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Valley Health System adjusts to new normal with COVID-19 precautions



In the last week, Valley Health System’s regional network of hospitals, long-term care facilities, wellness and fitness centers, physician practices and outpatient clinics have dramatically changed how they operate in a focused effort to protect staff, patients and the larger community from COVID-19.

At this time, there have been no confirmed positive tests for the virus in Valley Health’s primary service area.

“We have seen quite a dramatic shift in our nation’s activities,” President and CEO Mark H. Merrill told Valley Health’s managers and directors around the region in a teleconferenced meeting Thursday morning. “Fear is a natural emotion that can sometimes overwhelm rational thinking. We are taking a logical and systematic approach in our preparation. There are parts of the world that have effectively mitigated the spread of this virus. We have been learning from their experience.”

Hospital, Long-Term Care Visiting Curtailed
In remarkably short order, staff and physicians have embraced social distancing as the most effective large-scale way to curb the spread of COVID-19. Patient visitation at Valley Health’s six hospitals and three long-term care facilities was curtailed to reduce the risk of transmission. Facility entrances have been closed to control access and manage screening. Visitation exceptions are being made at Winchester Medical Center for Labor and Delivery, Mother/Baby, Pediatrics and NICU, and at all facilities for special circumstances including end-of-life care, on a case-by-case basis. Visit for details.

Valley Health Begins Postponing Elective and Non-Essential Surgeries
Starting Monday, March 23, all Valley Health hospitals and outpatient surgery centers will be postponing all elective and non-essential procedures and surgeries. Valley Health will continue to allow procedures and surgeries for patients whose condition is emergent or urgent as determined by their physician. This decision was made after thoughtful consideration and is consistent with the guidance being provided by governmental, clinical, and regulatory organizations.

“Our top priorities are to protect our care team and all those we are caring for,” said Iyad Sabbagh, MD, Chief Medical Officer for Valley Health, who is overseeing the system’s clinical readiness. He expressed leadership’s confidence that the organization is prepared, equipped and protected to respond effectively to COVID-19. “I’ve been impressed with our team’s commitment, resourcefulness, and resiliency,” he said. “We have key processes in place to preserve supplies, safeguard employees and physicians, continue providing excellent care to all other patients, and be prepared for surge capacity in the days ahead.”

Wellness and Fitness Centers Close to Protect Members and Staff
Valley Health’s six off-site wellness and fitness centers also closed Thursday, March 19 until further notice, as a precautionary measure. All public events and classes have been canceled or postponed, except patient education related to disease management or preparation for surgery. Outpatient rehabilitation services (physical, occupational and speech therapy) that, in many cases is co-located with fitness, remain operational.

“Our intent is to discourage our fitness members from gathering, but we do not want to deny patients the therapy they need,” said Sabbagh.

Valley Health COVID-19 Test Collection Sites
Anticipating a likely increase in demand for COVID‐19 testing, Valley Health has established outpatient test collection sites. Two sites are now operational in Winchester and Front Royal, with additional locations opening soon.

Until more kits become available, testing is limited to individuals who meet the CDC screening criteria and are referred by their physician or health department. Patients should not present directly to these sites without an appropriate referral.

How to Access Testing
Individuals with symptoms including fever, dry cough and shortness of breath, who have either traveled from a location with COVID-19 or think they may have been exposed, should not go to their doctor, urgent care center or hospital emergency room. They should call their doctor’s office, answer screening questions, and be directed accordingly.

Individuals who are severely ill and need emergency care are asked to call a number posted outside the hospital Emergency Department before entering. Dispatchers will guide 911 callers and EMS responders if COVID-19 is suspected. Sick individuals are asked to do all they can to protect others by limiting contact with unprotected family, emergency responders, and hospital staff as they seek care.

“We’re all in this together,” Merrill reflects. “How can we help our coworkers, patients, families, and friends respond safely, rationally and thoughtfully to create the best possible outcomes? Can we commit to donate blood at a time when our supply is low? Are there things we can do during this time of social distancing to uplift those who may feel isolated? Can we use technology in new ways to bring a smile to a confined loved one?”

Visit for updates on Valley Health visitation policies, other service adjustments, and volunteer or employment opportunities related to COVID-19.

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Community, State First Responders Join Town Tribute to FRPD Sgt. Dennis Smedley



The morning of September 20, 2023, 40 years to the day after he was gunned down from behind near the intersection of Villa Avenue and Sixth Street as he was headed to what would have been a routine day of court testimony in cases he was involved in, Front Royal Police Sgt. Dennis M. Smedley’s memory was invoked in a gathering of Town officials and first responders from the Town, County, and State, along with Smedley family members on North Commerce Avenue.

The occasion of that gathering was the naming of the North Commerce Avenue bridge over Happy Creek just north of its intersection with East Main Street for Sgt. Smedley. It was an emotional tribute to a local first responder lost in the line of duty to a murder that remains unsolved to this day. We spoke with Sgt. Smedley’s sister, South River District Warren County Supervisor Cheryl Cullers, following the ceremony as she mingled with family members, including brothers Tim and Todd Smedley, her husband Steve Cullers and son David, and sister-in-law Cathy.

An FRPD Honor Guard presented the colors, setting the official ceremony in motion 40 years to the day of Sgt. Dennis Smedley’s murder. Smedley family members make their way forward, and further below, the State Police have joined the crowd behind FRPD Chief Kahle Magalis in left foreground. Royal Examiner Photos Roger Bianchini

Of the remembrance attended by FRPD members present and past, WCSO personnel, as well as County Fire & Rescue members, and State Police, Cheryl told us, “It’s important, even for other law enforcement personnel, to know what you dedicate your life to, that people appreciate it enough to do something like this. That we watch over and respect them and help them protect us.”

We asked Sgt. Smedley’s sister if it haunted the family that their brother’s murder at age 28 remains unsolved all these years later. “I can’t speak for my brothers, but I put it in God’s hands,” Cheryl told us after an emotional pause.

An FRPD Honor Guard presented the colors to set the dedication in motion. Mayor Lori Cockrell and Vice-Mayor Wayne Sealock, himself a retired first responder whom the mayor acknowledged as bringing the bridge-renaming dedication idea to council, offered keynote comments. “I wish this day didn’t have to happen,” Mayor Cockrell observed of the bridge renaming to the lost FRPD sergeant. She offered hope that the newly placed Smedley Bridge sign would help passing drivers “to think about the life, his life, and what he sacrificed for our community.”

‘I wish this day didn’t have to happen,’ Mayor Lori Cockrell said of the personal sacrifice at the root of honoring murdered FRPD Sgt. Dennis Smedley. The mayor credited Vice-Mayor Wayne Sealock for bringing the Smedley Bridge re-naming idea to council. Below, the vice-mayor read council’s Resolution of support of the bridge initiative approved on Aug. 28.

Following the mayor’s comments, Vice-Mayor Sealock read the town council Resolution dedicating the bridge to Sgt. Smedley’s memory.  Click here to read.

WCSO’s Roger Vorous, back to the camera, gave the invocation to a solemn crowd gathered in memory of FRPD Sgt. Dennis Smedley, a brother, a son, a friend, and an officer in service to his community.

A county fire engine passes in acknowledgment of the ceremony. And yes, there is a bridge artfully built into the road across Happy Creek’s shift eastward before continuing its path north toward the 8th Street low-water bridge and beyond.

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Rockland/Millwood Trio Announce ‘Meet & Greet’ with Crystal Cline



Prominent Milwood/Rockland residents Adie and Beatrice von Gontard have joined neighbor John Piazza, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, in organizing a “meet & greet” with Front Royal police captain Crystal Cline, candidate for Warren County Sheriff in a face off election contest next November.

The Friday, September 22, event will be at Piazza’s residence, 61 Milldale Alley Court, the home most noticeable by its spectacular garden (see photo), created by master landscape artist, the late Sheron Piazza, designer and creator of Rockland Community Church’s prayer garden that opened within the past year.

Piazza and the von Gontards, in announcing the event, said: “We believe that integrity and trust are the bedrock of effective leadership. This is a unique opportunity (for members of the public) to ask questions, share concerns, and to understand Cline’s vision (upon becoming the first woman sheriff of Warren County).”

The Piazza home garden site of the Cline for Sheriff ‘meet and greet’; and below host John Piazza.

Refreshments – “charcuterie and wine” – will be served during the “meet and greet” between the hours of 5:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.

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Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week: Ruby-throated Hummingbird



Help these little guys make their long journey!

In the last 2 weeks, we’ve received nine Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Five came into care due to cat attacks, two due to window strikes, one on a glue trap, and one due to exhaustion from being trapped inside a building.

These tiny birds bring great joy to many backyard birders, but they are difficult animals to rehabilitate due to their small size and high metabolisms. They eat up to 3x their body weight in nectar and small insects daily!

If you find a hummingbird or other wild animal in need of assistance, be sure to contact a permitted rehabilitator right away! If these birds aren’t able to begin eating quickly after coming into care, their prognosis is usually poor.

Hummingbirds start their long migration south to their wintering grounds in Central America (some traveling up to 2,000 miles) in late August/early September—and they must be in perfect health to do so successfully. Luckily, you can help migrating birds by mitigating the potential dangers in your yard!

  1. Keep pets indoors, leashed, or in “catios”.
  2. Make your windows bird-safe by using decals or window paint to break up the reflections in the windows (with no more than 2″ of space between decals/art!).
  3. Ditch the pesticides.
  4. And be sure to turn your outdoor lights off at night to help our nighttime migrants!

To learn more about the bird migration forecast in your area, check out the BirdCast website here.

Providing food for hummingbirds is another great way to help them during their migration journey. If you decide to feed hummingbirds using a nectar feeder, make sure to use refined white sugar—never brown sugar or organic sugar—and avoid adding unnecessary dyes.

Nectar feeders should be cleaned even more frequently than your regular bird feeders. We recommend changing and cleaning them every two days. Better yet, take down the feeder and plant some native plants like the coral honeysuckle pictured here!

Looking for an easy way to help native wildlife? Become a monthly BRWC donor! For as little as $5/month, you can provide year-round, sustainable support that helps us fulfill our mission.

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Warren County Prepares for I-81 Lane Closure for Bridge Expansion



Bridge Widening Initiative Aims to Improve Traffic Flow and Safety.

Heads up, drivers! The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has important news regarding the I-81 northbound lane in Warren County. On the night of Tuesday, September 19, from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m., a portion of the lane will be temporarily closed due to crucial bridge expansion work.

This closure pertains to the Route 840 (Water Plant Road) bridge, which spans over the southbound lane of Interstate 81 in Warren County. The primary objective of the closure is to pour the concrete deck, a pivotal step in the bridge’s widening process. The work zone will encompass the stretch between mile markers 298 and 300, in close proximity to the junction where I-81 meets I-66.

Drivers should be aware that this is a commonly bustling area. As a result, VDOT has advised motorists to exercise extra caution and vigilance when navigating this zone. For those who frequent Route 840 near the I-81 overpass bridges, keep an eye out for flagger-controlled traffic during the stated hours.

It’s worth noting that this bridge expansion initiative isn’t an isolated effort. In fact, it’s part of a comprehensive plan to enhance I-81 exit 300. Additionally, there’s a blueprint for a longer on-ramp from I-66 in the pipeline. Funded by Virginia’s SMART SCALE program, the overarching goal of these undertakings is to alleviate congestion and, importantly, boost road safety.

Adding some financial context to the matter, Triton Construction Inc., based in St. Albans, W.Va., was granted a contract worth $7,140,300 by the Commonwealth Transportation Board on May 17, 2022. The entire project is charted for completion by November 2024.

For those who regularly traverse I-81, be prepared for intermittent northbound and southbound shoulder closures throughout the project’s duration. A strict work zone speed limit of 55 miles per hour is in place for southbound I-81 traffic. Remember, these efforts are all weather-dependent.

For real-time traffic alerts and additional traveler details, you can dial 511 or pop over to For any queries, the VDOT Customer Service Center remains at your beck and call, 24/7, at 1-800-FOR-ROAD or via their mobile-friendly site at

As Warren County embarks on this ambitious bridge expansion endeavor, it serves as a reflection of the ongoing commitment to enhancing road infrastructure and ensuring safety for all. Motorists are encouraged to stay updated, drive safely, and cooperate with the changes for a smoother road ahead.

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Community’s Fiery Call for Library Funding: The Power of the People and Their Stories



Save Samuels and Warren County Residents Band Together in Support of Public Libraries.

In today’s digital era, it’s a refreshing sight to witness communities rally for traditional establishments. This past week, Warren County painted a picture of unity and passion as the Save Samuels movement, alongside Defensive of Democracy, organized a lively event emphasizing the significance of their cherished library.

Sarah Downs, a leading figure of the Save Samuels campaign and a representative for Defensive of Democracy was a beacon of enthusiasm at the gathering. “Our libraries transcend the realm of just being structures filled with books. They symbolize knowledge, culture, and the essence of community,” voiced Sarah, urging everyone to back their mission online via the Save Samuels website and Facebook page.

The gathering wasn’t just about speeches. A captivating ambiance enveloped the venue. From kids engaging in artistic endeavors at the designated Kids Corner to placards resonating with the attendees’ emotions, the atmosphere was electric.

Sarah, shining with determination, hinted at an upcoming significant event, “This upcoming Tuesday is vital. We’re convening at the government center at 4 p.m. We have to make our board of supervisors realize the library’s indispensability.”

Another figure who stole the limelight was Amber Mabie, a long-standing resident and library advocate of Warren County. With her family beside her, Amber recounted her journey, from her days as a 911 dispatcher to her current role as a stay-at-home mom. Amber shared heartwarming tales of the library’s pivotal role in her family, right from the times when her grandmother introduced her to the world of books.

Making a significant revelation, Amber announced her candidature against Tom MacFadden for the school board. She emphasized her concerns about dwindling funding for essential resources and urged the community to support her cause.

The Save Samuels rally epitomized the indomitable spirit of the Warren County community. Their shared reverence for the library sends out a clarion call. In a world rapidly shifting towards the digital, there’s still an unyielding love for the tangible, for the stories within the walls of our libraries, and for the legacy they represent. The forthcoming times promise continued effort from these devoted individuals as they strive to secure their library’s future.


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A Glimpse into the Future: Warren County Middle School Students Tackle Constitution Day



Shining a Light on the Nation’s Foundations.

Constitution Day took on a fresh, youthful perspective at Warren County Middle School when several eighth graders eloquently shared their insights into the historic document. Guided by their dedicated civics teacher, John Droesch, these young scholars are on a mission to understand, appreciate, and perhaps even shape the country’s future.

Mike McCool, representing the Royal Examiner, visited the school to chat with four standout students: Henry Kennedy, Jakaelyn Jackson, Samara Davis, and Kaylin Simpson. Each student provided unique insights into the Constitution, a reflection of their class assignment where they penned essays on the topic. Kennedy, whose mother was once a history teacher, delved deep into the evolving perceptions of “We the people.” Jackson, on the other hand, was impressed by the Constitution’s intricacies, especially regarding how laws are crafted and implemented.

WCMS Constitution experts – Henry Kennedy, Jakaelyn Jackson, Samara Davis, and Kaylin Simpson

One recurring theme was the surprise at the Constitution’s depth. Davis, for instance, confessed that her historical interest only sparked this year, leading to a broader realization of the nation’s foundational laws. Meanwhile, Simpson’s exploration led her to reflect on the relevance of the Constitution today, particularly on the topic of screen time for youngsters like her.

Droesch expressed immense pride in their dedication and insights. Impressed by their pre-existing knowledge and the depths of their curiosities, he highlighted that many students even ventured into complex areas such as voting rights and reproductive rights. A testament to the importance of civics education, the school’s curriculum will soon have these eighth graders simulating the passage of a law, allowing them to apply their newfound knowledge in a practical setting.

Reflecting on the significance of understanding the Constitution, Droesch shared a heartwarming story of a former student inspired to pursue a congressional career. It serves as a reminder that today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders, and instilling them with a sense of civic responsibility is paramount. As the country looks towards the future, there’s hope in knowing that institutions like Warren County Middle School are nurturing the next generation of informed, engaged citizens.


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Aders Insurance Agency, Inc (State Farm)

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Blue Mountain Creative Consulting

Blue Ridge Arts Council

Blue Ridge Education

BNI Shenandoah Valley

C&C's Ice Cream Shop

Card My Yard

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Down Home Comfort Bakery

Downtown Market

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Explore Art & Clay

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First Baptist Church

Front Royal Independent Business Alliance

Front Royal/Warren County C-CAP

First Baptist Church

Front Royal Treatment Center

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Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce

Fussell Florist

G&M Auto Sales Inc

Garcia & Gavino Family Bakery

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Makeover Marketing Systems

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Mary Carnahan Graphic Design

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Natural Results Chiropractic Clinic

No Doubt Accounting

Northwestern Community Services Board

Ole Timers Antiques

Penny Lane Hair Co.

Philip Vaught Real Estate Management

Phoenix Project

Reaching Out Now

Rotary Club of Warren County

Royal Blends Nutrition

Royal Cinemas

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Royal Family Bowling Center

Royal Oak Bookshop

Royal Oak Computers

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Upcoming Events

10:00 am Abram’s Delight: Annual FIWF Wee... @ Abram's Delight Museum
Abram’s Delight: Annual FIWF Wee... @ Abram's Delight Museum
Sep 23 @ 10:00 am – 4:30 pm
Abram’s Delight: Annual FIWF Weekend @ Abram's Delight Museum
Join George Mercer’s Company of the Virginia Regiment at Abram’s Delight in Historic Winchester Virginia DATE: September 23 & 24, 2023 TIME: 10:00 am to 4:30 pm LOCATION: 1340 S. Pleasant Valley Road, Winchester, VA[...]
10:00 am National Public Lands Day @ Sky Meadows State Park
National Public Lands Day @ Sky Meadows State Park
Sep 23 @ 10:00 am – 1:00 pm
National Public Lands Day @ Sky Meadows State Park
Historic Area. Get your hands dirty as we work to mitigate invasive species and improve the natural environment within the park’s campground. Join park rangers as they work to identify and capture these species that[...]
10:00 am Words of the Wild @ Sky Meadows State Park
Words of the Wild @ Sky Meadows State Park
Sep 23 @ 10:00 am – 11:00 am
Words of the Wild @ Sky Meadows State Park
Sensory Explorers’ Trail. Take into your heart the peace of wild things. Absorb the transformative words of writers who loved the natural world, read aloud by two Shenandoah Chapter Master Naturalists. Walk in silence at[...]
10:00 am Abram’s Delight: Annual FIWF Wee... @ Abram's Delight Museum
Abram’s Delight: Annual FIWF Wee... @ Abram's Delight Museum
Sep 24 @ 10:00 am – 4:30 pm
Abram’s Delight: Annual FIWF Weekend @ Abram's Delight Museum
Join George Mercer’s Company of the Virginia Regiment at Abram’s Delight in Historic Winchester Virginia DATE: September 23 & 24, 2023 TIME: 10:00 am to 4:30 pm LOCATION: 1340 S. Pleasant Valley Road, Winchester, VA[...]
6:30 pm Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Sep 27 @ 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]
10:00 am Fall Wild Edible Plants: Earth C... @ Sky Meadows State Park
Fall Wild Edible Plants: Earth C... @ Sky Meadows State Park
Sep 30 @ 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
Fall Wild Edible Plants: Earth Connections Series @ Sky Meadows State Park
Carriage Barn in the Historic Area. Join professional outdoor instructor Tim MacWelch to learn about the remarkable seasonal wild edible and medicinal plants of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This full-day hike will cover native and[...]
6:30 pm Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Oct 4 @ 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]
11:00 am The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
Oct 7 @ 11:00 am – 4:00 pm
The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
Historic Area. The forge is fired up and the blacksmiths are hard at work showing off their skills. Members of The Blacksmiths’ Guild of the Potomac have set up shop in the forge, located behind[...]
1:00 pm Front Royal Bluegrass Music Jam @ The Body Shop
Front Royal Bluegrass Music Jam @ The Body Shop
Oct 7 @ 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Front Royal Bluegrass Music Jam @ The Body Shop
New Bluegrass and traditional music jam the first Saturday of each month starting Feb. 4th, from 1pm till 4pm. All levels of playing invited to attend.
11:00 am The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
Oct 8 @ 11:00 am – 4:00 pm
The Farmer’s Forge @ Sky Meadows State Park
Historic Area. The forge is fired up and the blacksmiths are hard at work showing off their skills. Members of The Blacksmiths’ Guild of the Potomac have set up shop in the forge, located behind[...]