The Triangle: News in 5 (Feb 14)

Colonial Williamsburg receives record donations, Jamestown Rediscovery announces a new fund, Hampton police search a site near Codi Bigsby's home, Russia invasion worries continue + more.

Good morning!

We’re off to a pretty chilly start this Valentine’s Day. Temperatures in the Historic Triangle have been in the 20s this morning, and local meteorologists say some parts of the Peninsula might see flurries today.

While it should warm up to near 40 degrees later this afternoon, News 3 meteorologist April Loveland reports that it’ll feel more like it’s in the 20s or low 30s, so you’ll probably want to bundle up if you’re heading out this evening.

The temperatures will be all over the place this week, though, with highs getting up into the 60s later this week before another cold front moves in next weekend.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s newsletter, there are quite a few events happening throughout the Peninsula this week as we head into President’s Day weekend. If you missed that event listing, I’ve linked to it again in the “Events This Week” section.

Have questions, comments or suggestions? Please send me an email any time. I’d love to hear from you.

Now to the news.

-Christin

Local & Statewide

1. Colonial Williamsburg received record-high donations in 2021.

  • Donors gave $102 million to CW last year, a 42% increase over the previous record of $72 million reached in 2019, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation said in a news release. The total donations include $21.2 million raised through the Colonial Williamsburg Fund, up from the prior record of $19.7 million in 2020.
  • While the pandemic continues to create challenges for Colonial Williamsburg, the Foundation was able to forge ahead with the safe reopening of many sites and hosted numerous events, including an expanded Juneteenth celebration and three Grand Illuminations in 2021.
  • Additionally, archaeologists made several key discoveries at Colonial Williamsburg last year, including the original foundation of First Baptist Church, the nation’s first church founded by and for Black people in 1776. CW also attracted national media attention upon its discovery of the Williamsburg Bray School, which is believed to be the only remaining Colonial-era structure in the nation used to educate enslaved and free Black children, also attracted national media attention.
  • “Our remarkable donors are increasing their investments in Colonial Williamsburg because they believe in the importance of our educational mission and they understand the impact of our work for current and future generations,” said Cliff Fleet, president and CEO of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. “Their loyal and extraordinary generosity is greatly advancing our efforts to engage audiences in our Historic Area, Art Museums and through online programming as we prepare to commemorate the country’s 250th anniversary in 2026.”

2. The Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation created a new fund to recognize the contributions of a local archaeologist.

  • The board of trustees established the new fund – the Dr. William M. and Ellen B. Kelso Fund for Archaeology – to recognize the couple’s dedication to Jamestown over the past twenty-five years, the Foundation said in a news release.
  • In 1994, Dr. Kelso led a team of archaeologists to locate the original site of the James Fort, which was previously assumed to be lost due to erosion. Kelso, a graduate of the College of William and Mary, has since been present for the discovery of millions of artifacts.
    • “The discovery of the fort and subsequent excavations have forever changed what we know about our nation’s founding, and Jamestown has many more secrets yet to be revealed,” said James Horn, President and Chief Officer of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation.
  • Kelso’s wife, Ellen, has been equally dedicated to Jamestown Rediscovery, the Foundation said. Deeply knowledgeable about the history of the site and its early settlers, she has accompanied Bill during many research trips both in the U.S and overseas.
  • The Dr. William M. and Ellen B. Kelso Fund for Archaeology will make it possible for Dr. Kelso to publish his newest book, Jamestown: Remains to be Seen.
    • Interested in contributing to the fund? You can do that here.

Dr. Bill Kelso shares an archaeological discovery with visitors. (Image courtesy of Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation)

3. In Williamsburg, one restaurant hosted a soft opening while another quietly closed its doors.

  • The King Crab Juicy Seafood restaurant, located at 1640 Richmond Road, announced on its Facebook page it would host a soft opening on Sunday, February 13. The restaurant chain specializes in Cajun-style seafood with customizable seasonings and levels of spiciness.
  • King Crab began leasing the property in July 2021, according to WYDaily. The space was previously the home of the Applebee’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill, which closed its doors amid the pandemic.
  • Meanwhile, the Healthy Eatz Vegetarian Cafe, located at 1338 Richmond Road, has closed down after less than a year of operation, Peninsula Chronicle reports. The restaurant, which specialized in vegetarian fare like soups, pastas, sandwiches and veggie burgers had just opened in May 2021.

4. Hampton police searched a scene near missing 4-year-old Codi Bigsby’s home Saturday.

  • Police spent over an hour at the site after a woman reportedly noticed a child’s jacket and tire tracks on the ground near the apartment complex where Bigsby lives with his father, according to WAVY News. The woman said she was searching for the boy when she came across the jacket.
  • Authorities searched the area before blocking it off using police tape. Forensic units and K-9 dogs later arrived, and community members returned to the site to continue their own search efforts. Police said at the time that they didn’t know if the jacket belonged to Codi.
  • Codi was first reported missing two weeks ago, on January 31. The child’s father, Cory Bigsby, has been named a top person of interest in the case. He is currently being held in jail without bond on child neglect charges that are unrelated to Codi’s disappearance.
  • Local residents have continued to show an outpouring of support for Codi by passing out flyers, creating a growing tribute site and carrying out ongoing search efforts. Over the weekend, they collected Valentine’s cards for the toddler. “We love Codi,” Carolyn Pugh, a Hampton resident told 13NewsNow. “And we want him to be found,” added Belinda Miles, another Hampton resident.

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MISSING: @hamptonvapolice are trying to find 4-year-old Codi Bigsby. He disappeared from his home in Buckroe Beach with…

5. An elementary school in Richmond sustained substantial damage after becoming engulfed in flames Friday.

  • A massive fire broke out at the William Fox Elementary School building on Friday evening, WRIC reports.
    • During a press conference Saturday, Richmond Fire Chief Melvin Carter said firefighters initially responded to a fire alarm at the school at about 9:30 pm – an hour before the actual fire was first reported. The crews investigated the building for about 40 minutes but left after finding no presence of a fire.
  • When reports of a fire were called in around 10:35 pm, crews returned to the scene to find heavy smoke and flames pouring from the top floor above the main entrance of the school building. The flames quickly spread across the top of the building, according to a news release.
    • As the fire raged on, parts of the roof reportedly began to collapse shortly after 11:00 pm, forcing crews to evacuate from within the building. Firefighters were unable to mark the incident “under control” until 2:44 am.
  • Superintendent Jason Kamras said Saturday that Fox Elementary will be closed Monday and Tuesday and then will transition to 100% virtual learning starting Wednesday. He also said the school will ultimately be moved to another facility long-term.
  • In the meantime, local residents are coming together to mourn the loss of the 110-year-old school that many say was the “heart of the community.”
    • “This school has been, for more than 100 years, the reason for this community,” Wendy Martin, whose children attended the school, told WRIC after being moved to tears by the sight of the damage. “It’s why we all came here, and it pulled us all together. Every friend I cherish in this neighborhood, I met within about 100 feet of this building.”

6. The General Assembly has advanced legislation to reform the state’s unemployment insurance system.

  • Lawmakers in both the House and Senate passed the bills last week in a bipartisan response to recommendations made by legislative auditors, who issued a report last year highlighting serious flaws in the state’s unemployment insurance system, Virginia Mercury reports.
  • The Commonwealth garnered national headlines in 2020 for failing to provide unemployment benefits in a timely manner, leaving thousands of Virginians with no financial buffer after they were furloughed or lost their jobs during the height of the pandemic.
    • The auditors’ report faulted years of poor management by the Virginia Employment Commission, out-of-date IT systems and insufficient oversight by the Northam administration for the failures.
    • While the Employment Commission repeatedly downplayed the problems and promised to resolve the situation as soon as possible, auditors found that the agency made no serious efforts to increase its staffing for more than a year into the pandemic.
  • If the new legislation is passed, the Virginia Employment Commission will be subjected to greater oversight when it comes to its handling of unemployment claims and backlogs.
    • In addition, the VEC will need to develop a plan to rapidly ramp up staffing during future claims surges, improve their electronic correspondence capabilities to speed up the claims process and establish a new Ombudsman staff position to help people navigate the unemployment appeals process.

Local Covid-19 Update

New cases: ➕ Community transmission across the Peninsula remains high, according to the CDC Covid-19 data tracker. The good news, however, is that cases in Virginia declined again compared to the week before. VDH reported a total of 30,669 cases as of Friday, down from 46,431 the week before.

Case numbers are also down on the Peninsula compared to last week. For the week ending Friday, Newport News recorded a total of +360 additional cases, Hampton logged +298, James City County reported +240 and York County tallied +123. according to WTVR.

Cases by age: The highest numbers of new cases are currently occurring among people aged 30-49, who now make up 31.2% of all Covid-19 cases in the state. People aged 50-69 currently account for 22% of cases, and children and teens are accounting for 21% of all cases.

Hospitalizations and deaths: Hospitalizations in the state also declined from last week. As of Sunday, 1,700 patients were hospitalized with Covid-19, a decrease of 584 patients from a week ago, according to VHHA data. 341 of the currently hospitalized patients are in the ICU, and 211 are on ventilators.

On a somber note, VDH reported 779 additional deaths last week. That’s up significantly from the 576 reported a week ago and marks the most deaths reported in any week since March of 2021.

Vaccination rate: 70.8% of Virginians are fully vaccinated (up from 70.1% last week).

Good News

Two shelter puppies from Virginia Beach were featured in the 2022 Puppy Bowl.

  • The adorable puppies, Heidi and Sammie, both represented Team Fluff – which took on Team Ruff – during Game Day, News 3 reports. The two pups have also found forever homes, Virginia Beach SPCA announced in an Instagram post.
  • This year’s appearance by the puppies marks the fifth time that pets from the VBSPCA have been featured in the Puppy Bowl. A kitty named Jill appeared at the event last year.
  • The Puppy Bowl airs on Animal Planet and is also streamed on Discovery+. You can see photos and highlights from the event here.

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Big news: two VBSPCA pups will be playing in this year’s #PuppyBowl! Sammie and Heidi were both selected for Team Fluff…

National

1. The U.S is issuing new warnings of an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine. Meanwhile, Russia says its relationship with the U.S is declining.

  • Although President Joe Biden spoke with Russia’s Vladimir Putin for over an hour on Saturday, little progress appears to have been made during the high-stakes diplomatic talks. Early Monday morning, the Kremlin told Russia’s RIA news agency that its relationship with the U.S is now “lying on the floor” amid the West’s continued objections to Russia’s military activity on the Ukraine border, Reuters reports.
  • On Sunday, the U.S issued an urgent new warning, saying there is now a “credible prospect” that Russian forces will invade Ukraine within a matter of days – possibly even before the Olympics is over, according to ABC News.
    • The U.S government is urging all Americans in Ukraine to leave now. An additional 3,000 troops have also been deployed from Fort Bragg to Poland in anticipation of the attack.
    • “We want to be crystal clear on this: Any American in Ukraine should leave as soon as possible, and in any event in the next 24 to 48 hours,” said National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan at a press conference on Friday.
    • White House officials said the warning is based on new information that was picked up by U.S intelligence analysts.
  • Russia has now amassed more than 130,000 troops along the Ukraine border. Some airlines have canceled or redirected flights to the Ukrainian capital amid the escalating situation. Troops in Ukraine also unpacked additional shipments of weapons from NATO members on Sunday.
  • Meanwhile, Russia continues to deny that it intends to invade Ukraine and is accusing the United States of “hysteria.”
    • Russian troops are now heavily positioned along Ukraine’s north, east and south. Russia has deployed weapons and supplies that would accommodate a sustained invasion according to ABC News; nonetheless, Putin claims the country is simply conducting military exercises.
  • The latest: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrived in Kyiv Monday morning for crisis talks, while Ukraine’s foreign minister has requested a meeting with Kremlin officials within the next 48 hours, according to Axios. The G7 also warned today of “massive” economic consequences for Russia if it invades, and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is cutting short a trip to North West England amid what he says are signs of “serious preparations” for an invasion by Russia.

Other headlines throughout the nation:

Events This Week

See The Triangle‘s full list of this week’s local events here.

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