The Triangle: News in 5 (Dec 29)

A soup sale event for a local nonprofit, the completion of Virginia's redistricting maps, record high cases of Covid throughout the Commonwealth and the nation + more.

As December comes to a close, I sincerely hope you’re all enjoying the holiday week. Many of us are ready to put 2021 behind us, but here’s to being hopeful about the future and the prospects of a new year.

It’s a slower news week amid the holidays, but there are still some noteworthy things happening. The Triangle is breaking down the top local, state and national stories into a quick, 5-minute read to help you stay informed.

Let’s get to it.

Local

1. A soup sale to benefit Community of Faith Mission is now underway.

  • Tickets are currently on sale for Community of Faith Mission’s Warm Up Williamsburg Soup Sale event, WYDaily reports. For a minimum donation of $35, each contributor will receive three 12-ounce containers of soup: one each of vegetable, tomato and chili. All of the high-quality soups are donated from local chefs and restaurants. See the full list of participating restaurants here.
  • All proceeds from the event will be used to support the organization’s mission. Soups will be distributed via curbside pick-up on Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022, at the Williamsburg Community Chapel, 3899 John Tyler Hwy., between 10:30 am – 12:00 pm. Organizers anticipate tickets to go quickly and note that they were sold out by the beginning of January last year.
  • Community of Faith Mission is a 501c nonprofit organization that operates a local faith-based, low-barrier emergency shelter during the coldest months of the year. The organization provides three meals a day for its residents and also collaborates with other community agencies to make referrals for other services like medical care and transitional housing.

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2. Newport News residents and city employees can access local attractions for free during the month of January.

  • The program, known as “Ambassador Pass,” was developed to encourage Newport News residents and City of Newport News employees to enjoy the city’s parks, museums and historic homes for no cost. The program was canceled last year due to the pandemic but is once again available this year, WAVY News reports.
  • Passes can be picked up at the Newport News Visitor Center, Newport News Tourism Office or Communications Office at Newport News City Hall. Featured attractions include the Virginia Living Museum, Virginia War Museum and The Mariners’ Museum and Park. A full list of participating attractions and applicable dates can be viewed here.

3. Covid-19 cases in Virginia reached record highs over Christmas weekend.

  • The highest-ever number of new Covid-19 cases were reported on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, according to the Virginia Department of Health. A total of 8,756 new cases were logged on Christmas Eve, while an additional 8,609 were reported on Christmas.
  • The number marks a stark contrast from the days leading into Thanksgiving when only about 2,000 cases per day were recorded in the Commonwealth. The state’s current test positivity rate has also risen dramatically to 14.5%, up from 5-6% last month.
  • Local health experts attribute the surge to the increase in holiday gatherings, the emergence of the highly infectious omicron variant and the colder weather, which has driven more people indoors.
  • Many cities in Hampton Roads reported record-breaking case numbers on Christmas, according to VDH data, and the trend is continuing. On Tuesday, Dec. 28, the state recorded an additional 7,439 new cases. There was also a significant spike in new hospitalizations, which jumped by 234 yesterday for a total of 1,906 current hospitalizations.
  • Local health officials stress that residents should get tested after holiday gatherings or other potential exposures. They also say wearing well-fitting masks – ideally N95 or KN95 – plays a key role in helping slow the spread. N95 and KN95 masks are no longer in short supply in the U.S and can be purchased at local retailers or online, such as through the nonprofit organization Project N95.

4. Virginia’s redistricting process is now complete.

  • The Supreme Court announced Tuesday that it unanimously signed off on maps to establish new congressional and state legislative districts, the Daily Press reports.
  • The redistricting maps were developed by two court appointees – one Democrat and one Republican – and were also partially based on public comment. In an order, the court said the new maps would be effective immediately.
  • The redistricting process in Virginia happens once every ten years, but it was filled with controversy this time around. The state recently adopted a bipartisan redistricting commission, but the group failed to come to an agreement on how to draw the maps for either the Congress or General Assembly.
  • The two special masters, Sean Trende and Bernard Grofman – both of whom were nominated by their party – wrote in a memo submitted to the court Monday that the maps “did not unduly favor either party” and were the result of a “true joint effort.”

National

1. U.S retailers are struggling to absorb record-high costs of online returns.

  • Retail outlets throughout the nation are facing unprecedented costs when it comes to accepting online returns, Axios reports. The cost to return a $50 item is currently averaging $33 – a whopping 59% increase from last year. Economists are attributing the spike in costs to ongoing supply chain issues and worker shortages.
  • Some retailers are allowing customers to keep the items they want to return and providing refunds anyway due to the surging costs. Most, however, have implemented tracking systems to prevent customers from “gaming the system” to try to get free items.
  • About three in 10 purchases made online are returned, according to data collected by CBRE Supply Chain. Many of those products cannot be resold by the original retailer. Instead, they’re often discarded, repurposed for an alternative type of sale or even donated.
  • Moving forward, retailers will need to figure out how to handle returns as efficiently as possible so they can quickly restock shelves and avoid further financial fallout.

2. Global Covid-19 cases hit a record high on Monday as the CDC updated its guidance on isolation requirements.

  • It’s been two years since the virus emerged, but more than 1.44 million infections were reported on Monday, breaking all prior records. The seven-day rolling average of global cases is also at an all-time high, Bloomberg News reports.
  • Meanwhile, the CDC waded into controversy Monday by slashing Covid isolation times in half. Before this week, a positive test required ten days of staying home to prevent infecting others. The newly released guidelines, however, allow people to resume regular activities after five days, so long as they wear a mask.
  • CDC director Rochelle Walensky told NPR the change in guidance was caused by “a really large anticipated number of cases [from omicron]” and a need to “keep the critical functions of society open and operating.” Nonetheless, numerous public health experts are criticizing the CDC, arguing the updated guidelines will likely only further exacerbate the surging number of cases.
  • “The vast majority of the transmissions happen in the first couple of days after the onset of symptoms … but the data shows that about 20 to 40% of people are still going to be able to transmit COVID after five days,” said Dr. Emily Landon, an infectious disease specialist at UChicago Medicine.
  • The CDC also sharply revised down its estimate of the number of omicron cases in the U.S. While they forecasted last week that the omicron variant represented 73% of cases for the week ending Dec. 18, they now state that only about 58.6% of cases are being fueled by omicron, while the remainder are driven by delta. The agency attributes the change to new data, but the information still suggests omicron is continuing to outpace delta as the dominant strain.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – DECEMBER 28: Jonathan Bennett, co-host of the Times Square New Year’s Eve, holds a “COVID” message during the Good Riddance Day burning in Times Square on December 28, 2021, in New York City. This year, in keeping with the Latin- American tradition of burning ‘good riddance messages,’ people were able to write messages that were burned in Times Square. On December 23rd, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that New Year’s Eve in Times Square will be limited to 15,000 socially distanced visitors that will be required to be fully vaccinated due to a rise in COVID-19 cases. (Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

Good News

A Yorktown baby can hear for the first time, thanks to a cochlear implant.

  • The 10-month-old, Everett Colley, was born with total hearing loss. After receiving a cochlear implant early last week, he was able to hear for his first Christmas, according to WTKR News 3.
  • Everett’s parents say they’re also learning sign language to communicate better with their child. The implants are expected to last for the rest of Everett’s life.
  • See the full video of the story here.

Events This Week

The full listing of events was published earlier this week, as News in 5 is being published mid-week due to the holidays. You can see the updated list of the week’s events here.

Happy New Year!

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