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Town prepares for COVID-19 with cancellations, Visitor Center closing

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In a press release from the office of Mayor Gene Tewalt issued at 2:42 p.m. Monday, March 16, the Town of Front Royal announced precautions it is undertaking – perhaps a poor choice of words in this context – to deal with the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.

Those precautions include the cancellation of tonight’s town council work session, as well as of the Town Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) meeting scheduled for later in the week. The press release also notes the indefinite closing of the Front Royal Visitor’s Center as of its 5 p.m. closing time this afternoon.

Royal Examiner got word of the Visitors Center closing several hours earlier when this reporter stopped by to see if Visitor’s Center Director Tim Smith had any updates on his department and staff’s situation as it pertains to both the coronavirus situation and town council and Interim Town Manager Tederick’s existing and planned FY 2021 cutbacks of the Visitors Center budget and functions.

As Gail and Tim pose for the camera, Nancy Wunsche checks local attraction map info out with Nellie at right. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

The Town is also suggesting people pay town utility bills online, by phone or mail, and is instituting some physical distance precautions for those who do continue to pay their bills in person at Town Hall.

Citing the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines on “limiting social contact” that could allow the spread of germs, most particularly the COVID-19 virus that has been declared a worldwide pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), the mayor has announced that, “In the event, a citizen must come to Town Hall to interact with the Finance Department, a teller-line divider approximately two feet from the counter has been placed. This will allow citizens to conduct business and still communicate a safe distance from town employees.

“All employees have been instructed to disinfect their work area and common space on the hour, every hour during the workday.

“The two part-time custodians are now working full time and have been directed to clean common areas in Front Royal Police Department, Town Hall, Public Works and Electric Department,” the mayor “preparedness” release observes.

Above, Town Hall still opens for business, with conditions; below, the two-foot STOP line for paying Town utility bills after closing time at Town Hall Monday.

 

As of 4 p.m. Monday, the Warren County Board of Supervisors’ 9 a.m. Budget work session with the school board was still on, leading one to believe the 7 p.m. regular county board meeting was on as well.

Of the Visitor’s Center closing, the release notes that Visitor Center Manager Smith “informed the Town Manager that the Commonwealth of Virginia has closed all statewide Visitor Centers.

Furthermore, Virginia Tourism Corporation has directed its employees to work from home. Considering these points and at the request of Mr. Smith, the Front Royal Visitor Center will be closed until further notice.”

Queried on that information, Smith said it was State “Welcome Centers” he told Interim Town Manager Tederick the state government had closed, not all local Visitors Centers. The latter is a decision the localities would choose to make barring a mandate to municipalities from the State should the public health situation further deteriorate. Other than that misunderstanding, the information regarding the Visitors Center closing was accurate, Smith said.

National, Global Statistics
As of Monday morning, the number of confirmed cases in Virginia was 45, with no cases yet being verified in Front Royal or Warren County. Maryland had reported 37 cases and Washington, D.C. 17. Also, as of Monday morning according to the CDC, the total number of cases in the U.S. was 1,629, with 41 deaths.

Washington state’s KOMO news reported that 25 of 37 deaths in that particularly hard-hit state are tied to the Life Care Center in Kirkland. It is believed a visitor to that retirement home had recently returned from a visit to the disease’s epicenter near Hunan Province in China without knowing they were infected.

According to the World Health Organization, as of this past weekend, the number of cases worldwide was about 160,000, with just under 5,000 fatalities. The international fatality rate remains around 3.4%, considerably higher than normal flues’ .1% or .01%, if considerably lower than catastrophic diseases like Ebola or the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918.

Despite the fairly low numbers domestically, the disease’s high contagion rate and impacts in other affected nations, particularly in Europe, have led to an abundance of caution in the U.S.

An abundance of caution – above, the WCGC parking lot late Monday morning; below the WC School Board parking lot on Monday. Virginia’s public schools have been closed as a precaution against COVID-19’s spread.

 

Life goes on
For some at least – rather than hoarding toilet paper or canned goods, as noted above one South Carolina family was getting information on amenities offered in Front Royal and by Warren County’s nearby natural attractions.

Nancy Wunsche, husband Werner and his brother Gerhardt decided to visit the area after visiting their daughter who works on Capitol Hill in D.C. Gerhardt, she noted, has been visiting the family near Charleston, S.C. for a month from his home in the southern Black Forest region of Germany.

From left, Visitors Center employee Nellie with Nancy Wunsche, husband Werner and brother-in-law Gerhardt. We all feel fine, but we’re not going to shake on it – as a precaution.

She observed, however, that her brother-in-law’s visit may be extended for several months due to factors related to the COVID-19 outbreak, which has already hit Europe hard; fortunately, it would seem after Gerhardt – who appeared very healthy – left his homeland.

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‘Don’t get excited’ – but don’t be complacent: Town, County join forces with citizens to stave off COVID-19 threat

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The COVID-19 Emergency Management team has first of weekly community briefings. Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video/Mark Williams – Royal Examiner Audio/Mike McCool

 

At 4 p.m. Thursday afternoon County and Town representatives on the COVID-19 Coronavirus Emergency Management team held a status-report briefing on what they are doing and are preparing to do as the nation, state and community move into the third month of the worldwide pandemic’s arrival on U.S. shores.

And on the heels of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019) in Warren County, that message was stay calm, use common sense in maintaining recommended social distancing and cleanliness, reference reliable municipal and other governmental and health agency websites for updated information, while taking social media pronouncements with a cautionary grain of salt – but if you develop respiratory, cold or flu symptoms during the pandemic emergency reach out to your primary care physician or the public health establishment for assistance.

Another important message was that despite social distancing restrictions on direct public access to the Front Royal Town Hall and Warren County Government Center, your town and county government services are there for you by alternate means, including phone and online contacts.

“Don’t get that excited – make sure you follow the rules that are sent over by the governor; make sure you follow those set forth by the County, as well as the Town of Front Royal … the only way we can stop the spread of this virus is to stay away from one another, stay away from places where you come into contact with people. And hopefully, by doing these things that we’ve been asked to do, we can cut down on the cases here in Front Royal and Warren County,” Mayor Eugene Tewalt said in opening the briefing.

Mayor Eugene Tewalt left and County Board Chair Walt Mabe opened the first of weekly COVID-19 Emergency Management public briefings.

 

Picking up on the theme of the importance of public cooperation in Warren County and Front Royal’s collective response, County Board Chairman Walter Mabe added, “I can only tell you that our county can only be as prepared as its citizenry is prepared. We are going through a crisis that probably nobody in this county has been through before. There are things happening every day and the situation is evolving every day. And being able to make it better, we have to listen to the folks that are trying to give you the information that is going to make it better for you.”

It was noted that even for those younger, healthier and less susceptible to serious symptoms from COVID-19, stopping the spread locally, as well as statewide or nationally, can be crucial to the more vulnerable citizens age and health-wise, including those you or someone you know, loves.

Mabe also noted that contrary to public statements from some optimists, “There is no currently approved vaccine, there’s no magic pill to make this thing go away – it’s all going to be up to the citizenry.”

County Commonwealth’s Attorney John Bell, right (without sunglasses), stops following the briefing’s adjournment to peruse one citizen, Gary Kushner’s, opinion – time will tell, nationally, statewide and locally.

In addition to the mayor and board of supervisors chairman, included in the COVID-19 Emergency Management briefing on the first of weekly Thursday briefings for the duration of the threat from the newest Coronavirus first identified in the Hunan Province of China three months ago, were County Emergency Services Chief Richard Mabie, County COVID-19 Emergency Manager Rick Farrall, Sheriff Mark Butler, Town Police Chief Kahle Magalis, County Administrator Doug Stanley, Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick and County Commonwealth Attorney John Bell.

The latter addressed legal aspects of enforcement of directives from the state government as to public behavior: Education; formal warnings on public behavioral directives; issuing of misdemeanor citations that could carry up to $2500 fines and a year in jail in worst-case scenarios; before arrests are contemplated for refusal to follow legally binding governmental directives, is the planned order of law enforcement response, Bell said. He added that an overstepping of police or governmental authority was not the goal, rather public safety and common-sense compliance to safeguard this community’s population, especially its most vulnerable citizens was.

A special nod was given by several present as to the degree of cooperation that has developed between the County and Town sides of the joint emergency declarations, particularly in the emergency services and law enforcement sectors.

Above, as County COVID-19 Emergency Manager Rick Farrall listens, County Administrator Doug Stanley tells citizens that community leadership is prepared to minimize the challenge presented by the COVID-19 pandemic; below, Sheriff Butler and Chief Magalis illustrate the level of County-Town cooperation in place to deal with the Coronavirus threat.

 

“Yes, the Coronavirus pandemic is unusual – it’s unusual in the duration that we’re potentially facing. But I want the public to know that your community leadership is prepared to meet this head on,” County Administrator Stanley said, referencing annual emergency training sessions involving multiple agencies. “We will be ready for what we can do to arrest the impact on our community.”
Stanley continued to note the role that non-profit and other organizations aimed at public sector assistance can play.

County Board Chair Mabe pointed to the county public school system’s free lunch distribution program that has continued beyond the school closings. Starting out at feeding 61 students out of meals prepared at E/ Wilson Morrison at the outset of the pandemic emergency management school closings, Mabe noted that number had steadily climbed to 125, 250 and over 350.

However, that is just the start, Mabe noted, as the public-school administration is prepared to utilize it school bus system to distribute a thousand and eventually 2500 or more free lunches out to its K-12 student base.

“We have a lot of experience in this room,” Mayor Tewalt observed later, adding, “as mayor I want to encourage the public in Front Royal, especially our citizens, to listen to what’s been said here this evening. It’s important that you pay attention to these things. And if you pay attention to these things it may not be near as bad as we may think it’s going to get.”

Watch the entire COVID-19 Emergency Management briefing in this exclusive Royal Examiner video:

Front Royal joins County in declaring COVID-19 Emergency

County declares ‘Local Emergency’ as State ramps up pandemic response

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Mayor gives emergency response update

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Town of Front Royal Mayor Eugene Tewalt stopped by Royal Examiner’s studio and provided us with an update report on the emergency response process underway.

Watch this exclusive Royal Examiner video and get the latest update information:

The Mayor also shared this release with us:

As a community, we have entered uncharted territory that is changing rapidly due to the COVID-19 virus. Both the Town and County governments have been meeting daily to discuss the myriad issues pertaining to the COVID-19 virus and our community. Yesterday, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam issued an executive order that goes into effect at midnight tonight that closes or modifies the operation of businesses not considered “essential”. This order seeks to contain, control, and prevent infections and unnecessary risks to our citizens.

The Front Royal Police Department, Warren County Sheriff’s Office, Town of Front Royal and County of Warren governments, Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney, Warren County Fire & Rescue, Emergency Management, and Valley Health have been working tirelessly to keep our citizens as safe as possible. Our community must adhere to the restrictions put in place to help with this process. The Governor’s emergency powers are derived from VA code 44-146.15. The Governor’s Executive Order Number Fifty-Three (Executive Order #53) describes in detail businesses considered essential, non-essential, or otherwise exempt to closing with restrictions. Gatherings of more than ten people are prohibited rather than simply discouraged. The Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney, Warren County Sheriff’s Office, and Front Royal Police Department have coordinated on this issue. We intend to enforce this order through warnings, education, and collaboration with our business partners to comply; however, non-compliance could result in a summons for a Class 1 misdemeanor.

We are calling on all of our friends and neighbors in the Town of Front Royal and Warren County to do their part in this fight. Ask yourself if you have an absolute need to run that errand or leave your safe space or if you want to leave because you are tired of being cooped up. Each time you encounter someone, you run the risk of becoming infected.

In the best interest of our community, we urge you to adhere to Governor Ralph Northam’s most recent executive order. We are collaborating with our local businesses and civic groups to help those that are at high risk or may not have the resources to get essential products or services. We are streamlining this coordinated effort to keep unnecessary risk to a minimum.

We thank you as a community for doing your part to protect our local medical staff, first responders, grocery and pharmacy personnel, and keeping other essential employees healthy and safe to ensure our community service providers remain fully staffed.

Related Story:

Statement from Mayor Tewalt

A letter to the citizens of Warren County and the Town of Front Royal

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The new pandemic response reality – closed, open governmental meetings

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But the governor said law enforcement, media, and governmental functions were immune, if not to COVID-19, at least to the public gathering ban – why not go for 3 out of 3 this morning? – your humble reporter argued. Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video & stills/Mark Williams

After a brief debate with the County powers that be over media access to Tuesday morning’s (March 24) Warren County Board of Supervisors Special Meeting from which the public was barred – and we thank County Board Chairman Walter Mabe for his decision to allow the Royal Examiner’s reporting and camera presence despite a staff legal belief that a March 20th Attorney General’s letter/opinion would allow the exclusion of media in what the governor has defined as an emergency or disaster situation related to the potential spread of COVID-19 in Virginia – we settled in to view the three-pronged meeting.

Those prongs were:

1 – adoption of an ordinance and authorizing resolution related to the conduct of the county government during the statewide and local COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019) emergency declarations;

2 – approval of a salary of $77,456.37 for a new Lieutenant’s position in the Warren County Sheriff’s Office who will assist in regaining accreditation for the department, as well as having investigations and internal affairs responsibilities; and

3 – a detailed review of cuts and additions to the Fiscal Year 2021 budget and authorization to advertise a public hearing on the budget and associated tax rates.

Sheriff Butler makes his case for a new employee geared to regaining departmental accreditation, a move that would help future grant applications he pointed out. Earlier, media made a case for a ‘get out of jail free’ card on the outside chance the meeting-access discussion went south.

The board unanimously approved all matters before it, including the advertisement of a flat tax rate tied to the FY 2021 budget. However, as it did prior to the meeting regarding media access and state FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) law regarding media attendance at the meeting which, as noted above, was closed to the public other than by live video feed, the specter of the spread of COVID-19 and impacts on the local economy of prohibitions on “non-essential” local business activity and limits of 10 people in any one public gathering space, played heavily into the budget discussion led by County Administrator Doug Stanley.

“There is a lot of uncertainty. But I think we as a County can be flexible to respond to that,” Stanley told his board of dealing with unknown variables the COVID-19 pandemic and governmental responses to it, might bring.

“Can we have before our next meeting, depending on where the Coronavirus is, a work session to discuss our thoughts on what we need to look at and budget?” South River Supervisor Cheryl Cullers asked of potential impacts on County revenue generation, including sales, meals and lodging taxes and other peripheral variables that might come into play.

Above, the Warren Supervisors played to an empty house, save staff shuttled in and out, and media representatives; below, worrisome to County and Town officials this budget season are empty downtown streets and closed businesses.

Stanley suggested tacking that discussion onto the scheduled morning meeting of the following week – a meeting he observed could be held by teleconference. The budget and tax rate public hearings are scheduled for April 14, hopefully after some public gathering restrictions are lifted.

At the conclusion of his multi-faceted FY 2021 budget presentation that included comparisons to the County’s position and reactions to the 2008 housing market collapse and consequent recession, Stanley thanked his five-member board for all being present physically for it.

“As I told the chairman, it’s hard for me to run through all this stuff (by remote electronic hook up) – it’s hard to walk through that. It’s good to do it in person at least once, it makes it a little bit easier,” the county administrator observed budget complexities presented at an electronic distance.

Above, the county administrator presents budget variables to a properly socially-distanced board; and below, to Royal Examiner’s camera as county staff banished to adjacent rooms to keep the meeting room occupancy at 10, wait their turn.

 

Our videographer Mark Williams, hand-held the camera for the hour and a half meeting. Our tripod was left in the vehicle due to the uncertainty of entering the meeting space. Our apologies for the shakiness of the video in places.

 

Of the additional complexity of facing future crucial budget meetings electronically and without direct public, and perhaps media, in-person attendance, Stanley said, “Obviously we want to make sure the public is with us throughout this process. It’s not something any of us have gone through before. And as Jason (Acting County Attorney Jason Ham) said, we are going to try and make every accommodation that we can to put the information out there …”

See the information put out there the morning of March 24, 2020, on pandemic preparedness, the budget, and the new sheriff’s office position, not to mention portions of this reporter’s pre-meeting discussion with County officials about media access as a defined essential service, in this, fought for and graciously granted exclusive Royal Examiner public meeting video:

 

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Front Royal joins County in declaring COVID-19 Emergency

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Council social distancing – it wasn’t clear if Councilmen Gillespie and Meza were present by remote hook up due to self-quarantine or to keep the suggested gathering number under 10. Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini – Royal Examiner Video/Mark Williams

Monday evening, March 23, the Front Royal Town Council met, albeit briefly, “to depart from the regular ‘Order of Business’” – don’t blink or you’ll miss the linked Royal Examiner video.

That departure was first, a unanimous vote – Gillespie and Meza by remote phone connection, though Meza late enough to initially seem to be a “no” vote – to depart from its scheduled agenda, which had included a binding second vote of approval of setting of tax rates for Fiscal Year 2021; and then approval by a 5-1 vote, Thompson dissenting, to declare “a COVID-19 Emergency Ordinance” effective immediately, and concurrently name Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick the Town’s Director of Emergency Management.

Of course, you wouldn’t have known that the interim town manager was council’s appointed pandemic emergency manager unless you perused the three-page, 28-paragraph (16 consecutive beginning with the word “Whereas”) “COVID-19 Emergency Ordinance” approved on a much briefer motion offered by Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock, seconded by Chris Holloway.

Not until paragraph 19 of the emergency ordinance is it noted that council, “hereby appoints the Town Manager, or in the absence of a town manager, the Interim Town Manager, as Director of Emergency Management for the Town, which is currently Matthew A. Tederick, Interim Town Manager.”

Above, Chief Magalis, flanked by the socially-distanced interim town manager, oversees an empty house as the meeting was about to convene; below, one citizen, former councilman, and former supervisor’s arrival took the number present, including Royal Examiner’s two-pronged media presence, from 10 to 11 – don’t tell the governor.

 

Having reviewed the Town Charter earlier in the day and noting that Chapter Two states that, “In a time of public danger or emergency, he (the mayor) may take command of the police, maintain order and enforce the law … subject to review by the council,” after the meeting’s adjournment we asked Mayor Gene Tewalt about Tederick’s appointment to fill that role.

“The charter does specify that the mayor does have the prerogative if there is an emergency. But this is so huge; there is so much going on that there is no way in the world I could take care of all the information. I’d have to be down here 24 x 7 to answer questions and telephone calls; whatever. Matt is here; Matt’s present during the day and during the evening hours. So, no other one is logical that’s here that could cover it other than Matt,” Tewalt observed.

“And it’s logical that if something happens to Matt, the mayor will fall in. And if something happens to the mayor, I’ll fall in,” Vice-Mayor Sealock added with a military perspective of the “next man standing” in crisis situations.

As for her dissenting vote, Letasha Thompson said it was solely based on Tederick’s lack of experience in emergency management, coupled with the workload, particularly in budget season, the interim town manager already has on his plate.

“As we got into this emergency situation, from my research as to what other municipalities were doing … I feel like it should be someone with, at least some training in emergency management, maybe not the experience – because how often do we have this kind of emergency? But at least have the education behind it. And I think Matt’s plate is beyond full at this moment, and then to have this added is just overload at this point.”

Letasha Thompson deadpans for the camera prior to meeting’s adjournment – it’s just allergies, I swear, Councilwoman …

The Emergency Director’s perspective
After the meeting, we contacted Tederick by phone and he explained his perspective on the assignment, noting that he will not be working alone, benefitting from not only the County Emergency Management team in place but a new hand he has called out of retirement, perhaps easing Thompson’s concerns to a point.

Tederick noted that with the pandemic response situation escalating at all levels across the nation, including last week’s Warren County Emergency Declaration, he had reached out to former Interim Front Royal Police Chief and Warren County Sheriff’s Office Major Bruce Hite for help.

“He’s a tremendous asset. And we’re fortunate to have money in the budget to pay for his services,” the interim town manager said of budget cuts he had made elsewhere in the existing Town budget. Tederick said Hite was hired out of the Town Administrative Office last week and would be paid out of the General Fund at a salary of $6,000 per month.

“He’s coordinating with the County Emergency Management team and the Town Police Department … Our next step is to facilitate connection with the County Emergency Services Plan because we fall under that. We had a good meeting with those involved on all levels – I feel much better today than I did yesterday,” Tederick said of pulling together help on a variety of issues he said have been keeping him up at night.

“I lay awake at night worrying that our wastewater treatment or water service won’t be able to operate up to capacity. The thing is to keep things functioning as this progresses. I’m committed to getting critical services delivered to citizens. We are cross-training Town personnel and have ID’ed backup personnel,” Tederick said of the Town looking ahead were the COVID-19 pandemic medical crisis to reach Warren County and Front Royal.

Should ‘something happen’ – County help is just a call away.

As a small-government conservative, Tederick expressed some frustration that Monday’s emergency declaration and his appointment were legally necessary to allow the Town to proceed under FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) guidelines as restrictions on public gatherings are suggested or mandated, and public access to governmental meetings may become limited. Front Royal and Warren County’s Local Emergency Declarations are not being undertaken in a vacuum.

As previously reported by Royal Examiner, according to Governor Ralph Northam’s Executive Order 53, beginning at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, March 24, 2020, all gatherings of more than 10 people are banned statewide, certain non-essential businesses are ordered closed, and all K-12 schools are closed for the remainder of the school year. However, these prohibitions do not include gatherings that involve the provision of health care or medical services, access to essential services like food banks for low-income residents; operations of the media, law enforcement agencies, or operations of government.

“Unfortunately, I understand why – it’s a very fluid environment we’re in,” Tederick said, adding, “I was advised by legal counsel that we needed the Emergency Declaration and needed an Emergency Manager or whatever it’s called, to facilitate electronic meetings. This meeting was 99% to allow that to happen.”

What “that” is, he explained, is facilitating live remote participation by, not only council members as Gary Gillespie and Jacob Meza were hooked up by Monday night, but citizens wanting to address various agenda or other issues while watching live streaming of meetings or work sessions if public attendance becomes impossible due to the Covid-19 health crisis.

It’s keeping us apart – but maybe technology can fix that, kind of …

“I can’t believe it takes an ordinance to accomplish due to FOIA,” Tederick offered, observing, “It is frustrating, these Draconian FOIA laws in a state of emergency. I have no problem with citizens calling in remotely,” Tederick said; though some citizens on the technological downside might not have problems with the concept, as much as they might in actually utilizing the technology to achieve such remote participation.

“We’re all in uncharted territory – no one planned for this; no one anticipated this. I have direction from council to move forward in any way humanly possible,” Front Royal’s new Director of Emergency Management observed of life under the threat of the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus. It is a threat declared a worldwide health pandemic by the World Health Organization.

Statistical Update
As of noon Monday, the CDC (Center for Disease Control) reported 33,404 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S., as well as 400 deaths. Of those 33,404 confirmed cases, the source of exposure remains unknown or “under investigation” in 32,416 of them.

In Virginia, including the first confirmed case – or is it two? – in the six-municipality Lord Fairfax Health District Warren County is in, as of Monday the Virginia Department of Health counted 254 cases, with six deaths and 38 hospitalizations. For some perspective on case statistics, of Virginia’s population of 8.62 million, 3,697 people have been tested for COVID-19 according to VDH.

The lack of availability of testing kits has been a sore point for health officials nationwide since COVID-19 was first identified here in mid-January. Six weeks later on February 29, the CDC reported 15 confirmed cases in the U.S., an Atlantic Magazine article recently noted.

Worldwide as of March 23, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) there were 338,307 confirmed cases and 14,602 deaths attributed to COVID-19. Of those 338,307 known cases, 232,378 were confirmed in the last 15 days.

In Europe, Italy and Spain have been particularly hard hit. Early Monday, Italy had 5,476 deaths counted out of 59,138 confirmed cases, 53,255 of those cases being counted in the past 15 days. However, a later report from Al Jazeera Monday evening had Italy’s death toll up to 6,077 and its confirmed cases at 63,928. Italy’s highest single-day death count was 793 on Saturday, March 21. Spain has counted 1,720 deaths out of 28,572 cases, with 28,142 of those cases verified in the past 15 days.

And so it goes in the fourth month since COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease-2019) was identified as a new strain of Coronavirus on the move in the Hunan Province of China in December 2019, as the final year of the second decade of the 21st century approached.

See the brief meeting declaring Front Royal in a COVID-19 emergency state – don’t blink – in this Royal Examiner video:

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Warren County Government Offices to close to the public effective Monday, March 23, 2020

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From the Warren County Office of Emergency Management:

Effective March 17, 2020, the Warren County Board of Supervisors declared a Local Emergency in Warren County due to an outbreak of a respiratory illness referred to as the Coronavirus (COVID-19), a communicable disease of public health threat. In order to help limit the spread of COVID-19 to its citizens, and in line with surrounding localities, the County will be taking the following actions as of Monday, March 23, 2020:

 The Warren County Government Center is closed to the public; all services will be provided via phone, email, or regular mail. Should the conduct of business require an in-person visit, it will be by appointment only; please call the appropriate office to request an appointment. The Treasurer’s Office will continue its drive-thru operations, and the outdoor dropbox is still available.

 All Warren County public meeting rooms are closed to non-governmental meeting uses.

 The Public Safety Building lobby is open to the public. Citizens can access the Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Fire and Rescue Services from their respective service windows.

 Warren County Parks and Recreation buildings, including the Youth Center and the Community Center, are closed to the public. At this time, outdoor trails, fields, and parks, including the Front Royal Golf Club, are still open to the public; please be advised the cleaning schedule for playgrounds may be affected. All scheduled Parks and Recreation programs and all rentals of shelters and other park locations through April 13, 2020, are canceled.

 Warren County Department of Social Services is closed to the public. Clients will be able to contact staff during regular business hours by calling the office at (540) 635-3430. To report Child Protective Services (CPS) or Adult Protective Services (APS) complaints outside of normal business hours, please call the State hotline at 1-800-552-7096 or (804) 786-8536. Applications and any case-specific information may be dropped off in the secure drop box located outside of the 15th Street complex. Applications for benefits may be submitted online via  https://commonhelp.virginia.gov/. The Department remains committed to providing assistance and resources to the community during this time.

 The Solid Waste Convenience Sites and Transfer Station will continue to operate their regular hours: 7:00 AM until 7:00 PM (Monday and Tuesday, Thursday through Saturday, CLOSED on Wednesday) and 12:00 PM until 7:00 PM (Sunday).

 The following meetings have been canceled:

o Monday, March 23rd – Lake Front Royal Sanitary District Advisory Committee

o Wednesday, March 25th – Development Review Committee

o Thursday, March 26th – Anti-Litter Council

 Information regarding the scheduled special meeting of the Warren County Board of Supervisors for Tuesday, March 24th at 9:00 AM will be forthcoming.

 The RSW Regional Jail Finance and Personnel Committee and the RSW Regional Jail Authority Board meetings scheduled for Thursday, March 26th have been relocated from the RSW Regional Jail to the Warren County Government Center.

The Warren County Health Department will remain OPEN and available to provide services. As a reminder, the following public facilities are closed:

 Samuels Public Library will be closed until Monday, March 30th. During this period, no fines will be charged.

 Warren County Public Schools has extended the closure of all schools through Monday, April 13th with students tentatively returning to school on Tuesday, April 14th. Visit https://www.wcps.k12.va.us/index.php/child-nutrition to receive updated information regarding meals being provided to students during this closure.

 The Front Royal-Warren County Airport Terminal building is closed until further notice, but this will not otherwise impact other Airport operations.

 RSW Regional Jail has temporarily suspended all visitation and programs until further notice. In an effort to keep families and friends connected with their loved ones during this time, RSW will be providing inmates with one free phone call every three days.

If you think that you (or a family member) may be experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, residents are urged to NOT show up unannounced at any local medical facility but instead contact a Primary Care Physician to discuss your symptoms. If you meet the Virginia Department of Health screening criteria and require COVID-19 testing, you will be directed to the appropriate local medical facility for treatment. If you have general questions regarding COVID-19, please call the Lord Fairfax Health District local call center at (540) 771-3992 or the Virginia Department of Health public information line at 1-877-ASK-VDH3 (1-877-275-8343). As always, if you are experiencing a true medical emergency, call 911 or report to the closest hospital’s emergency room for emergent treatment.

To lower the risk of respiratory germ spread, including COVID-19, the Virginia Department of Health encourages the following effective behaviors:

 Stay home when you are sick; avoid contact with sick people.

 Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; use a 60% alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available; regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

 Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.

As of 12:00 PM (noon) on Sunday, March 22, 2020, there are no reported COVID-19 cases in Warren County. This is a rapidly changing situation, and the most current information is available on the following websites: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus or www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/. Please consult www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus for the latest number of COVID-19 cases in Virginia.

Additionally, the County has created an informational page regarding Coronavirus. Stay up-to-date with the latest County information: https://www.warrencountyva.net/coronavirus-latest-information.

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Local Government

For county administrator one guessing game done, second just beginning …

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Now you see him … Royal Examiner Photos/Roger Bianchini

 

As previously reported, in the wake of the St. Patrick’s Day Warren County Board of Supervisors meeting this week, one guessing game IS over – that two-decade County Administrator Doug Stanley’s five-year contract will NOT be renewed.

However, what may have slipped through the cracks of that story is that a second, guessing game has now begun – how long will Stanley stay on in his county administrator’s position as a non-contract employee following the current contract’s end on June 30?

For as we reported Interim County Attorney Jason Ham telling the media prior to the March 17th meeting’s convening, “after the expiration of Stanley’s contract on June 30, he will remain an uncontracted County employee until he is either terminated by the board or he resigns.”

And THAT is the new guessing game – when might either of those eventualities occur?

Now you don’t …

For as Stanley said in his statement on his employment situation the day after the unanimous vote not to renew his contract, a vote that included two long-time incumbent supporters, “I hope that the Board recognizes my value to them and the community throughout this process and sees my abilities as County Administrator. I look forward to being part of the positive changes being implemented by the new Board.”

The “process” Stanley referenced was the recovery of allegedly misdirected EDA and County assets, as well as achieving legal accountability for those found to be at fault in the EDA financial scandal.

So, the still-county administrator does not sound as if he is distancing himself from the new three-member board majority that campaigned on change of “business as usual” platforms. Rather, Stanley’s comment may reflect someone still auditioning to prove to Supervisors Mabe, Cullers and Oates that if he was part of the collective failure of oversight of EDA operations, he can be a useful part of correcting processes that allowed that previous failure to happen, as the County and EDA move forward; likely with the EDA absorbed into the County’s departmental structure.

And a careful reading of Delores Oates motion, seconded by Cheryl Cullers, suggests too, that perhaps Stanley’s ultimate fate as county administrator has yet to be determined in the minds of his newer bosses.

In his job for two decades, nine months longer than the entire 21st century, the county administrator, far left, is navigating carefully towards the end of his current five-year contract under the watchful eye of a new county board majority.

 

“I move that the written Employment Agreement of June 30, 2015, between Warren County and Doug Stanley not be renewed and be allowed to expire on its own terms on June 30, 2020, and that upon such expiration Mr. Stanley continue to be employed at-will without a written contract as County Administrator at his current salary, and that for so long as Mr. Stanley continues to be employed, his deferred compensation shall continue at its current rate, that he be allowed to use his County vehicle, and that he be allowed to teach as he currently does.”

The assertion that as of the June 30th end of his contract, Stanley will “continue to be employed at-will without a written contract as County Administrator at his current salary, and that for so long as Mr. Stanley continues to be employed, his deferred compensation shall continue at its current rate,” including the use of his county vehicle might be interpreted to indicate that the county administrator’s “audition” before his newest bosses to keep his job could extend beyond the current Fiscal Year 2021 budget process, and into that fiscal year for an as-yet-to-be-determined amount of time.

And now you see him again – but for how long?

 

How long?

Remains to be seen.

Like we said at the outset, the new county administrator guessing game has just begun.

Following last Tuesday’s vote, Oates declined to comment on her motion or its implication on Stanley’s future. And all five supervisors declined to comment on Stanley’s future employment status when queried by email the following day.

Stanley will continue as County Administrator through end of fiscal year

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