The Triangle: News in 5 (Jan 24)

School mask policy updates, Gov. Youngkin's new Covid-19 Action Plan, missing husky puppies, rising tensions between Russia and the West + more.

Good morning!

While much of Hampton Roads is still blanketed in snow following the weekend storms, we can look forward to warmer weather tomorrow, with highs reaching up into the low 50s.

Some local meteorologists are also predicting another chance for snow at the end of the week – possibly on Friday night into Saturday – so it’s worth keeping an eye on that.

It’s a relatively quiet week on the Peninsula events-wise, but there are still several notable things happening, including the Yorktown Winter Market this weekend. Check out the events section for additional highlights, and if you have an event you’d like to submit for consideration, please feel free to reach out via email.

Otherwise, there’s a lot of news happening, so let’s get started.

Local & Statewide

1. School divisions throughout the Peninsula are keeping their mask requirements in place, for now.

  • In spite of Gov. Youngkin’s executive order allowing parents to choose whether or not their children will wear masks at school, the school divisions in Hampton, Newport News, Isle of Wight, Williamsburg-James City County and York County all decided to keep their mask requirements in place. Gloucester County, however, announced that the use of masks will be optional in their school districts, according to the Daily Press.
  • Guidance on the topic from the Virginia Department of Health and Department of Education stated that carrying out Covid prevention strategies is a “shared responsibility.” The document expressed support for the continued use of masks in schools but placed that responsibility on parents rather than school administrators.
  • But in a statement Friday, York County said their decision was based on Virginia law (SB1303), which requires schools “to adhere, to the maximum extent practicable, to current mitigation strategies provided by the CDC.”
    • The division said the CDC currently recommends universal masking for students ages 2 and older as well as staff, teachers and visitors to K-12 schools – regardless of vaccination status. The statement also noted that federal law requires the use of masks while on school buses.
  • WJCC Schools released a similar statement, adding that masks are “a key layer of our mitigation efforts to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and keep our schools open for in-person learning, five days per week.”
  • Meanwhile, Virginia Beach City Public Schools – Hampton Roads’ largest school district – will allow parents to file to opt their children out of the mask requirement. However, masks will continue to be mandated for everyone else, including staff, parents and visitors, according to 13NewsNow.
  • Amid the confusion, Gov. Youngkin issued new state guidelines asking parents to “listen to their principal” while the mask order awaits a court decision. He also emphasized that the order is “not about pro-masks versus anti-mask; it’s about empowering parents.”

Students throughout much of Hampton Roads will be required to continue wearing masks to school as Gov. Youngkin’s executive order remains pending in court.

2. Meanwhile, the governor signed a new executive order outlining the Commonwealth’s coronavirus response moving forward.

  • The purpose of the order – called the Covid-19 Action Plan – is to confront “rapidly increasing infections and hospitalizations” amid the spread of the omicron variant. The plan calls for several key actions, including:
    • Expanding flexibility for hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Under the plan, hospitals and nursing homes will be granted waivers to increase their bed capacity and will be able to get help from more licensed, out-of-state healthcare professionals.
    • Increasing the availability of therapeutics and allowing more providers to distribute oral medications and other treatments. An effort will also be made to deploy the state’s supply of PPE.
    • Expanding access to telehealth services and launching a new campaign to promote blood donations so more procedures requiring blood can resume.
  • Additionally, the plan initiates a renewed effort to encourage vaccinations, particularly in areas with low vaccination rates.
    • Vaccination events will be held throughout the state, and Mobile Vaccine Units will be sent out to rural areas where vaccinations may be more difficult to access. The strategy also calls for “empowering Virginians” with choices rather than mandates.
  • Lastly, the order establishes new Covid-19 testing guidelines in light of the ongoing test shortages. Unused tests at nonessential facilities will be redeployed to state agencies, hospitals, schools and nursing homes.
    • Priority for testing will be given to students, healthcare professionals, essential workers, people with high-risk medical conditions and their caregivers and individuals over age 65 under the new guidelines.

3. Four husky puppies stolen in Hampton were reunited with their mother over the weekend, but two more are still missing.

  • The newborn puppies were snatched from a pet grooming business in Hampton, according to WAVY News. The man accused of breaking into the shop and stealing them was taken into custody. He’s now facing a litany of charges, including breaking and entering, six counts of animal cruelty and grand larceny with intent to sell.
  • Two of the puppies were found in the home of an acquaintance of the alleged thief. Two others were returned by individuals who said the man sold the puppies to them for between $50-$100. Husky puppies typically sell for $1,200, according to the owner.
  • Brandi Murdock, who owns both the business and the dogs, told the Daily Press that the pup’s mother, Nala, was “ecstatic” to see her babies. Nonetheless, Murdock remains very concerned about the other puppies, noting that time is running out for them because they cannot survive without their mother. “They’re probably dying as we speak,” she said in an interview.
  • Anyone with information about the husky puppies is urged to contact the Hampton Police Department at (757) 727-6111. Anonymous tips can also be left at P3Tips.com.

Good News

Local animals have seen thousands of dollars in donations in honor of Betty White.

  • Following the death of the iconic star on December 31, fans launched a social media initiative, #BettyWhiteChallenge, asking people to donate to animal shelters in honor of what would have been Betty White’s 100th birthday on January 17, News 3 reports. Betty White was well-known for her love of pets and animals.
  • The Peninsula SPCA and Virginia Beach SPCA each took in over $9,000 in donations – far above the amount they requested in their donation drive efforts. One young girl named Izzy donated her entire savings – $100 – to the initiative, Peninsula SPCA said in a Facebook post on January 21.
  • “It allows us to take on some tougher cases that other shelters would have to turn away such as heartworm-positive dogs, or animals that need a specialty surgery,” said Jodi Dean, Community Relations and Marketing Manager for the Peninsula SPCA. “Those are cases that we’re willing to take on and this is one of the ways we’re going to help fund that.”
  • See the full story on News 3.

WASHINGTON, DC – October 10 : Lifelong animal lover Betty White’s wax Madame Tussaud’s figure poses with along with many adoptable dogs, cats, puppies and kittens at the Washington Animal Rescue League on October 10, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

National

1. Tensions between Russia and Ukraine are continuing to escalate, and now the U.S is ordering its diplomats to leave Ukraine.

  • The State Department announced Sunday evening that it will begin evacuating families and nonessential U.S embassy workers, according to Reuters. A “Do Not Travel” advisory was also issued alongside warnings of “increased threats of Russian military action” and “civil unrest.”
  • Early Monday, the U.K’s Foreign Office also announced it would begin withdrawing diplomats and embassy staff from the capital of Ukraine, according to the BBC.
  • The latest: On Monday morning, NATO announced that it’s sending ships and fighter jets to eastern Europe as Russia continues to deploy more troops near Ukraine, the AP reports. A NATO statement also emphasized that numerous member states are planning to send additional forces, and the United States “has also made clear that it is considering increasing its military presence in the eastern part of the Alliance.”

2. Small businesses say they’re facing significant challenges, but most remain optimistic about their financial trajectory this year.

  • Nearly every small business that took part in a Goldman Sachs survey released today said they’re still having trouble hiring. Many said they feel the federal government isn’t doing enough to help them weather crises caused by Covid-19, supply chain issues and inflation, Axios reports.
  • 71% of small businesses said the rise in Omicron-fueled Covid-19 cases has hurt their revenue. More than a third said their business has had to temporarily close or scale back operations because of the Omicron surge, and only 29% of small business owners believe things are moving in the right direction in the U.S.
  • Still, nearly two-thirds of all respondents said they remain hopeful about their business’s financial trajectory this year.
  • “This new data clearly shows that the economic headwinds created by the pandemic are stronger than ever — and keep hitting Main Street hardest,” said Joe Wall, national director of Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Voices. “Congress needs to seriously consider additional policies and programs, like reauthorizing the COVID EIDL [Economic Injury Disaster Loan] program, to aid in the recovery of small businesses.”

Other headlines in the nation:

Local Covid-19 Update

New cases: ➕ VDH reported 100,296 new cases of Covid-19 last week. The current 7-day positivity rate is 28.7% (down from 32.4% last week).

On the Peninsula, Newport News recorded +2,177 cases, Hampton logged +1,725 cases, James City County reported +1,076 cases and York County had +558 cases, according to WTVR.

Hospitalizations and deaths: There are a total of 3,750 patients in the hospital with Covid-19 (including an additional 1,079 hospitalizations since last Friday), according to VHHA data.

630 of those patients are in the ICU, and a record 402 are on ventilators. An additional 49 deaths were also reported last week.

Vaccination rate: 68.6% of Virginians are fully vaccinated (up from 68.3% last week).

Events This Week

Multiple Days

Afterschool Crafts – James City County Library. Monday – Thursday, 4:00-7:00 pm; Friday, 4:00-6:00 pm. This drop-in event features new crafts every week.

Lerner & Loewe’s Camelot – Kimball Theatre in Williamsburg. The Sinfonicron Light Opera Company, a W&M student organization, will put on a special performance of Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot, Thursday, Jan. 27 – Sunday, Jan. 30. Masks are required for all patrons. See website for times and tickets.

Busch Gardens Mardi Gras – Busch Gardens in Williamsburg. Jan. 28 – Feb. 27. Features jazzy live music, Mardi Gras-inspired food, colorful entertainment and more. Suitable for guests of all ages. Fridays, 3:00 – 8:00 pm and Saturdays and Sundays, 12:00 – 6:00 pm.

Virginia Skies Planetarium Shows – Virginia Living Museum. Saturday, Jan. 29 and Sunday, Jan. 30. Explore the evening skies above Virginia at this planetarium show led by an astronomer. Masks are required for all guests 5 and up. 1:30-2:15 pm. $4 event tickets plus general admission.

Monday, Jan. 24

DoG Street Pub Running Club – This running club exists to promote fitness and fellowship in the community and is for runners and walkers of all ages. Registration begins at 5:00 pm and the run begins at 6:00 pm. Check in here.

Tuesday, Jan. 25

Tween Book Club – Williamsburg Library (515 Scotland St.). Designed for ages 9-12 and limited to 15 members. Registration is required and includes a free copy of this month’s book.

Teen Book Club – Virtual event hosted by Williamsburg Library. Teens 13+ can join virtually to discuss this month’s book, Dear Martin by Nic Stone. 6:00 – 7:00 pm.

Wednesday, Jan. 26

Governor’s School Virtual Parent Information Session – WJCC Schools will offer a Zoom presentation for parents of eighth, ninth and tenth graders interested in learning more about The Governor’s School for Science and Technology and its application process. The Governor’s School is a magnet school for students in WJCC, York County, Hampton, Newport News, Gloucester County and Isle of Wight. 6:30 pm. Parents can join the Zoom session here.

Thursday, Jan. 27

Teen Game Night – Stryker Center (412 N. Boundary St.) in Williamsburg. Hosted by Williamsburg Regional Library, this monthly event features Nintendo Switch gaming, tabletop games and more. For teens 13+. 6:00-7:30 pm. Masks are required for all visitors. Free.

Saturday, Jan. 29

Yorktown Winter Market – Riverwalk Landing (425 Water St.) in Yorktown. 10:00 am – 2:00 pm. Shop locally produced goods, including bakery items, soups, gourmet chocolate, local art and more.

Waterfowl Watch – York River State Park (9801 York River Park Rd.) in Williamsburg. 10:00 am – 12:00 pm. Bring your binoculars and cameras and watch the arrival of the wild ducks on the river. A friendly ranger will be on hand to help identify the different types of ducks. 10:00 am – 12:00 pm. Free with standard parking or admission.

Skulls & Skins – York River State Park. Discover the ways animals use their fur for comfort and camouflage and discover what mammals live in the woods along the estuary. 1:00 – 3:00 pm. Free with event admission or parking.

Freedom’s Paradox Tour – Peyton Randolph House at Colonial Williamsburg. This 60-minute walking tour examines slavery’s evolution. Space is limited; this event is free with a Good Neighbor Pass or CW Day Pass. 11:00 am – 12:00 pm or 2:30 – 3:30 pm.

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