The Triangle: News in 5 (Jan 10)

A possible return to virtual learning for York County, another Hazelwood Farms update, new Covid-19 testing centers, rising food inflation + more.

Good morning!

I can’t help but notice how quiet it feels in the Historic Triangle now that January is fully underway, and the snowy weather last week seemed to cast an even more peaceful feeling on our corner of the world.

While the snow is melted away now, I’m still enjoying the many beautiful photos that were posted on social media after the storm, such as those in the Exploring Virginia and Colonial Williamsburg Friends Facebook groups.

There will be a few more events taking place this weekend, most notably the 2022 Winter Blues Jazz Fest organized by Culture Fix. Be sure to check out this week’s events section for additional details.

There’s also quite a bit happening news-wise, and we’re breaking those top headlines down into a quick, 5-minute read. Here’s what you need to know.

Local & Statewide

1. York County Public Schools might return to virtual learning amid surging Covid cases.

  • The division made the announcement Thursday in a letter sent out to parents. The YCPS Covid-19 dashboard reported Friday that there were 211 active positive cases in the division, for a total of 1,261 confirmed cases since the start of the school year.
  • YCPS said it remains confident in the effectiveness of its mitigation strategies, but student attendance rates have been significantly affected by high community transmission, and it may not be possible for in-person learning to continue under the current circumstances.
  • “While the division believes students benefit most from in-person learning and belong in schools, these attendance rates are not sustainable. During Tuesday’s school closures, our staff worked to prepare for potential shifts to virtual learning,” the letter said. “While we have not yet shifted any classes or schools, if we continue to experience the same level or higher absentee rates, we will be forced to adjust course.”
  • Although the division has not yet made a decision to resume virtual classes, they ask all parents to have a plan in place for supporting virtual learning at home.
  • On a positive note, the school division also announced a new program to provide free, 1:1 online tutoring for students in grades 3-12 this school year. Parents and students can learn more here.

Virtual learning may be a reality soon again for kids in York County.

2. The JCC Planning Commission voted to approve a 328-acre mixed-use development.

  • On Wednesday, Jan. 5, the commission approved rezoning applications and special use permits to allow the new development – which is known as the Hazelwood Farms Enterprise Center – to be built.
  • The center will include 75,000 square feet of commercial use as well as over three million feet of industrial and warehouse use.
  • The newest proposal includes some changes in response to public comment, WYDaily reports. The initial proposal called for a truck terminal as well as 250 residential dwelling units; however, the Hazelwood family has since removed both of those developments from the proposal.
  • JCC Board of Supervisors also approved a separate Hazelwood Farms Village Center in December. That development would include a mix of entertainment, office and retail space.
  • Supporters of the plan say the developments will substantially bolster employment opportunities in James City County, but opponents argue the development is unnecessary given the amount of empty commercial buildings that already exist in the area.
  • In a 2021 land use questionnaire distributed to residents, many expressed support for restrictions on new developments, citing the importance of preserving the county’s rural nature and avoiding excessive growth.

3. York County School Division and Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools were both named top school districts in VA.

  • The list was compiled by Stacker using data from Niche and measured certain key indicators, according to WAVY News. The rankings were based on academic proficiency, expenditures per student, teacher salaries and access to extracurricular activities.
  • Both YCSD and WJCC school systems were highlighted as being among the top ten divisions in the state, with emphasis on their high graduation rates (95% in York County and 90% in WJCC), impressive levels of reading and math proficiency and above-average teacher salaries.
  • A third Hampton Roads division, Virginia Beach City Public Schools, also made the list.

4. The state is opening more Covid-19 testing centers as cases surge and tests remain in short supply.

  • A total of nine new community centers will open, according to a news release from Gov. Ralph Northam. One of those locations will open Monday in Newport News with the intent of serving the surrounding region, including the Historic Triangle.
  • The testing centers, which are funded through a $5 million grant from VDH, are expected to administer over 50,000 free PCR tests in the month of January. Test results will be sent automatically by text or email based on the contact information provided during the appointment.
  • The new testing site in Newport News will be open from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm Monday-Thursday by appointment only and will be located in the Sherwood Shopping Center (13785 Warwick Boulevard). The center will be closed on Fridays but will reopen Saturdays and Sundays, according to WTKR News 3.
  • “Testing is a critical tool in our fight against COVID-19, and we must continue to everything we can do to increase access,” said Governor Northam. “As Virginians continue to grapple with a national shortage of rapid tests, expanding our PCR capabilities will ensure more Virginians have access to free, reliable testing and can better protect themselves and their families.”

Other state and local stories:

National

1. Americans are feeling the crunch as food inflation continues to intensify.

  • Rising food prices – now up by an average 6.1% from a year ago – are causing stress for many Americans. The latest Consumer Price Index data reveals that the cost of meat and eggs has been especially impacted. The price of meat is up by 16% from a year ago, and the cost of ground beef has spiked by 20.9%, the AP reports.
  • The Biden administration is accusing the meat sector of exploiting consumers. Last Monday, the president announced the initiation of a $1 billion plan to increase competition among independent meat processors. “Capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism — it’s exploitation,” he said.
  • But analysts say many factors are impacting the cost of meat, such as ongoing supply chain issues, shipping backups and increased demand. Food inflation is expected to stay elevated throughout at least the first half of 2022, much to the chagrin of consumers nationwide, according to Axios.
  • Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said farmers and ranchers are continuing to receive low payments in spite of the fact that Americans are paying more than ever for meat. “We must get to the bottom of why farmers and ranchers continue to receive low payments while families across America endure rising meat prices,” he said.

2. The U.S jobs report for December was more dismal than expected.

  • Only 199,000 new jobs were added in December, far less than the 422,000 projected.
  • While the unemployment rate dropped to 3.9%, the latest Labor Department data shows many of the gains were in the leisure and hospitality sector, which is one of the lowest-paying industries in the U.S economy. Black workers also saw their unemployment rates rise, from 6.5% in November to 7.1% in December.
  • Meanwhile, job quits have hit record levels, with a staggering 4.5 million workers leaving their jobs in November, according to government data. Many of those who recently quit cited family, child care or safety concerns or said they were looking for a new type of work, especially remote work, The Washington Post reports.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JANUARY 7: Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on January 7, 2022 in New York City. Markets fell slightly in morning trading as investors reacted to a government jobs report showing that the U.S. economy added far fewer jobs than expected in December. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Local Covid-19 Update

New cases ➕: VDH reported 102,518 new cases of Covid-19 last week.

Most cities and counties in Hampton Roads once again reported very high case rates, including Virginia Beach (+5,962), Newport News (+2,055), James City County (+740) and York County (+396).

Hospitalizations and deaths : Hospitalizations climbed above 3,300 Friday, the highest number ever recorded in the state, according to VHHA data. An additional 64 deaths were also recorded last week.

Schools : According to WJCC’s Covid-19 dashboard, as of Monday morning, there are 294 students positive in isolation and 351 students in quarantine. There are also 69 staff members positive in isolation and 12 staff in quarantine.

YCSD reported a total of 177 active positive cases as of Monday morning. The division does not report total quarantine numbers and does not provide a breakdown of staff vs. student cases.

Vaccination rate : 67.9% of Virginians are fully vaccinated.

Good News

After a four-year-long wait, a Yorktown mom will soon be united with a child she’s adopting from Latvia.

  • The mom, Anna Gimpel, met the child through the Open Hearts and Homes for Children program, according to The Daily Press. The program sends Eastern European orphans to homes in the U.S for winter and summer breaks so they can learn skills from caring families.
  • Gimpel said she knew after the child’s first visit that she wanted him to be her son, even though the program wasn’t designed to lead to adoptions. “The purpose of the program is not to adopt children, it’s to share the love of Christ through practical ways like baking cookies — these are kids who have maybe never had a mom or dad to bake cookies with,” she said.
  • While the boy loves Christmas, he’s missed out on celebrating the holidays with his new family for two years because of the pandemic. As such, the Gimpels are asking friends and neighbors to leave their Christmas lights up until February when the boy can finally celebrate – with a family of his own. Many have agreed and encouraged her to share the word.
  • The family has also created a Facebook Group, Gimpel Family Christmas Light Tour in February, so people in Hampton Roads who plan to leave their lights on can have their address added to a map. Updates will also be available for others who may want to see the lights tour for themselves.

Events This Week

Multiple Days

Winter Blues Jazz Fest – Multiple locations in Williamsburg. January 13-16. Features an entertaining weekend full of jazz and blues music, as well as food and drink offerings. The event begins on Thursday, Jan. 13, at 7:00 pm at the Williamsburg Winery. Featured performers will include Tahira Clayton, Good Shot Judy, Michael Hawkins and the Brotherhood, the Blind Boys of Alabama and more. Tickets can be purchased for individual performances or for the entire multi-day event. See website for additional information or to purchase tickets.

Afterschool Crafts – James City County Library (7770 Croaker Rd.) Monday, Jan. 10 – Friday, Jan. 14. Drop-in event featuring a variety of crafts. 4:00 – 7:00 pm, Mon. – Thurs., 4:00 – 6:00 pm Friday.

Pop-Up Archaeology – Colonial Williamsburg. Tuesday, Jan. 11 & Thursday, Jan. 13. Archaeologists will discuss ongoing excavations at Colonial Williamsburg during this free-flow event. Some recently discovered artifacts will also be shown. 2:00 – 4:00 pm.

Williamsburg Farmers Market 20th Anniversary Exhibit – Stryker Center in Williamsburg. Features artwork and photographs of the farmers, bakers, watermen and food vendors who have been participating in the market for 20 years. Masks required for all visitors regardless of vaccination status. 9:00 am – 5:00 pm. Jan. 6 – Feb. 3. (closed Jan. 17).

Busch Gardens Winter Weekends – Sat. & Sun., Jan. 8 – Jan. 23 (+MLK Day). This special winter programming features animal encounters, live music, coasters, rides and millions of sparkling lights at night. 12:00 pm – 6:00 pm.

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.

Friday, Jan. 14

Splash On Friday “Dive into 2022” Night – James City County Recreation Center. Features free family time for all ages at a swim area and an area with an inflatable obstacle course. Registration is required. 6:00 – 8:00 pm.

Saturday, Jan. 15

Fitness Open House – James City County Recreation Center. Instructors will be on hand to discuss the fitness classes they offer. A raffle and prizes will also be included. 9:00 am – noon.

FunFest Dinosaur Dig – James River Elementary School. Kids can be a paleontologist for a day and dig for dinosaurs to take home at this bookmobile FunFest event. 10:00 am – 1:00 pm.

Candlelight Concert – Bruton Parish Church. Directed by Rebecca Davy, music director and organist of Bruton Parish Church. 8:00 pm. A historic organ recital directed by Davy will also be held at 10:00 am at the William & Mary Wren Chapel. Please note that last week’s concert was canceled and a decision will be made on a weekly basis as to whether or not each concert will be held. Free and open to the public. See website for details and updates.

Sunday, Jan. 16

DIY Magnet Craft – James City County Library (7770 Croaker Rd.) Kids 9+ can decorate a magnetic board with paint pends and other fun decorations. Registration is required; see website for details. 2:00 – 4:00 pm. Free.

Citizens of Yorktown: Dr. Daniel Norton – Meets at Mobjack Bay in Yorktown. Learn about Dr. Norton, who was born into slavery in Williamsburg c. 1840s. After escaping in the 1850s, he later returned to Yorktown and made an impact on Virginia as a state senator and Civil Rights activist. 1:00 – 2:00 pm.

Paws to Read – Williamsburg Regional Library (515 Scotland St). Children can practice their reading skills alongside trained therapy dogs. Drop-in event. 2:30 – 3:30 pm. Free.

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