It’s hard to believe it’s nearly mid-December, although the chilly temperatures we woke up to today are a stark reminder that the first official day of winter is just about a week away.
The good news is that it looks like we can expect a pretty nice week ahead, with temperatures warming up into the 60s later this week.
Other than that, there’s been a lot happening, from controversy surrounding the Yorktown Lighted Boat Parade to the detection of the omicron variant in Virginia to deadly tornadoes for our neighbors to the west.
Once again, The Triangle is breaking down the top local, statewide and national stories into a quick, 5-minute read – and highlighting some of the many upcoming events taking place in our area this week.
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Let’s get started.
Local and Statewide
1. The foundation that oversees Yorktown’s Lighted Boat Parade issued a public apology amid controversy surrounding a political message at this year’s event.
- The parade – a family-oriented holiday event – garnered national attention after one participant, Capt. Bill Berger, presented a boat with an anti-Joe Biden-themed light display featuring the phrases “Let’s Go Brandon” and “FJB.” Berger was named the winner of the event at the awards ceremony at the end of the parade.
- Berger says that 48 hours after the parade, he was informed via a phone call that he was disqualified and would be stripped of his trophy because his boat was too political, according to 8 News.
- Berger expressed frustration over the situation, noting that that the committee was aware of the theme of his boat and allowed it. “My boat was best in show to the crowd,” Berger told WAVY News in an interview. “They should not have been surprised. They had plenty of time to disqualify me.”
- Nonetheless, the Yorktown Foundation that oversees the parade said that no political speech is allowed at the event because it operates as a 501c3 nonprofit and is barred from participating in any kind of partisan political activity. Walt Akers, the director of the foundation, said lower groups who oversaw parade entry submissions were not properly advised on the rules that must be followed by nonprofit organizations pertaining to political matters.
- On Wednesday morning, the parade organizers posted an apology on their Facebook page, noting that the committee will be taking a different approach next year to ensure clearer guidance is provided to boat parade participants. They also said enhanced protocols would be in place to more carefully review proposed themes. “As a 501(c)(3) organization, the Yorktown Foundation (our parent organization) and, by extension, the Yorktown Lighted Boat Parade Committee, are apolitical and must remain outside of politics,” the statement said.
2. The Williamsburg City Council is moving forward with discussions about how to spend federal Covid-19 relief funds.
- The city recently asked for public input as it seeks to determine how to spend $21.4 million in federal government relief funds designed to support its recovery from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.
- The city’s chief finance officer, Barbara Dameron, said the city has come up with a list of potential projects based on the results of the community survey recently distributed to residents, according to The Virginia Gazette.
- Possible projects under consideration include several economic development efforts, such as a $2 million “research village and tech center” as well as a $5 million outdoor amphitheater to be located at the Colonial Williamsburg Visitors Center for entertainment. Additional proposals, including an affordable housing initiative and the development of a vocational training center.
- The list of proposed initiatives also includes several smaller-budget projects, like a $900,000 playground at Waller Mill Park and $250,000 investment for bus stop shelters. The city also expressed support for providing bonuses to all employees, which would amount to a total of $434,000, for the efforts they made throughout the pandemic.
3. The Williamsburg-James City School Board voted unanimously to delay the construction of a new elementary school amid a lack of support from the county.
- The vote comes after the James City County Board of Supervisors, which funds 90% of the school division’s budget, pushed for the school division to instead construct add-on wings at existing schools to accommodate pre-K students.
- The cost to build a new elementary school was estimated to be about $50 million, whereas the cost of building separate add-on wings was expected to cost only about $26 million. The School Board and Board of Supervisors sat down to hash out the proposals at a meeting on December 3 but left without being able to come to an agreement about the issue, the Virginia Gazette reports.
- The current proposal includes the construction of two pre-K wings in an effort to address overcrowding concerns. The division’s elementary schools are above 90% capacity. While the division is moving forward with the less costly option, not everyone is happy about it. School Board member Kyra Cook voiced concerns that the expansion of the schools may overwhelm the students by creating a campus that is too large.
- “I want it to be clear that our educational leaders asked for an elementary school, this board asked for an elementary school and only when it was made very clear to us that it would not be paid for did we pivot,” Cook said. “I hope that it is reflected in the history books that we pivoted as a matter of practicality, not as a matter of what we believe is best for the children and our division.”
4. The omicron variant of Covid-19 has officially been detected in Virginia.
- The first confirmed case was identified in an adult resident of northwest Virginia on Thursday, according to the Virginia Department of Health. Officials say the person has not traveled internationally but did travel domestically during the period of exposure.
- “We knew it was only a matter of time before we would record our first Omicron infection in the Commonwealth,” State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver said in a news release. “This drives home the challenge the COVID-19 virus presents to the world as the virus changes and mutates over time. Scientists are hard at work studying the newly identified variant to understand how easily it spreads and how sick it makes people.
- VDH emphasized that the vast majority of current Covid-19 cases in Virginia are still being caused by the highly transmissible Delta variant, but the state expects more cases of the omicron variant to be identified as the disease continues to rapidly spread.
- The Department of Health also urged residents to be vigilant in participating in mitigation efforts, including getting vaccinated and receiving booster shots if eligible, wearing masks correctly, avoiding crowds and indoor areas with poor airflow, staying at least six feet away from others, washing hands frequently and staying home if sick or exposed to a person who has Covid-19. VDH is also encouraging residents of the Commonwealth to download the free COVIDWISE app, which provides exposure notifications to help protect the community.
In other local headlines:
- A York High School student who went missing last week has been found.
- Heritage Humane Society unveiled its upgraded and expanded facility at a ribbon-cutting event on Dec. 7. The building now includes an additional 2,550 square feet of space.
- Colonial Williamsburg hospitality employees picketed for the second week in a row to call for better wages and working conditions.
- Several threats of school violence were reported in the area in the past week. Three teens were arrested after threatening violence against Grafton High School. A student from Colonial Heights was arrested in a William & Mary bomb threat incident. And two Poquoson students were also charged after making “threats considered not credible.”
1. More than 100 people are feared dead in Kentucky after tornadoes ripped through the state Friday.
- Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear called the severe weather “the worst, most devastating, most deadly tornado event in the state’s history” at a press conference Saturday.
- Mayfield, Kentucky, a small town with a population of about 10,000 people, was nearly leveled after receiving wind gusts of 107 mph during the tornado, Axios reports. At least 110 people were working in a candle factory at the time of the tornado, and dozens are expected to have died there. The tornado event is believed to be the deadliest since the 2011 tornado event in Joplin, Missouri, which led to the deaths of 158 people.
- Severe weather also led to more than two dozen tornadoes across five other states, including Arkansas, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee. At least six people also died while working at an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois after severe weather hit there, according to the New York Times. Four other people in Tennessee and at least two people in Arkansas also died in the storms.
- President Joe Biden issued an emergency declaration in Kentucky on Saturday and ordered federal assistance to aid in ongoing recovery efforts. Search crews were still finding bodies in Kentucky as of Sunday night, per Axios.
2. Public health experts believe an omicron-fueled winter wave is fast approaching.
- Data pouring in from Europe and South Africa shows the variant is spreading at a very fast speed, including among vaccinated individuals, Axios reports. Officials in Europe warned this week the omicron strain is on track to “overtake Delta in becoming the dominant strain of the virus in just a matter of days,” leading to a potential “tsunami” of new infections, according to Newsweek.
- The situation is also growing increasingly concerning in the U.K, where the Health Security Agency says omicron is expected to become the dominant version of the virus in Great Britain by mid-December. Officials there say cases of the variant are currently doubling every three days.
- “No one should be in any doubt, there is a tidal wave of omicron coming,” U.K Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Sunday. “I’m afraid we’re now facing an emergency in our battle with the new variant omicron.”
- Health experts have acknowledged the omicron variant is likely to soon spread at a similar pace throughout the rest of the world, including in the U.S. Today, Boris Johnson announced that at least one person in the U.K has now died from the omicron variant and that the virus is producing hospitalizations.
- A report published Friday in the U.K found that two doses of the Pfizer vaccine are only about 30% effective in stopping symptomatic infection of omicron. The AstraZeneca vaccine was shown not to be effective at all. Meanwhile, scientists in South Africa had similar findings, concluding that antibodies from two shots of the Pfizer vaccine “may be up to 40 times less effective against the omicron variant,” according to a report published in The Jerusalem Post.
- However, there is evidence that booster shots and monoclonal antibodies seem to be beneficial, according to National Geographic. A third dose of the Pfizer vaccine appears to be about 70%-75% effective in protecting against omicron, according to a UK analysis.
London, England: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson addresses the public to provide an update on the Covid-19 booster program, at Downing Street on December 12, 2021, in London, England. The Prime Minister announced that booster jabs will be offered to all adults by the end of the year in an attempt to quell a “tidal wave” of Omicron variant cases. (Photo by Kirsty O’Connor – WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Local Covid-19 Update
Community transmission in Virginia and throughout Hampton Roads is currently high, according to the CDC Covid-19 data tracker.
New cases ️: An additional 17,470 cases of Covid-19 were reported in Virginia over the past week, bringing the state’s total number of cases to 994,069, according to VDH.
In Hampton Roads, the highest number of new cases (643) were reported in Virginia Beach over the past week. Newport News and James City County also each had over 100 new cases in the past week, with 208 reported in Newport News and 122 in James City County, according to WTVR.
Hospitalizations and Deaths : There are 1,276 patients currently hospitalized for Covid-19 in Virginia, an increase of 196 in the past week, according to VHHA data. There have been an additional 142 deaths in the past week.
Vaccinations : 66.1% of all Virginians are now fully vaccinated.
Schools : There are currently 26 confirmed positive students in isolation in WJCC Schools and 158 students in quarantine, according to the WJCC Covid-19 dashboard. Five staff are positive in isolation and two staff members are in quarantine. YCSD reports 27 active positive cases. The district does not report quarantine data.
Santa and Mrs. Claus brought cheer to terminally ill children in Hampton Roads yesterday.
- The visits were part of the Santa Run by Edmarc Hospice for Children, according to WAVY News. The goal of the event, which has been taking place annually for thirty years, is to reduce the stress of the holidays for parents and give immunocompromised children the ability to see Santa.
- Edmarc provides gifts not only for the children but also for the whole family. More than 27 sponsors worked together to provide hand-delivered, wrapped gifts to nearly 60 families this year.
- “For bereaved parents, it can be difficult to find the strength to shop and wrap gifts, so all of that still gets done for their other children,” Edmarc Executive Director Debbie Stitzer-Brame said. ““The Santa Run allows families to shoulder one less burden and lets kids enjoy the magic of the holidays.”
Events this Week
Talk of the Town: Christmastide Tour – Daily through Jan. 1, 2022 at 10:00 am – Colonial Williamsburg. Featuring a guided tour throughout Colonial Williamsburg with an emphasis on the spirit of the Christmastide season. Ticket + Good Neighbor Pass or CW Admission required. See website for details.
Christmas Decorations Walking Tour. Colonial Williamsburg. Featuring a guided tour of Colonial Williamsburg’s buildings and streets, beautifully decorated for the holidays. Selects days at 10:30 am; see website for details. Tickets $15.
Photos with Santa – Daily through Dec. 23 from 12:00 pm – 8:00 pm at the Memorie Group Real Estate Office, 439 Prince George St. in Williamsburg. Photos with Santa can be taken with children, families or pets. Pre-registration is required; only 1-2 families will be allowed in the studio at a time due to Covid-19 precautions. All proceeds benefit local nonprofits participating in the event. $50. Digital copies of photos are included. Pre-register here.
Ice Skating at Liberty Ice Pavilion – Colonial Williamsburg. Daily through Feb. 27, 2022. Features ice-skating and a concession stand that sells hot chocolate, hot cider and other treats. See the full ice rink schedule here.
Busch Gardens Christmas Town – Williamsburg. Daily through Jan. 2, 2022. Hours and ticket prices vary; see website for details.
Celebration in Lights – Newport News Park. Features over a million lights displayed throughout a two-mile stretch amongst the woods in the park. New this year are magical trees, candy-themed displays and more. 5:30-10:00 pm nightly through New Year’s Day. $12 per car Monday-Thursday; $15 per car Friday-Sunday.
The Magic of Christmas – The Hennage Auditorium at the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg. Wednesdays, Dec. 15, 22, and 29 at 7:00 pm. Exciting new show featuring a stage magician, William the Conjuror, and a live band of strings, brass, reeds and drums playing the sounds of the season. Program tickets ($20 for adults, $15 for children) required in addition to Good Neighbor Pass or CW admission.
Christmas Trees and Museum Treasures – Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg. Wednesdays, Dec. 22 and Dec. 29 from 6:00 – 9:00 pm. This new program features a Trail of Trees with themed trees and an illustrated guide to hunt for art objects related to the Twelve Days of Christmas. A 16-foot Folk Art Tree decorated with more than 2,000 handcrafted ornaments is also featured in the museum, and holiday cookies and hot cocoa are available for sale in the Museum Cafe. Free with Good Neighbor Pass or CW admission.
Annual Colonial Williamsburg Holiday Pie & Bake Sale – Taste Studio next to the Williamsburg Inn. Thursday-Sunday, Dec. 16-19 and Monday-Thursday, Dec. 20-23. 9:00 am – 5:00 pm daily.
Joy in the Morning – Art Museum of Colonial Williamsburg. Fridays, Dec. 17 and 31 at 11:00 am. Features a musical message of hope that illuminates the triumphs and struggles faced by African Americans in the 18th century. $5 program ticket required along with a Good Neighbor pass or CW admission.
Santa Visits New Town – New Town Williamsburg. Santa will be outside by the kiosk near the Brass Tap. Snap your own photos.
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.
Grand Illumination – Colonial Williamsburg. Friday, Dec. 17 & Saturday, Dec. 18. Friday’s programming features a holiday procession called the Celebration of the Yule Log. Saturday’s programming includes live theater and fireworks from 5:00 – 7:00 pm, with fireworks starting at 7:00 pm. See website for additional details and a schedule of events.
Live Nativity 2021 – Williamsburg Community Chapel. Friday-Sunday, Dec. 17-19. 6:00 – 9:00 pm. Features an outdoor guided tour of scenes that tell the Christmas story of Jesus’ birth. This event will also feature an outdoor choir concert and refreshments. Tickets are free and can be reserved here (only one registration is needed per family).
Christmastide in Virginia – Jamestown Settlement and American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. Dec. 18-31. Offers a glimpse into 17th and 18th-century holiday festivities, music and traditions. Admission is free for residents of York County, James City County and Williamsburg. See website for additional details.
Tuesday, Dec. 14
Caroling at Chick-fil-A – 6732 Mooretown Rd. in Williamsburg. This outdoor event features caroling, hot chocolate and cookies for the whole family.
Wednesday, Dec. 15
A Midtown Row Christmas – Midtown Row Village Green (200 College Row) in Williamsburg. 5:00 – 7:00 pm. Take a photo with Santa, listen to Williamsburg Acapella Group (6:00-6:30 pm) and enjoy hot chocolate from the Mangata Coffee & Tea truck. Ornament craft kits will also be given out to kids.
Friday, Dec. 17
Christmastide Music at the Courthouse – Colonial Williamsburg. This event is open to the public. Admission to CW is not required, but event tickets must be purchased. Tickets: $19 adult; $12 child.
Saturday, Dec. 18
Williamsburg Farmers Market – Duke of Gloucester St. in Williamsburg. 8:00 am – noon. Masks are recommended regardless of vaccination status due to the crowded nature of the market and rise in Covid cases in the area.
Chippokes State Park Holiday Open House – Chippokes State Park in Surry. 10:00 am – 4:00 pm. Take a tour of the 19th century Jones-Stewart Mansion, which will be all decked out for the holidays. Also features a warm bonfire, holiday stories, music and crafts for the family. $7 per car.
Holiday Pop Up Maker Market – 420 Prince George Street. Mini holiday-themed pop-up market. Coincides with the farmers market, which will be down the street. 11 am – 3 pm. Free.
Wreaths Across America Ceremony – Yorktown National Cemetery. 12:00 pm – 2:00 pm. Fresh Christmas wreaths will be placed throughout Yorktown National Cemetery in a remembrance ceremony conducted by the Yorktown Coast Guard Station.
Wonderful Water Fowl Watch – York River State Park 1:00-2:30 pm. Bring binoculars, cameras and/or other viewing devices to watch the ducks on the river. Free with $5 parking per vehicle.
US: Past, Present, Future – Virtual event hosted by Colonial Williamsburg. 4:00 – 5:00 pm. Explores the vital intersection of current events, our shared history and the enduring promises of America. This event is part of CW’s monthly virtual conversation series.