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Coronavirus caseload continues to rise in region, state

Money still available in South Boston’s small business loan fund

Flooding in the forecast; detours set to begin

Torrential rains that have fallen this week are expected to submerge Riverdale by Friday, with flooding of the U.S. 58-501 intersection likely by Friday or Saturday.


Jeffress, Lee named Top Athletes at HCHS

Deaundra “Dee Dee” Jeffress and Thomas Lee were honored as Female and Male Athletes of the Year at Halifax County High School Thursday morning.





About all that / April 15, 2020

It’s tough in times of crisis to talk about much else other than the crisis, but the coronavirus isn’t everything — not quite yet, anyway. There are news items stacked one on top of the other that merit at least a brief airing in this space. Some are virus-related, some not. Let’s go down the list:

» It must be unnerving for residents of South Hill to stand by as the community’s old hospital is retrofitted and reopened as a COVID-19 treatment facility, but VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital is unquestionably doing the right thing by repurposing the shuttered Buena Vista Circle campus for its pandemic response. The longtime Community Memorial Healthcenter will house 130 beds for the care of COVID-19 patients, all part of an expansion by VCU Health across its Richmond-based service area to confront this medical crisis head-on.

As the images from New York City show to ghastly effect, the last thing anyone should want is for a hospital system to be overwhelmed with patients who can no longer be handled in a standard controlled setting. Providers can make preparations now or risk untold danger and hardship with waves of patients stuck in hallways awaiting treatment or at field hospitals set up who-knows-where. Foresightedness hasn’t exactly been a strong suit of ours during this crisis, which is why it’s so gratifying to see VCU-CMH go against the grain and make plans now for worse times to come. Hopefully, these calamities will never come to pass. But hope, as we all know, is no substitute for a plan.

The original Community Memorial Hospital was established in the 1950s, in the long shadow of World War II. Now there’s a generation that didn’t shrink from a challenge. The hospital’s founders — the parents and grandparents of those alive today — would be proud of current generations for doing the same.

The old hospital should be ready to accept patients within a week as the need arises, we’re told by VCU-CMH.

» Mecklenburg’s COVID-19 caseload stood at 57 as of Tuesday, by far the highest number in Southside Virginia. As most everyone knows by now, the majority of cases is tied to an outbreak of the virus at Sentara MeadowView Terrace nursing home in Clarksville. There’s still much we don’t know about the situation at Sentara MeadowView, but one thing we do know is this: So-called congregant settings are placed at enormous risk during a pandemic — especially homes with elderly and medically compromised residents — and Sentara MeadowView is hardly unique in being a hot spot for the disease.

We’ve all seen the news out of the Richmond area regarding Canterbury Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center, the upscale assisted living facility that currently owns the sad distinction of America’s deadliest nursing home locale. (With 45 deaths as of Tuesday, Canterbury has surpassed the 37 deaths and counting at the Kirkland, Wash., nursing home where the U.S. witnessed its first major surge of COVID-19 cases.) According to the state health department, of Virginia’s 97 disease clusters (through last week), 53 are elder care facilities. Company loves misery, and Sentara MeadowView has a good number of counterparts.

As bad as the top-line numbers for Mecklenburg County may appear, they pale in comparison to neighboring Granville County, N.C., where 97 people have been confirmed with COVID-19 and four people have died, according to the North Carolina Department of Health & Human Services. Why is Granville’s COVID-19 caseload so high? It’s mostly due to the federal prison in Butner, where dozens of inmates and employees have been sickened by the virus. Emptying the prison, once an unthinkable idea, has become a realistic course of action. It may soon be an inevitability.

Such days as we’ve never seen ….

Let’s turn to a few non-corona related matters:

» Anyone who follows the constituent newsletter stylings of State Sen. Frank Ruff and Del. Tommy Wright may have noticed their incessant complaining about how “this will not be a Virginia we recognize” once Democrats are finished rewriting laws in Richmond. This week, Gov. Ralph Northam signed into law a slew of bills that came out of the recent legislative session. In their own way, Ruff and Wright are onto something when they say Virginia will never be the same. It’ll be better.

A quick list of long-overdue changes that the Democratic legislature and governor have enacted:

• Virginia now has greatly expanded opportunities for voting, with a 45-day early voting period rather than the atrocious limitations on absentee balloting that existed in the past. As is widely understood by people not named Frank Ruff or Tommy Wright, our former absentee voting rules encouraged low-grade dishonesty — not especially harmful, but far from ideal. Basically, you no longer need to come up with an excuse, valid or otherwise, to walk into your local registrar’s office and cast an early ballot. Virginia’s policy of limiting voting to a single day with a smattering of excused absentee ballots served no purpose other than to make it more difficult than it ever needed to be for a lot of people to exercise the franchise. Good riddance to all that.

• Virginia has raised the threshold for felony theft to $1,000, a far more balanced approach for dealing with property crimes than the past threshold of only $200, and the legislature has put an end to the practice of suspending people’s driver’s licenses for unpaid court fines and fees. It may sound like a great idea to crack down on deadbeats and scofflaws by suspending their driver’s licenses, until you look around at all the people who are driving illegally to get to work and otherwise hustle for a buck. At some point, non-compliance with the law renders a law useless. Automatic suspension of driver’s licenses for non-payment of court fines crossed that line a long time ago.

• Virginia’s minimum wage is going up, from $7.25 now to $9.50 per hour starting in 2021. (The General Assembly set a date of Jan. 1, 2021, for the change, although Gov. Northam is proposing to push implementation off to May 1, 2021, due to the pandemic’s impact on the economy.) As a business owner, I know a minimum wage increase will impact my bottom line — but it’s plainly the right thing to do. For one thing, those of us in the small business community talk all the time about how people should keep their dollars at home by supporting local shops and providers. This is a chance for the stream to run the other way. Employees who earn a little more on their paychecks are employees who presumably have a little more to spend on consumer goods. It’s always a challenge to convince folks to buy local, but maybe some extra pocket change will make them more receptive to the message.

Second, let’s be clear about who’ll be paying the most here — fast food joints, convenience stores, even the Walmarts of the world (although, supposedly, Walmart has raised its employees to wage levels well above the minimum — $11, $12, $13 an hour, depending on the store and the area). The General Assembly and the governor also lowered a hammer on a standard Walmart-like practice of classifying employees as “independent contractors,” which allows big corporations to skirt wage and benefit requirements for many of their low-level employees. The overall effect of these laws is to get more money into the hands of working-class people for the labors they perform, which, I know, is a terrible thing in the minds of people like Tommy Wright and Frank Ruff, but which should be cause for celebration by everyone else.

» Gov. Northam also signed laws this week to require background checks for gun show purchasers, limit gun purchases to one a month, and authorize “red flag” emergency orders allowing law enforcement to temporarily take firearms away from persons deemed a risk to themselves or others. Each of these measures has widespread support from the public, including among gun owners, and together they contribute to a culture of responsible gun ownership and gun safety that bears no relationship to hysterical claims that Democrats are seizing everyone’s weapons. Truth is, these laws address our lamentable culture of gun violence strictly at the margins. Experience shows, however, that even marginal action can have real impacts. Bottom line, no one’s rights here are being violated, and maybe, just maybe, some lives will be saved in the bargain.

The legislature also enacted (somewhat grudgingly, admittedly, on the part of House Democrats) non-partisan redistricting reform. The November ballot will allow voters to weigh in on a constitutional amendment to establish an independent commission to oversee the drawing of election district maps. The politics of this issue were messy up until the end, with Democrats reluctant to hand over their control of the reapportionment process so soon after winning total control in Richmond, but the thing got done — which is more than you can say for anyone, Democrat and Republican, who has come before and been asked to act on this issue. Chalk it down as another win for the Commonwealth, brought to you by the same folks who have Sen. Ruff and Del. Wright struggling so hard to get up off the fainting couch.

Let’s wrap up with these words of wisdom by Microsoft founder and Mecklenburg County adoptive son Bill Gates (he should be, anyway, his company’s holdings have doubled the county’s real estate value), from a recent TED Talk:

“When you go out and see the empty streets, the empty stadiums, the empty train platforms, don’t say to yourself, ‘My God, it looks like the end of the world.’

“What you’re seeing is love in action.

“What you’re seeing, in that negative space, is how much we do care for each other, for our grandparents, for our immuno-compromised brothers and sisters, for people we will never meet.
People will lose jobs over this. Some will lose their businesses. And some will lose their lives.

“All the more reason to take a moment, when you’re out on your walk, on your way to the store, or just watching the news, to look into the emptiness and marvel at all that love.

“Let it fill you and sustain you. It isn’t the end of the world. It’s the most remarkable act of global solidarity we may ever witness. 
It is the reason the world will go on.”

— Bill Gates

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