‘COVID is real, it’s here, it’s transmissible’: Henrico declares local emergency as coronavirus cases rise

FILE - Health Department worker grabs two at-home COVID-19 test kits to be handed out during a...
FILE - Health Department worker grabs two at-home COVID-19 test kits to be handed out during a distribution event, Dec. 30, 2021, in Youngstown, Ohio.(AP Photo/David Dermer, File)
Published: Jan. 11, 2022 at 9:33 PM EST
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HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WWBT) - Henrico County leaders declared a local emergency on Tuesday as coronavirus cases rise across the area.

During Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, county manager John Vithoulkas said the emergency will help with quickly accessing resources, including purchasing test kits and other supplies.

“Over the past few weeks, we’ve watched the omicron variant fuel an unprecedented increase in COVID-19 cases in our community,” Vithoulkas said. “This emergency order allows us to be nimble and take whatever actions are necessary to help keep our community and employees safe during this most challenging time.”

COVID-19 is certainly making its rounds across the community and reaching county employees.

“COVID is real, it’s here, it’s transmissible,” said Henrico Fire Chief Alec Oughton.

Oughton is helping with the effort to address this recent COVID surge.

His department is no stranger to the rise in cases. Last week it hit an all-time high of 77 fire employees out sick. Henrico police have also reached it’s highest number with 52 people out.

“I think what I’m surprised about is it took this long for us to see those numbers,” Oughton said.

Checking out the Virginia Department of Health metric that looks at cases per 100,000 people in the first week of January; Hanover was around 1,300, Henrico 1,436, Richmond close behind at 1,424 and Chesterfield at 1,392.

However, Henrico hit an all-time high since mid-January of 2021 (431). It’s also nearly three timeS the case rate from just two weeks ago.

“It’s definitely a red flag that indicates something different is happening,” Oughton said.

While the mitigation efforts have not changed since the start of the pandemic, the variants have.

With Omicron being highly transmissible, Henrico County Manager John Vithoulkas moved forward with recommending a local emergency declaration. This will give him more flexibility to respond quickly to rising COVID-19 issues.

“You want to be able to make a move on PPE or test kits or whatever it is that you see a need for,” Oughton said.

The declaration is also a way to try and keep employees working. That has been a difficult area recently for Henrico Schools.

“I had a conversation with our Superintendent yesterday (Monday), we had 530 school employees who were out sick,” Vithoulkas said during Tuesday’s meeting.

A Henrico County Public Schools (HCPS) spokesperson said they are working to address the issue.

Throughout the year, some individual classes went virtual due to COVID illness and the required quarantine of a significant number of students in the class.

However, as this surge continues, it is possible more changes could happen.

“Based on exposures, transmission levels and recommendations from health officials, it is possible that a grade or an entire school might also suspend in-person learning in favor of virtual learning,” said HCPS spokeswoman Eileen Cox. “Any decision to do so will be made in collaboration with the Richmond-Henrico Health Districts.”

As for the entire school system moving virtual, that is unlikely because it would require action from the state level.

For more information on Henrico’s response, go to henrico.us/coronavirus.

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