The Triangle: News in 5 (Oct 18)

The top local, statewide and national news stories, broken down into a quick, 5-minute read. Plus: a listing of local events happening this week.

Good morning, Historic Triangle! It certainly feels like fall is underway today, and it looks like we can expect similar weather to last through the week, with highs reaching into the 70s and lows dropping into the 40s and 50s at night.

There’s a lot to cover this week, from the announcement of a new local broadband provider to some not-so-great news about the rising heating costs we can expect to see this year.

There are also plenty of events happening in the area this week, so be sure to check those out, too.

And remember: to receive my newsletter directly in your inbox every week, make sure you subscribe.

Let’s get started.

Local

1. A second broadband provider is – finally – coming to James City County and Williamsburg.

  • The James City County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to back a franchise agreement with Shenandoah Cable Television (“Shentel”) on Tuesday. The company is planning to develop a $10 million fiber-optic network to support cable television, phone and wireless internet service in the county, The Virginia Gazette reports.
  • While most residents in the Historic Triangle currently rely on service from Cox Communications, many have long expressed irritation with the lack of competition in the area.
  • Shentel, founded in 1902, focuses on providing services to rural markets and is currently working on expanding into eastern Virginia. Stuart French, a government and community affairs specialist for Shentel, said that the company is also currently in talks with York County. The move is also expected to bring additional economic opportunities to the area.
  • “Ever since I have been on the board, the citizens have always asked why can’t we get someone else in here … we have been trying for a long time. It’s going to be great for the citizens. Give them another option,” said Michael Hipple, chairman of the Board of Supervisors.

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2. WJCC Public School Division has launched a new free routine Covid-19 screening program for students and staff.

  • The initiative – called Virginia School Screening Testing for Assurance (ViSSTA) – was developed through a partnership between the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) with the goal of supporting regular testing of asymptomatic individuals as part of a mitigation strategy.
  • The program was established in light of research showing that many Covid-19 infections occur after students or staff have contact with a person who doesn’t have symptoms at the time. Plans are currently underway to roll out the program to schools throughout the state.
  • Participation in the program is entirely voluntary, and testing is taking place during the school day, a statement by WJCC Schools said. Employees or families who wish to take part can sign up online, and families will need to complete a form for each student that will be participating.
  • More than 400 participants signed up to take part in the program as of Oct. 12, according to reporting from WYDaily.

Statewide

1. Parents are suing Loudon County Public Schools after two students were reportedly sexually assaulted there, and some are calling on the superintendent to resign.

  • Two separate assaults reportedly occurred at LCPS high schools in the past several months, and school officials confirmed both attacks were allegedly committed by the same boy, NBC Washington reports. The most recent attack occurred inside Broad Run High School, where a girl says the boy sexually assaulted her in an empty classroom on October 6.
  • In May, a 9th-grade girl also reported being sexually assaulted inside a school bathroom at Stone Bridge High School. Now, Scott Smith, the parent of that student, has filed a lawsuit alleging negligence.
  • While the boy accused of committing the assaults has now been arrested, Smith says the male student – who has been under investigation for months – should never have been allowed to return to school after the first alleged sexual assault.
  • In June, an LCPS school board meeting descended into chaos after the victim’s mother told the crowd about what happened to her daughter. A viral video shows the victim’s father being arrested after he angrily confronted school officials about the incident.
  • Dozens of concerned parents, students and local residents spoke at an LCPS board meeting last Tuesday and demanded Ziegler’s resignation. Ziegler has asked the board to develop a system that allows for more immediate disciplinary actions against alleged offenders. One official elected to the LCPS school board – Beth Barts – announced Friday that she will resign.
  • “The sexual assault our daughter endured should never happen to any young girl, or any child, attending a public school,” Mr. and Mrs. Smith said in a statement.

Protesters and activists hold signs as they stand outside a Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) board meeting in Ashburn, Virginia on October 12, 2021. – Loudoun county school board meetings have become tense recently with parents clashing with board members over transgender issues, the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Covid-19 mandates. Recently tensions between groups of parents and the school board increased after parents say an allegedly transgender individual assaulted a girl at one of the schools. (Photo by Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

2. Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations among children are continuing to rise in Virginia, health officials say.

  • According to Dr. Danny Avula, the state’s vaccine coordinator, Virginia is currently experiencing the fourth wave of the pandemic, and children are being impacted at higher rates than previously seen, ABC 8 News reports.
  • Avula said that while cases recently declined among the general population, he expects to see another surge in infections this winter in Virginia as the cooler weather sends more people indoors.
  • State health officials are also expressing concern about the possibility of hospitals becoming overwhelmed by high rates of flu and Covid-19 infections occurring at the same time among both children and adults this winter.
  • “Because [Delta] is so much more contagious than the previous strains of this virus, it has impacted kids at a scale that we just haven’t seen,” said Avula.
  • As of Oct. 15, a total of 55,941 cases among children 0-9 and 108,075 cases among those aged 10-19 have been reported in the state, according to VDH.

3. Gov. Northam announced he has been suffering from ‘long Covid’ for the past year.

  • The governor, 62, tested positive in September 2020.
  • Though he initially had mild symptoms, Northam said the illness soon progressed and he lost his ability to taste and smell. Those senses have still not returned, according to The Virginian-Pilot.
  • About 25 percent of Covid-19 patients develop symptoms of long Covid, including people with asymptomatic cases, research shows. Symptoms of long Covid often include chronic breathing problems, a racing heart, weakened organs and ongoing fatigue.
  • “I’m 62, and I can deal with this,” Northam said. “But why take a chance, if you’re 15 or 20 years old or whatever age, of having symptoms that may affect you for the rest of your life? Or, in the worst-case scenario, you get COVID pneumonia and don’t recover and end up losing your life.”

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam speaks during a news conference on the new mass vaccination site inside the former Lord & Taylor store at Tysons Corner Center in Tysons, Va. on Monday, April 19, 2021. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

National

1. Heating bills are expected to spike this winter as inflation impacts energy prices.

  • As costs surge worldwide for natural gas, heating oil and other fuels, the U.S government is warning that households may see heating bills jump by up to 54% this year.
  • People who heat their homes with propane are likely to experience the most dramatic increases this year. Households who heat with natural gas can expect to see bill increases of about 30%, while homes that use heating oil can expect to pay 43% more. Those who heat with electricity are expected to see a more modest increase of about 6%, according to PBS News.
  • The higher heating bills are largely the result of surges in the costs of energy commodities. Natural gas costs are up by about 90% from last year, while the wholesale price of heating oil has more than doubled over the past 12 months.
  • “We expect that households across the United States will spend more on energy this winter compared with the past several winters because of these higher energy prices and because we assume a slightly colder winter than last year in much of the United States,” the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in the report.

2. Yes, you really should begin your holiday shopping now.

  • Economists say that while the holiday shopping season typically kicks off on Black Friday, the third week of November is just too late to get started this year.
  • Consumers should expect to see rising prices, limited product inventory, fewer sales and slower shipping speeds this year. Economists are forecasting that the supply chain bottlenecks will continue through the next holiday season in 2022, according to ABC News.
  • A recent survey found that 37% of consumers already started their holiday shopping by August or September, and another 22% plan to begin this month.
  • “Black Friday and early December are going to be in the center of a perfect storm of high demand, low staffing, slow shipping and difficulties restocking,” Kristin McGrath, a shopping expert and editor at deal website RetailMeNot, told USA Today.

3. More Americans may soon be eligible for booster shots.

  • The FDA’s advisory panel voted Thursday to support boosters of the Moderna vaccines for a limited population. On Friday, that committee also voted in favor of allowing a second dose of the J&J vaccine to be distributed to eligible individuals.
  • The acting commissioner of the FDA will likely sign off on the recommendation over the next few days. The boosters will not be made available to the general public unless and until that approval is given.
  • Currently, only a limited population of Pfizer vaccine recipients are able to receive a booster dose. Those eligible include individuals 18 and up who are at high risk for severe disease, people 65 and older and frontline workers whose jobs put them at high risk of contracting Covid-19.
  • The CDC, as of Friday, is continuing to recommend that people only receive a booster dose of the same type of vaccine they received the first time around. They are not yet endorsing mixing and matching.

Local Covid-19 Update

Community transmission level in Virginia as of Oct. 17, 2021. Image provided by the CDC Data tracker.

  • Hospitalizations : There were 1,474 individuals hospitalized in Virginia with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 as of Friday, Oct. 15. More than one in four of those patients were in an ICU unit, according to the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, and more than 60 percent of those critical patients were on ventilators.
  • Daily cases ️: Last week, the average number of new daily cases in Virginia was 2,200, and the test positivity percentage was 7.5%, according to VDH.
  • Vaccination rates : Statewide, about 62 percent of the eligible population has been fully vaccinated as of Oct. 17.
  • Fatalities: 81 Covid-19-related fatalities were reported in Hampton Roads last week: 17 in Hampton, 16 in Virginia Beach, 11 in Norfolk, eight in Chesapeake, seven in Gloucester County, five in Newport News, five in Portsmouth, four in York County and two in James City County. Poquoson, Franklin, Suffolk, Accomack, Isle of Wight and Middlesex counties each reported one case.

Good News

400 Peninsula families will receive funds for Christmas gifts this year thanks to a new initiative by THRIVE Peninsula.

  • The new program, “Let Christmas THRIVE” was created to help families who have struggled financially this year amid the strain of the pandemic.
  • The selected families in need will receive one $75 gift card per child in the household, allowing parents to purchase gifts for their kids this holiday season.
  • THRIVE is hoping to raise $30,000 to fund the program. As of Friday, the organization had raised $14,000 toward its goal, WTKR reports.
  • “These families have struggled to keep a roof overhead and the lights on this year, the vast majority of them due to COVID-19,” said Angela York, THRIVE’s executive director. “We wanted to do something special for them so they can feel that joy that Christmas brings at a time when it is desperately needed.
  • Donations for the program will be accepted until November 12 and will be distributed to families between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Learn more and donate at https://www.thrivepeninsula.org/christmas.

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This Week’s Events

Multiple Days

Halloween Madness Window Contest – Oct 22 – Oct 28 – Merchants Square in Williamsburg. Stroll the Square and vote on your favorite window display. Polls open at 11 am on Oct. 22 and close at 3 pm on Oct. 28. Winner announced at 11 am on Oct. 29. Free.

Monday, Oct. 18

Statue Unveiling – Riverwalk Landing in Yorktown. Honors the Franco-American alliance that led to the victory in the Revolutionary War. 11-11:30 am. Free.

Tuesday, Oct. 19

Surrender Field Tour – Yorktown Battlefield Visitors Center. 2-3 pm. $10; children under 12 free.

Yorktown Day Book Signing – Gallery at York Hall (301 Main St.) in Yorktown. Features a book signing by three authors of historical books: Alan Hoffman, Libby McNamee and Jenny L. Cote. 2:30-3:30 pm. Free.

Thursday, Oct. 21

How to Start Your Own Business – Greater Williamsburg Chamber of Commerce (421 N. Boundary St.). 5:30-7:30 pm. Free.

Saturday, Oct. 23

Precarious Field Dayz 2021 – The Lawn of the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg. 1-5 pm. General admission $40. Children are permitted but must be supervised at all times. A portion of proceeds will benefit CHKD.

Williamsburg Community Shred-a-thon – Walsingham Academy in Williamsburg. Drive-thru on site shredding event. First bag is free; additional paper grocery-sized bags $5. Proceeds benefit the Annual Fund for Excellence. 8-11 am.

Craft Fair at the Flipping Flea – 6927 Richmond Road in Williamsburg. Features outside vendors, fresh apple cider donuts and apple cider, candy apples and sales. 10 am – 3 pm. Free.

The Walk to End Alzheimer’s – Starts and ends at the New Town Gazebo (5150 Main St. in Williamsburg). 8:30 am-12 pm; registration at 8:30 am.

VFW Fall Festival – 106 Jesters Ln. in Williamsburg. Featuring kids’ activities, craft vendors, a bake sale and more. 9 am – 4 pm. Free.

Williamsburg Community Growers Volunteer Days – Located in the Dominion Energy power corridor off Stadium Rd in Williamsburg. 7:30 am – 12:30 pm.

Prescription Drug Take-Back – Drive-through event at James City County Law Enforcement Center in Williamsburg. 10 am – 2 pm.

A Howlin’ Halloween Event – Williamsburg Crossing Shopping Center (5251 John Tyler Hwy.). 7-12 pm. Double feature outdoor movie. A portion of the proceeds benefit Heritage Humane Society. Tickets: $10; Costume contest $5 to enter.

Sunday, Oct. 24

Whisky & Wags – Copper Fox Distillery (901 Capitol Landing Rd.) in Williamsburg. Bring an item from Heritage Humane Society’s Supply Wish List or a donation of $5 of more to receive half off a cocktail. Adoptable dogs will be at the event. 11 am-5 pm.

Yorktoberfest– Riverwalk Landing in Yorktown. Outdoor tented event, rain or shine. Two different sessions held between 10:30 am-5:30 pm; see website for details. $25 early bird; $35 at the door.

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Don’t forget!

Williamsburg was recently nominated for “Best Historic Small Town” in the USA Today Reader’s Choice Awards. You can vote for Williamsburg here. Voting ends next Monday, Oct. 25.

Have questions, comments or an event you’d like to tell me about? I’d love to hear from you! Please email me at [email protected].

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