The Triangle: News in 5 (Nov 29)

Holiday events abound throughout the region, overdose deaths are at an all-time high in the Commonwealth and a new Omicron Covid variant has the world concerned.

Good morning, Historic Triangle!

December is just a few days away, and it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. There will be no shortage of holiday-related activities this week, from parades to tree lightings to Christmas markets. And while winter is drawing nearer, we can expect a very pleasant week weather-wise, with temperatures getting up into the 50s most days (and even reaching the 60s mid-week).

There’s a lot to get to, but The Triangle is breaking down the top local, statewide and national stories into a quick, 5-minute read.

If you haven’t done so already, please be sure to Subscribe to The Triangle, so you never miss a newsletter.

Let’s get started.

Local & Statewide

1. There’ll be holiday events galore throughout the Historic Triangle and surrounding communities this weekend.

  • Grand Illumination will be kicked off in Colonial Williamsburg this coming weekend. While the event traditionally took place on a single day in pre-pandemic years, for the 2021 holiday season, it will span three different weekends: Dec. 3-4, 10-11 and 17-18, according to a Colonial Williamsburg news release.
  • Grand Illumination programming will begin Fridays at 6 pm and will feature a Yule Log procession along Duke of Gloucester street, a bonfire near the magazine and cressets that will be lit until 8 pm. Saturday programming will begin at 5 pm and will include dramatic performances, traditional yuletide music and 18th-century inspired pyrotechnic displays.
  • Christmas festivities will also come alive in Yorktown this weekend as the community puts on its annual tree lighting on Friday, Dec. 3. Saturday, Dec. 4 will feature the traditional holiday market as well as the Lighted Boat Parade.
  • Citywide tree lightings will also be held in Newport News and Poquoson this week. The tree lighting in Newport News will take place on Saturday, Dec. 4 at the City Center at Oyster Point. Poquoson’s Tree Lighting Ceremony and Frost Festival, featuring a choir and visit from Santa, will be on Thursday, Dec. 2 at 6 pm.
  • See the “Events This Week” section at the end of the newsletter for additional details and a listing of other seasonal activities.

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2. Libraries in Williamsburg, Poquoson and Hampton are taking part in a program to distribute free Covid-19 test kits.

  • The program – called Supporting Testing Access through Community Collaboration – is part of a partnership between the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and a total of 30 libraries, according to a VDH news release. The Williamsburg Regional Library, Poquoson Public Library and Hampton Public Library are currently participating.
  • No library card is required to get the test; however, in order to use the test’s diagnostic component, recipients must have an internet connection and internet-enabled device with a webcam or front-facing camera, microphone and speaker. One test is allowed per family member.
  • To obtain a test, you must confirm that you will use the test kit within two weeks. You’ll also need to wear a mask when you pick up the kits and present a valid photo ID. If you are symptomatic or have been told to quarantine due to Covid-19 exposure, you are asked to send someone else to get the kit for you.
  • For more information on the new community testing program, visit the VDH website.

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3. Fatal overdose deaths in Virginia are expected to reach record highs this year.

  • Drug-related fatalities in the state jumped by 22 percent during the first six months of the year in comparison to the same period in 2020, according to reporting by Virginia Mercury.
  • Experts say the problem can be largely attributed to high levels of stress and social isolation brought on by the pandemic, as well as increased fentanyl trafficking.
  • According to the latest report by VDH, 2,620 Virginians are projected to die from overdoses of opioids, fentanyl, cocaine, methamphetamines and other drugs this year alone. That’s an increase of 13 percent from last year and is 55 percent higher than the overdose numbers seen in 2019.
  • “It’s kind of a terrifying time,” said Kathrin Hobron, statewide epidemiologist at the Virginia Department of Health. “Until we control the fentanyl crisis, I just really don’t see our numbers going down.”

National

1. The news no one wanted to hear: A new Covid variant is spreading rapidly, and global leaders are growing concerned. Here’s what we know so far about Omicron.

  • The new strain was declared a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization on Friday. It was first reported to the WHO on Nov. 24 by South African scientists.
  • On Nov. 25, U.K Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced that early indicators suggest Omicron may be more transmissible than the already highly infectious delta variant. He also stated that vaccines may not be as effective against it.
  • On Nov. 26, the U.K government announced that flights from six South African countries would be suspended. The Biden administration quickly followed suit, declaring that the U.S will also ban entry from eight southern African countries starting Monday.
  • Scientists still know very little about the Omicron variant. What is currently clear is that the virus is moving quickly and is believed to contain 32 mutations in the spike protein. South Africa is now experiencing a surge in cases – some of which are occurring in people who were already vaccinated or were previously infected by Covid-19 – according to research published in the peer-reviewed Nature medical journal. As many as 90% of new cases in Gauteng are now caused by Omicron, according to the Associated Press.
  • The Omicron variant has not yet been detected in the U.S, but officials say it has already reached North America, with two confirmed infections in Ontario. It has also spread to the U.K and countries throughout Europe.
  • On Sunday, top U.S medical official Dr. Anthony Fauci said that while it is “too early to say” whether new mandates or lockdowns are needed, the U.S must “be prepared to do anything and everything” to mitigate the virus.
  • South African Dr. Angelique Coetzee, who was one of the first to detect the new strain, told The Telegraph Sunday that the early symptoms of the variant appear to be “unusual but mild.” She reported that her patients presented with extreme fatigue and a high pulse rate but did not exhibit typical symptoms like loss of taste or smell.
  • However, the World Health Organization is cautioning that there is not enough evidence to make any claims about the severity of the virus strain and that current data indicates the symptoms are in fact similar to other strains. The earliest cases “occurred among college students who are more likely to experience less severe illness” from the virus, Bloomberg reports.
  • “Omicron has an unprecedented number of spike mutations, some of which are concerning for their potential impact on the trajectory of the pandemic,” the WHO said in a briefing Monday morning. “The overall global risk related to the new variant…is assessed as very high.”

2. Black Friday was marked by slow consumer traffic and fewer doorbuster deals this year.

  • The traditional kickoff of the holiday shopping season was dismal overall. Some major chain stores saw less than half as much traffic as they did during a typical pre-pandemic year, Bloomberg reports.
  • Experts say the lackluster sales – which likely drove down turnout – can be linked to rising inflation and product shortages due to global supply chain problems.
  • Online Black Friday spending also dipped for the first time ever. According to Forbes, online shopper traffic declined by 28% compared to last year. Economists believe the decline in sales was caused by a combination of diminished product availability and the fact that many consumers started shopping earlier than usual this season.
  • So far, this year’s holiday shopping season has seen “some of the lowest average discount rates that we’ve seen in recent history,” Vice President of Retail for Salesforce.com Rob Garf said in an interview.

Shoppers head out for the holiday weekend sales on Nov. 28, 2021 amid reports of new Covid-19 concerns spurred by the Omicron variant. (Photo by Pietro Recchia/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Local Covid-19 Update

Community transmission in Virginia is currently high, according to the CDC Covid-19 data tracker.

New cases and deaths ️: There were 10,279 new cases and 143 additional deaths in Virginia last week, according to VDH. In the Historic Triangle, 96 new cases were reported last week in James City County, 46 new cases were recorded in York County and 11 more cases were reported in Williamsburg.

Vaccinations : 64.6% of Virginians are fully vaccinated (up from 64.4% a week ago).

Schools : WJCC reports that there are currently 34 students positive in isolation and 152 students in quarantine. Four staff are currently positive in isolation and three are in quarantine. York County School Division is reporting 10 active positive cases. Quarantine information is not reported by the district.

This week, Virginia also reported its first child death from MIS-C, an inflammatory immune response that follows Covid-19 infection. See the full story on WAVY News.

Good News

Hampton University’s Marching Force Band was featured in this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

  • The Marching Force was one of only nine bands in the nation selected to participate in this year’s parade, according to WAVY News. Hampton University was also the HBCU to be represented at the event.
  • Upon returning to campus, the band was greeted with a surprise homecoming celebration featuring a DJ and Pete the Pirate, WTKR News reports. Students immediately began dancing to the music and cheering after stepping off the bus.
  • “I know all of us were tired, but we knew we had a job to do and knew we had to execute properly,” said Sean Robinson, a Hampton University Junior and the Drumline Section leader for the band. “We were in this stadium for many, many days. It’s just a great feeling to know that all the hard work that you put in has been for great use. We know that we’ve done the job that we needed to do as best as we possibly could.

See WTKR’s video coverage of the event here.

Hampton University’s marching band is photographed on November 22, 2021 during Pepsi Stronger Together brings Hampton University’s marching band to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. (Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Pepsi Stronger Together)

Events This Week

Multiple Days

Christmas Decorations Walking Tour – Starts at the James Geddy House in Colonial Williamsburg. Wednesday (Dec. 1) & Friday – Sunday, (Dec. 3 -5). Times vary; see website for details. Featuring a guided tour of the homes and streets of Colonial Williamsburg decorated for the holidays. Tickets: $15.

Virginia Living Museum Nature Nights Holiday Lights – Virginia Living Museum in Newport News. Thursday – Sunday Nights through Dec. 30. 5:30 – 8:30 pm. Featuring an outdoor trail adorned with lights and the holiday spirit. $9 for VLM members, $12 for non-members; free for children 2 and under.

Williamsburg Christmas Market – Held at the parking lot at the corner of S. Boundary & Francis St. across from Berrets Seafood Restaurant. Thursday, Dec. 2 – Sunday, Dec. 5. Outdoor European market featuring over 60 vendors, live holiday music, treats from The Bake Shop and Culture Cafe, fire pits, a visit from Santa and more. Free.

Holiday Open House and Sip & Shop – Saude Creek Vineyards (16230 Cooks Mill Rd.) in Lanexa. Saturday, Dec 4 & Sunday, Dec 5. 11:00 am – 5:00 pm. Featuring Santa, local vendors, music, food and more.

Christmas Market on Main – Historic Main St. in Yorktown. Saturday Dec. 4 & Sunday, Dec. 5. 10:00 am – 3:00 pm Saturday; 11:00 am – 3:00 pm Sunday. Find the perfect gift while enjoying outdoor entertainment and demonstrations, such as music from the Dickens Trio on Saturday and an ice carving demonstration by York Hall on Sunday. See the full schedule here. Free.

Yorktown Yuletide Celebration – Watermen’s Museum in Yorktown. Sat. from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm.; Sun. from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm. Featuring a Viking encampment, Santa Claus, vendors and more. Free.

Holiday Pops Concert by the Williamsburg Symphony Orchestra – Kimball Theatre in Williamsburg. Masks required. Sat. & Sun. 1:30 and 3:00 pm. Tickets start at $15.

Thursday, Dec. 2

Poquoson Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony and Frosty Festival – City Hall in Poquoson. 6:00 pm. Featuring a choir and special visit from Santa and the annual tree lighting. This year, a frosty forest featuring decorated snowmen will also be included. Sponsored by the Kiwanis Club. Free.

Friday, Dec 3

Yorktown Christmas Tree Lighting – Victory monument; procession to Water Street. Monument festivities: 6:30 pm. Tree lighting: 7:30 pm. Featuring live music, including a performance by the Fifes and Drums of Yorkton, followed by the lighting of a 20-foot tree in Riverwalk Landing. Free.

Saturday, Dec. 4

Lighted Boat Parade – 331 Water St. in Yorktown. 6:00 – 8:00 pm. Pre-parade activities include caroling around a bonfire at the beach, a musical performance by the Fife & Drums of Yorktown and complimentary hot cider. The boat parade begins at 7:00 pm. Free.

Sunday, Dec. 5

Joy to the World 2021 Christmas Parade – Begins at the intersection of Brooks St. and Richmond Rd. 5:00 pm. With a new evening start time, the chamber is encouraging participants to decorate their floats with holiday lights and spectators to wear light-up accessories. Free.

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