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Strong turnout for Thermal Shelter meeting

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A large number of local residents turned out for a meeting to discuss the need for a temporary thermal shelter in the county. / Photos by Jennifer Avery

FRONT ROYAL – The first Thermal Shelter meeting was held Thursday evening, Jan. 11 at New Hope Bible Church, to discuss the serious need for a temporary thermal shelter in Warren County.

Hollis Tharpe, Town Mayor, was in attendance and was able to help answer a variety of questions. Approximately eight churches were represented in the meeting, in addition to several other individuals and organizations who are heavily involved in working with the local homeless population, such as Habitat for Humanity, Salvation Army, the board of ROTH of FR (Roof Over Their Heads) and Linda Allen, a long-time local advocate for the underserved population.

Kathy Leonard (l), Vicki Davies, Michelle Smeltzer, Pam Williams and Roni Evans led the discussion at Thursday’s thermal shelter meeting.

One of the main goals of this meeting was to identify and recruit hosting churches and volunteers. Three churches stepped forward quickly once the question was posed to the crowd. Volunteers will be needed to supervise shelter and activities, fix meals, mentor and more. The group hopes that the public will be able to donate items such as linens, cots, chairs and self-sealing baggies.

Vicki Davies from St. Luke Community Clinic explained that nurses are ready to be available each night, as needed.

Kathy Leonard, Homeless Liaison for Front Royal and facilitator of the evening, explained, “More than solving someone’s problem, the single most important thing I have given someone is hope…people need hope.”

The meeting was also hosted by Vicki Davies of St. Luke Clinic, Michelle Smeltzer, with House of Hope, Pam Williams, from The Potter’s House and Roni Evans.

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Virginia uses genetic technology to combat COVID-19

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~ State public health laboratory is one of the first in the nation to do this work ~

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today (April 6, 2020) announced that the Department of General Services’ (DGS) Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS) is one of the first public health labs in the nation to use genetic technology to help public health officials better understand and track the scope of the COVID-19 pandemic to strengthen prevention and response efforts.

DCLS is using next-generation sequencing to genetically decode some Virginia samples that contain the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19. Looking at this genetic fingerprint can help public health officials track how the virus is changing and provide insights into how it is being transmitted.

“Advances in genetic sequencing allow us to track and analyze COVID-19 better than previous outbreaks,” said Governor Northam. “This innovative technology, combined with the work of our public health laboratory and epidemiologists around the Commonwealth, will help us understand the virus, how it spreads, and how it may change. And that will give us more tools to fight it.”

DCLS is working alongside the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and international public health and university partners using specialized lab equipment and computer software to piece together the genetic makeup of the virus found in COVID-19 patients. DCLS is working collaboratively to create a library that stores the information of not only the positive samples it identifies, but also those tested at private facilities, healthcare systems, and universities in Virginia.

Hidden in the genetic makeup of the virus are clues to its origin. Soon after the virus appeared in China, scientists used sequencing to tease out its genetic information and made that information available to the international public health community. As the virus travels from one person to another, it makes copies of itself and sometimes makes small genetic changes called mutations. Scientists can read these mutations like a road map, tracing how cases are related.

Next-generation sequencing generates enormous amounts of data, which is analyzed by specialized bioinformaticians at DCLS. The lab shares the data with public health officials and uploads it to GISAID, an online repository where genomic data is openly available to epidemiologists and virologists around the globe. Nextstrain, an online resource for scientists to visually track the genomics of the virus, creates diagrams that favor family trees showing the evolutionary relationships between different samples collected throughout the world.

“This genetic fingerprint gives us tremendous insight into this novel virus, helping us understand where Virginia cases originated and how they are being transmitted in our communities,” said DCLS Director Dr. Denise Toney. “Providing this information in real-time is unbelievably valuable for public health officials as they determine how to reduce the impact of COVID-19 in our communities.”

In Virginia, the sequences uploaded so far show evidence of multiple introductions of the virus into Virginia communities, suggesting that the emergence of COVID-19 is due to multiple distinct events. This is suggested by looking at the similarity of the virus in Virginia to the virus sequences obtained from Asian and European patients. There is also a clear indication of person-to-person spread within suspected COVID-19 outbreaks.

“Epidemiologists at the Virginia Department of Health can use these data during investigations of outbreaks in nursing homes and other settings to determine whether all of the cases originated from the same source or multiple sources,” said Virginia State Epidemiologist Dr. Lilian Peake.

For more information, visit the DGS website at dgs.virginia.gov, including this Next-Generation Sequencing in Virginia document that explains more about how DCLS is using genetic technology to combat COVID-19 in Virginia.

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Governor Northam COVID-19 update briefing – April 6, 2020

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

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Legislative Update

May & June Election Clarification from Congressman Ben Cline

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There has been a lot of misinformation spread regarding the effect of Gov. Northam’s stay-at-home order and how it will affect the upcoming local elections on May 5th and primary elections on June 9th. It is important that you know how to participate in Virginia’s elections, that is why I would like to share with you some information compiled by my office.

While the Governor’s order lasts until June 10th, in-person voting will still occur at normal polling locations on May 5th and June 9th. A spokesperson for the Governor’s office stated the order does not apply to “the operation of government,” which includes operating and participating in elections.

Additionally, absentee voting has been expanded to allow anyone with COVID-19 safety concerns to select “illness or disability” and receive a mail-in ballot. You can request your absentee ballot by clicking here.

Nothing in our democracy could be more important than transparent elections. It is your right to be fully informed about where and how to vote. I encourage you to forward this message to your friends and family who may be in the dark about the election process in the coming months.

As always, please be encouraged to reach out to my office if I can ever be of assistance

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Virginia Coronavirus Fraud Task Force, IRS-CI warn of potential COVID-19 economic impact payment scams

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The Virginia Coronavirus Fraud Task Force and Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations (IRS-CI) are warning taxpayers to be alert about possible scams relating to COVID-19 economic impact payments.

United States Attorneys Thomas T. Cullen and G. Zachary Terwilliger, and the Virginia State Police along with Kelly R. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge of the IRS-CI Washington DC Field Office, made the announcement today in an effort to prevent taxpayers in need from being victimized by criminals using the recently approved payments as an opportunity to commit a crime.

“During this time of crisis, scammers and thieves prey on those most vulnerable in our community in an attempt to personally benefit by stealing their money and personal identifying information,” Special Agent in Charge Jackson said today. “Please help us protect everyone in your community by telling family, friends and elderly neighbors to be on the lookout for these potential scams.”

“While most act selflessly and responsibly in a crisis like this, there are fraudsters out there who are attempting to scam and exploit good people,” said U.S. Attorney Terwilliger. “We are likely to see an uptick in government check scams tied to coronavirus-relief, including advanced-fee schemes promising government relief checks, student loan relief, and adjustments in other government benefits, such as increased social security payments. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

“As we have seen over the past few weeks, the worst among us are finding new ways to exploit a global pandemic and prey upon the vulnerable,” said U.S. Attorney Cullen. “Americans need to be extremely vigilant in protecting their personal, financial, and tax information. Assume all unsolicited phone calls and emails regarding IRS or COVID-19 refunds and are potentially fraudulent. Do not respond and report them to law enforcement.”

In a matter of weeks, COVID-19 economic impact payments will be on their way. For most Americans, this will be a direct deposit into your bank account. For the unbanked individuals who have traditionally received tax refunds via paper check, they will receive their economic impact payment through the mail.

Scammers may try to get you to sign over your check to them or get you to “verify” your filing information in order to steal your money. Your personal information could then be used to file false tax returns in an identity theft scheme. Because of this, everyone receiving a COVID-19 economic impact payment is at risk.

Special Agent in Charge Jackson offers the following information and tips to spot a scam and understand how the COVID-19 related economic impact payments will be issued.

• The IRS will deposit your payment into the direct deposit account you previously provided on your tax return (or, in the alternative, send you a paper check).

• The IRS will NOT call and ask you to verify your payment details. Do NOT give your bank account, debit account, or PayPal account information to anyone – even if someone claims it’s necessary to get your check. It’s a scam.

• If you receive a call, do NOT engage with scammers, even if you want to tell them that you know it’s a scam. Just hang up.

• If you receive texts or emails claiming that you can get your money faster by sending personal identifying information or clicking on links, delete these texts and emails. Do NOT click on any links in those texts or emails.

• Reports are swirling about bogus checks. If you receive a “check” in the mail now, it’s a scam. It will take the Treasury a few more weeks to mail out the COVID-19 economic impact payments. If you receive a “check” for an odd amount (especially one with cents), or a check that requires you to verify the check online or by calling a number, it’s a scam.

• Remember, the federal government will not ask you to pay anything upfront to get a legitimate benefit. No fees. No charges. Anyone who asks for an up-front payment for a promised benefit is a scammer.

The Virginia Coronavirus Fraud Task Force: https://www.justice.gov/usao-wdva/covid-19-fraud

Western Virginia Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Baudinet, USAVAW.COVID19@usdoj.gov or 540-278-1494.

Eastern Virginia Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kaitlin G. Cooke, Kaitlin.Cooke@usdoj.gov or 804-819-5416.

To report a COVID-19 fraud scheme or suspicious activity, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) by calling the NCDF Hotline at 1-866-720-5721 or sending an email to disaster@leo.gov.

For more information, visit the IRS website at www.irs.gov/coronavirus

FBI at: https://www.ic3.gov or 804-261-1044.

To report fraudulent activity to the Virginia State Police, Virginians can contact the Virginia Fusion Center (VFC) at vfc@vfc.vsp.virginia.gov.

For continuing information on the COVID-19 virus and the federal response, check https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

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EDA in Focus

COVID-19 meeting restrictions lead to 2nd EDA grand jury extension

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Contacted by phone, Rockingham County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Parker confirmed that Judge Clark Ritchie had extended the term of the Warren County Special Grand Jury impaneled to explore potential criminality tied to the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (EDA) civil litigation.

That extension is for six months and came as the grand jury’s first extension was coming to an end Tuesday, March 31. The EDA special grand jury was empaneled shortly after the EDA civil litigation was filed on March 26, 2019. Its first six-month term was extended another six months in October 2019.

Parker said the newest six-month extension comes from an “abundance of caution” both legally and medically.

The COVID-19 pandemic response has stopped many activities we once took for granted, including some court proceedings. Royal Examiner File Photos/Roger Bianchini

Due to restrictions on public gatherings ordered by Governor Ralph Northam as part of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s emergency management response to the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, what have been described as non-essential court functions have joined other enterprises deemed “non-essential” in the private sector in being put on hold at least through much of April. Consequently, it was decided it was unsafe for the grand jury to continue meeting in this pandemic emergency response environment.

In this fluid medical and legal environment, it is uncertain when the EDA Special Grand Jury will be able to meet again. However, Parker said he believes once those meetings begin, it will not take anywhere near six months for the grand jury to complete its business.

“Our goal is to conclude as soon as possible,” Parker said.

The entire current Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office has recused from all EDA legal matters due to past or ongoing professional or personal relationships with involved parties. Jennifer McDonald during her local Rotary presidency, circa 2016-17.

Following the recusal from EDA legal matters of Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney John Bell and his entire staff in the wake of his November 2019 election, Parker was appointed to handle criminal indictments stemming from alleged EDA financial improprieties discovered by a forensic audit commissioned by Warren County on behalf of the EDA in September 2018.

The EDA civil litigation is now seeking recovery of $21.3 million from 15 defendants, including former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald and two real estate companies she is alleged to have used to misdirect EDA assets to her own benefit.

In a series of filings by the EDA grand jury, McDonald now faces a total of 34 financial felony charges. Also indicted criminally on fewer charges has been a tight circle around McDonald, including her husband Samuel North, her former EDA Administrative Assistant Michelle “Missy” Henry, and former EDA small business loan recipient and B&G Goods proprietor William Lambert. At the time of his business relationship with the EDA Lambert is purported to have been in a relationship with a McDonald sister.

Criminal charges against another McDonald associate, Donald Poe, were dropped by Parker due to an approaching January perjury trial date he was not prepared for with his late 2019 appointment and the mountain of paperwork filed in relation to the EDA civil and criminal cases – estimated at or around a million pages of documentation.

Donald Poe following a 2019 court hearing – indicted, charges dropped, what does the future hold?

However, as he noted at the time, Parker can refile the criminal indictments against Poe if he feels the evidence so warrants. Poe’s perjury charges related to his testimony to the EDA Special Grand Jury regarding his business ties to McDonald.

The next EDA criminal case hearing dates are scheduled for April 17. Parker said he should have more information on how things will be proceeding forward within the coming week.

A federal grand jury has also been impaneled in Harrisonburg related to the EDA financial allegations and civil litigation. On April 16, 2019, agents from the FBI and Virginia State Police searched and seized documents and materials from the EDA’s Kendrick Lane offices, including the executive director’s office that had been cordoned off and locked down since McDonald’s December 20, 2018 resignation under increasing scrutiny by the investigative auditing firm Cherry Bekaert and her EDA Board of Directors. However, the federal grand jury has yet to issue any indictments from its investigation.

Above, FBI, State, and local authorities gathered to search and seize possible evidence at EDA headquarters in April 2019; including from Jennifer McDonald’s former office, below, which is pictured being locked down, including from remote access to her computer, following her Dec. 20, 2018 resignation.

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Health

FDA requests removal of all Ranitidine products (Zantac) from the market

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced (April 1, 2020) it is requesting manufacturers to withdraw all prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) ranitidine drugs from the market immediately. This is the latest step in an ongoing investigation of a contaminant known as N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) in ranitidine medications (commonly known by the brand name Zantac). The agency has determined that the impurity in some ranitidine products increases over time and when stored at higher than room temperatures and may result in consumer exposure to unacceptable levels of this impurity. As a result of this immediate market withdrawal request, ranitidine products will not be available for new or existing prescriptions or OTC use in the U.S.

“The FDA is committed to ensuring that the medicines Americans take are safe and effective. We make every effort to investigate potential health risks and provide our recommendations to the public based on the best available science. We didn’t observe unacceptable levels of NDMA in many of the samples that we tested. However, since we don’t know how or for how long the product might have been stored, we decided that it should not be available to consumers and patients unless its quality can be assured,” said Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “The FDA will continue our efforts to ensure impurities in other drugs do not exceed acceptable limits so that patients can continue taking medicines without concern.”

NDMA is a probable human carcinogen (a substance that could cause cancer). In the summer of 2019, the FDA became aware of independent laboratory testing that found NDMA in ranitidine. Low levels of NDMA are commonly ingested in the diet, for example, NDMA is present in foods and in water. These low levels would not be expected to lead to an increase in the risk of cancer. However, sustained higher levels of exposure may increase the risk of cancer in humans. The FDA conducted thorough laboratory tests and found NDMA in ranitidine at low levels. At the time, the agency did not have enough scientific evidence to recommend whether individuals should continue or stop taking ranitidine medicines, and continued its investigation and warned the public in September 2019 of the potential risks and to consider alternative OTC and prescription treatments.

New FDA testing and evaluation prompted by information from third-party laboratories confirmed that NDMA levels increase in ranitidine even under normal storage conditions, and NDMA has been found to increase significantly in samples stored at higher temperatures, including temperatures the product may be exposed to during distribution and handling by consumers. The testing also showed that the older a ranitidine product is, or the longer the length of time since it was manufactured, the greater the level of NDMA. These conditions may raise the level of NDMA in the ranitidine product above the acceptable daily intake limit.

With today’s announcement, the FDA is sending letters to all manufacturers of ranitidine requesting they withdraw their products from the market. The FDA is also advising consumers taking OTC ranitidine to stop taking any tablets or liquid they currently have, dispose of them properly and not buy more; for those who wish to continue treating their condition, they should consider using other approved OTC products. Patients taking prescription ranitidine should speak with their health care professional about other treatment options before stopping the medicine, as there are multiple drugs approved for the same or similar uses as ranitidine that do not carry the same risks from NDMA. To date, the FDA’s testing has not found NDMA in famotidine (Pepcid), cimetidine (Tagamet), esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid) or omeprazole (Prilosec).

In light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA recommends patients and consumers not take their medicines to a drug take-back location but follow the specific disposal instructions in the medication guide or package insert or follow the agency’s recommended steps, which include ways to safely dispose of these medications at home.

The FDA continues its ongoing review, surveillance, compliance, and pharmaceutical quality efforts across every product area, and will continue to work with drug manufacturers to ensure safe, effective and high-quality drugs for the American public.

The FDA encourages health care professionals and patients to report adverse reactions or quality problems with any human drugs to the agency’s MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting program:

Complete and submit the report online at www.fda.gov/medwatch/report.htm; or

Download and complete the form, then submit it via fax at 1-800-FDA-0178.

The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.

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Upcoming Events

Apr
7
Tue
10:00 am Focus on Health Employment & Edu... @ LFCC | Science and Health Professions Building
Focus on Health Employment & Edu... @ LFCC | Science and Health Professions Building
Apr 7 @ 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
Focus on Health Employment & Education Fair @ LFCC | Science and Health Professions Building
Two sessions: 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. Different vendors at each session. Held in the Science and Health Professions Building at LFCC’s Middletown Campus. Contact Taylor Luther for more[...]
4:30 pm Novel Ideas @ Samuels Public Library
Novel Ideas @ Samuels Public Library
Apr 7 @ 4:30 pm – 5:30 pm
Novel Ideas @ Samuels Public Library
Children will explore popular books and book series through S.T.E.M. activities, games, food, and more! Tuesday, March 17 –  Children will explore popular books and book series through S.T.E.M. activities, games, food, and more! This[...]
Apr
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10:15 am Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Apr 8 @ 10:15 am – 12:00 pm
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
10:15 Toddler story time | 11:00 Preschool story time Wednesday, March 18 and Thursday, March 19: Our stories, songs, and craft this week will be about friends! Come to story time and see your friends,[...]
Apr
9
Thu
10:15 am Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Apr 9 @ 10:15 am – 12:00 pm
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
10:15 Toddler story time | 11:00 Preschool story time Wednesday, March 18 and Thursday, March 19: Our stories, songs, and craft this week will be about friends! Come to story time and see your friends,[...]
Apr
10
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6:00 pm Fire Pit Fridays @ Shenandoah Valley Golf Club
Fire Pit Fridays @ Shenandoah Valley Golf Club
Apr 10 @ 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Fire Pit Fridays @ Shenandoah Valley Golf Club
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10:00 am Ask a Master Gardener @ Warren County Extension Office
Ask a Master Gardener @ Warren County Extension Office
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Ask a Master Gardener @ Warren County Extension Office
Answers to your gardening questions and problems! E-mail questions and pictures to greenhelpline.warrenco@gmail.com Mondays from 10:00am -1:00pm, April-October (except holidays) Come in or call 540-635-4549 *in-person and phone help available after corona virus emergency*
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4:30 pm Novel Ideas @ Samuels Public Library
Novel Ideas @ Samuels Public Library
Apr 14 @ 4:30 pm – 5:30 pm
Novel Ideas @ Samuels Public Library
Children will explore popular books and book series through S.T.E.M. activities, games, food, and more! Tuesday, March 17 –  Children will explore popular books and book series through S.T.E.M. activities, games, food, and more! This[...]
Apr
15
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10:15 am Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Apr 15 @ 10:15 am – 12:00 pm
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
10:15 Toddler story time | 11:00 Preschool story time Wednesday, March 18 and Thursday, March 19: Our stories, songs, and craft this week will be about friends! Come to story time and see your friends,[...]
Apr
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10:15 am Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
Apr 16 @ 10:15 am – 12:00 pm
Toddler and Preschool Story Time @ Samuels Public Library
10:15 Toddler story time | 11:00 Preschool story time Wednesday, March 18 and Thursday, March 19: Our stories, songs, and craft this week will be about friends! Come to story time and see your friends,[...]
Apr
17
Fri
6:00 pm Fire Pit Fridays @ Shenandoah Valley Golf Club
Fire Pit Fridays @ Shenandoah Valley Golf Club
Apr 17 @ 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Fire Pit Fridays @ Shenandoah Valley Golf Club