Guard on alert. They stand ready to assist in protecting our residents, businesses, especially small and black-owned businesses, and the capital city.

“As Governor of Virginia, I call on all Virginians to join together and build a renewed commitment to working for justice and fair treatment.”

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Governor Northam COVID-19 update briefing – May 28, 2020; Phase 2 could start June 5th

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Governor Northam joins the Virginia Emergency Support Team to share the latest updates on the COVID-19 response. Here are the highlights:

The Governor said that earliest the state could enter Phase Two would be Friday, June 5. Phase Two would look like this: stay at home for vulnerable populations, no social gatherings of more than 50 individuals, continued social distancing, continued teleworking, face coverings in public, and further easing business limitations.

He also mentioned the requirement to wear face masks starting Friday, May 29, people will be required to wear masks inside retail shops, restaurants, personal care, and grooming establishments, places people congregate, government buildings, and public transportation.

Exceptions will be allowed, including while eating or drinking, exercising, those with trouble breathing or health issues, and children under age 10. The governor stated enforcement would be done through the Virginia Department of Health, not by local Sheriff or Police.

Here’s the latest briefing:

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Governor Northam announces Microsoft Corp. to create 1,500 new jobs in Fairfax County

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~ Company will invest $64 million to establish software development and R&D regional hub ~

Governor Ralph Northam today, May 27, 2020,  announced that Microsoft Corp. will invest $64 million to establish a new software development and R&D regional hub, which will create 1,500 new jobs. The company will occupy 400,000 square feet in the Reston Town Center in Fairfax County for its new location, anticipated to be ready for employees in summer 2021. The plans include a new retail space for engaging directly with customers. Governor Northam met with Microsoft on an economic development mission at its headquarters in Washington in 2019.

“Virginia, like the rest of the nation, is facing unprecedented job loss due to COVID-19, so this announcement couldn’t come at a better time,” said Governor Northam. “Microsoft Corp. and Virginia share a strong history, and we are proud that this major operation in Fairfax County will add to the company’s significant job count across our Commonwealth. Virginia is a leader in the information technology industry, and Microsoft’s continued investment here is a testament to our top-ranked business climate, infrastructure, and world-class workforce.”

Microsoft has had a presence in Virginia since 2002, with corporate locations in Reston and the Richmond area as well as an enterprise data center in Mecklenburg County.

“Microsoft is a valued corporate partner, and we are excited to see the company expanding its footprint at its new software and R&D regional hub in Fairfax County,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “The creation of 1,500 new, well-paid jobs is obviously very welcome news during these economically challenging times. The demand for cloud services is steadily increasing, and Microsoft’s newest operation will serve its growing customer base while developing cutting-edge software and creating 21st-century tech jobs.”

Established in 1975 and headquartered in Redmond, Washington, Microsoft is a publicly held corporation with revenues surpassing $125 billion and nearly 156,000 employees worldwide. The company enables digital transformation for the era of an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge.

“One of Microsoft’s core principles is actively listening to our customers, so we can build and improve our technology based on their feedback. Being close to our customer base is extremely important to our ongoing collaborations,” said Terrell Cox, general manager at Microsoft. “We’ve had a presence in Reston for many years now, and this expansion will allow Microsoft to deliver even more solutions from a region known for its innovation and passion for technology.”

The Virginia Economic Development Partnership worked with the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority and the General Assembly’s Major Employment and Investment (MEI) Project Approval Commission to secure the project for Virginia. Microsoft will be eligible to receive a MEI custom performance grant of $22.5 million, to be paid post-performance, subject to approval by the Virginia General Assembly. Microsoft plans to utilize the custom performance grant to fund partnerships with local colleges and universities to develop the tech talent pipeline for cloud computing and related degrees to support its local expansion.

“Microsoft can choose from any number of technology hubs for its operations, and we are so pleased that the company chose to expand its operations in Fairfax County and Northern Virginia,” said Victor Hoskins, President, and CEO of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority. “Because of our wealth of technology talent and the tech ecosystem here, this area is a great match for the company’s talent needs as well as its business goals.”

“Reston is proud to welcome Microsoft’s expansion in our Town Center,” said Senator Janet Howell. “Microsoft Corp. has been an important corporate citizen for many years. The decision to grow here is yet more proof that our region is a major technology hub.”

“I am thrilled that Microsoft has chosen to locate this significant operation and create 1,500 new jobs in Fairfax County,” said Delegate Kenneth Plum. “The Commonwealth and the County have a longstanding relationship with Microsoft, and this operation will only strengthen it. We look forward to welcoming the software development and R&D regional hub to the Reston Town Center.”

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Traffic crashes claim eight lives during 2020 Memorial Day weekend

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The 2020 Memorial Day weekend not only netted a reduction in overall traffic volumes on Virginia’s highways, but also a decrease in traffic deaths. Preliminary reports indicate eight people lost their lives during the four-day, holiday statistical counting period. During the same statistical counting period in 2019 and 2018, traffic crashes on Virginia highways resulted in 11 deaths.

Of the eight individuals killed this year on Virginia highways, two were riding on motorcycles and one was a pedestrian. The statistical counting period began at 12:01 a.m. Friday (May 22) and ended at midnight Monday (May 25). Virginia State Police statewide responded to 480 total traffic crashes during this past holiday weekend.

The fatal crashes occurred in the city of Virginia Beach and the counties of Caroline, Montgomery, Pittsylvania, Prince William, Rockingham, Southampton and Sussex. The two fatal motorcycle crashes occurred in Pittsylvania and Rockingham counties. The pedestrian, who was pushing his bicycle when he was struck and killed, was in Sussex County.

“Even though we are thankful for the slight decrease in traffic fatalities over the Memorial Day weekend, eight deaths are still too many,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “It is also concerning to see reckless driving citations and DUI arrests practically on par with last year’s holiday weekend. Fewer drivers should have demonstrated a significant decline in the number of citations and traffic deaths. Sadly, that was not the case and too many motorists were putting too many lives at risk due to reckless choices and deadly driving behaviors.”

During the weekend’s statistical counting period, Virginia troopers statewide cited 2,489 reckless drivers and arrested 70 impaired drivers. During the 2019 Memorial Day weekend, state police cited 2,548 reckless drivers and arrested 75 drivers for DUI.

“Considering that traffic was much less than what we normally see on this particular holiday weekend, it is very concerning to have only reduced the death toll by three in comparison to the past two years,” said Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran. “As Virginia continues to gradually re-open through the Governor’s ‘Forward Virginia’ plan and more motorists return to the highways, it is imperative that Virginians make traffic safety a priority.”

The Virginia State Police holiday enforcement efforts are part of the Department’s annual participation in the Operation Crash Awareness and Reduction Effort (C.A.R.E.), a state-sponsored, national program intended to reduce crashes, fatalities and injuries due to impaired driving, speed and failing to wear a seatbelt. During the 2020 Operation CARE Memorial Day statistical counting period, Virginia troopers also cited 2,469 speeders and 224 seatbelt violations. State police assisted 1,460 disabled motorists during the holiday weekend.

Funds generated from summonses issued by Virginia State Police go directly to court fees and the state’s Literary Fund, which benefits public school construction, technology funding and teacher retirement.

For more information on traffic safety and how to keep Virginia “Moving Toward Zero Roadway Deaths,” go to www.tzdva.org.

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Governor Northam announces face covering requirement and workplace safety regulations

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~ Face coverings required in public settings starting Friday, May 29 ~

Governor Ralph Northam today, May 26, 2020, signed Executive Order Sixty-Three, requiring Virginians to wear face coverings in public indoor settings to help contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. The Governor also directed the Department of Labor and Industry to develop emergency temporary standards to prevent workplace exposure to COVID-19.

Governor Northam also signed an amended Executive Order Fifty-One, extending Virginia’s state of emergency declaration.

The new executive order supports previous actions the Governor has taken to respond to COVID-19 in Virginia and ensures workers and consumers are protected as the Commonwealth gradually eases public health restrictions. The Governor’s statewide requirement for wearing face coverings is grounded in science and data, including recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that individuals should wear face coverings in public settings. Face coverings do not take the place of public health guidelines to maintain six feet of physical distancing, increase cleaning and sanitation, and wash hands regularly.

“We are making progress to contain the spread of the COVID-19 and now is not the time for Virginians to get complacent,” said Governor Northam. “Science shows that face coverings are an effective way to prevent transmission of the virus, but wearing them is also a sign of respect. This is about doing the right thing to protect the people around us and keep everyone safe, especially as we continue to slowly lift public health restrictions in our Commonwealth.”

A face covering includes anything that covers your nose and mouth, such as a mask, scarf, or bandana. Medical-grade masks and personal protective equipment should be reserved for health care professionals. Under the Governor’s executive order, any person age ten and older must wear a mask or face covering at all times while entering, exiting, traveling through, and spending time in the following public settings:

• Personal care and grooming businesses

• Essential and non-essential brick and mortar retailers including grocery stores and pharmacies

• Food and beverage establishments

• Entertainment or public amusement establishments when permitted to open

• Train stations, bus stations, and on intrastate public transportation, including in waiting or congregating areas

• State and local government buildings and areas where the public accesses services

• Any indoor space shared by groups of people who may congregate within six feet of one another or who are in close proximity to each other for more than ten minutes

Exemptions to these guidelines include while eating and drinking at a food and beverage establishment; individuals who are exercising; children under the age of two; a person seeking to communicate with a hearing-impaired person, for which the mouth needs to be visible; and anyone with a health condition that keeps them from wearing a face covering. Children over the age of two are strongly encouraged to wear a face-covering to the extent possible.

The Governor is also directing the Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry to develop emergency temporary standards for occupational safety that will protect employees from the spread of COVID-19 in their workplaces. These occupational safety standards will require the approval by vote of the Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board and must address personal protective equipment, sanitation, record-keeping of incidents, and hazard communication. Upon approval, the Department of Labor and Industry will be able to enforce the standards through civil penalties and business closures.

The full text of Executive Order Sixty-Three and Order of Public Health Emergency Five is available here.

The text of amended Executive Order Fifty-One is available here.

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Governor Northam COVID-19 update briefing – May 26, 2020; face masks required starting Friday

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Governor Northam joins the Virginia Emergency Support Team to share the latest updates on the COVID-19 response. Here are the highlights:

Starting Friday, May 29, people will be required to wear masks inside retail shops, restaurants, personal care, and grooming establishments, places people congregate, government buildings, and public transportation.

Exceptions will be allowed, including while eating or drinking, exercising, those with trouble breathing or health issues, and children under age 10. The governor stated enforcement would be done through the Virginia Department of Health, not by local Sheriff or Police.

Here’s the latest briefing:

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