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Henrico County declares COVID state of emergency, Colonial Heights Schools goes virtual
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Henrico County declares COVID state of emergency, Colonial Heights Schools goes virtual

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RTD A1 - Jan. 12, 2022

Henrico County officials declared a local emergency Tuesday night as COVID-19 cases continue to surge.

The local emergency allows for “greater flexibility” to purchase testing kits and other virus-related supplies, according to a county news release. The county is continuing to require masks be worn by all employees and visitors in all buildings and facilities.

“We can’t respond to fires if we don’t have fire trucks and in this particular case, we can’t employ mitigation strategies if we don’t have the personal protective equipment and the test kits and all of those are at a premium right now, and so the more flexibility you have and the quicker you can react to available supply chains that come up, the better prepared you’re going to be to operationalize a vision for protecting the community and the workforce,” Henrico Fire Chief Alec Oughton said in an interview Wednesday.

The county was previously in a local emergency because of the pandemic from March 13, 2020, through June 8, 2021.

In its first meeting of the year, the Henrico County of Board of Supervisors approved a resolution to enter into a local emergency. The approval came a day after County Manager John Vithoulkas initiated a local emergency.

“Over the past few weeks, we’ve watched the omicron variant fuel an unprecedented increase in COVID-19 cases in our community,” Vithoulkas said in a statement. “This emergency order allows us to be nimble and take whatever actions are necessary to help keep our community and employees safe during this most challenging time.”

On Tuesday, Henrico County recorded 727 daily cases compared to 188 on Jan. 11, 2021, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

The week of Jan. 3, highlighted by the county, reported 814.65 cases per 100,000 residents, which reflected more than three times the 235.78 cases per 100,000 total the two weeks prior.

Vithoulkas said Tuesday night that in a single day, 530 school employees, as well as 77 firefighters and 52 police officers have all been out sick. Those numbers are about three times above typical levels for January absences, Vithoulkas said.

In an interview on Wednesday, Vithoulkas said the initial step is to get COVID under control in the schools before looking to the rest of the county workforce and then the community.

“These are our teachers, our kids, and so we’ll take care of [them],” Vithoulkas said.

While there is not an exact number of test kits the county is aiming for, officials are hoping to have an efficient supply on hand and maintain that supply weekly. The local emergency resolution was triggered in part because of the county’s dwindling stockpile of tests and personal protective equipment.

“We are not reacting to any situation right now, we are being proactive. There’s no concern for the residents now, it’s simply allowing their local government to do what is necessary in an efficient and effective manner to help mitigate any type of closures or extreme circumstances within our school system,” Cari Tretina, Vithoulkas’ chief of staff, said Tuesday.

The surge in cases has left localities across the region scrambling to create safety plans.

The Colonial Heights Public School System decided to closed its doors beginning Wednesday through the end of the week because of increasing COVID cases. The district is now operating under virtual learning.

“All of our schools have experienced a significant number of positive COVID-19 cases amongst students, staff and teachers over the past week, but especially in the last few days,” Schools Superintendent William D. Sroufe said in a statement.

As of Tuesday, across all five schools there were 105 cases and 552 student absences and 52 staff absences.

The decision also comes as the city of Colonial Heights reports a positivity rate that has reached 42.6% — the highest weekly positively rate for the city since the pandemic began, Sroufe said.

“Moving the school to virtual learning will allow us to decrease the spread and potential exposure for students, staff, and families and provide us with time to implement deep cleaning across all school spaces while still affording students the ability to engage in learning,” Sroufe added.

Gov. Ralph Northam also declared a state of emergency in response to the surge of coronavirus cases on Monday.

jnocera@timesdispatch.com Twitter: @jessmnocera

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