By Stefanie Jackson – The Rebuild Virginia program that was started in August with $70 million in federal funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act is about to get a $30 million boost.
“Small businesses and nonprofits are the backbone of our economy, and they will be the backbone of our recovery,” Gov. Ralph Northam said during a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
The additional $30 million in CARES Act funds will provide grants to small businesses and nonprofits that haven’t already received federal assistance.
That may include retail stores, restaurants, farms, and summer camps, Northam said.
The maximum grant that can be received is $100,000, up from $10,000 previously.
Virginia CARES Act allocations to date include $220 million for K-12 public schools, $116 million for colleges and universities, $73 million for hazard pay for home healthcare workers, $65.8 million for childcare access, $30 million for broadband internet, $22 million for COVID-19 vaccine program planning, and $3 million for free clinics.
“You have heard me say that we have to fix the health crisis to fix the economic crisis, and that remains true, but that doesn’t mean we can’t work on both at the same time,” Northam said.
He shared “good news” from a recent New York Times report that Virginia is one of five states where new cases of COVID-19 are “low and staying low.”
The other four states are Delaware, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii. New COVID-19 cases also remain low in Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
But “we aren’t an island … our citizens cross state lines every day,” Northam cautioned.
He noted across Virginia’s southwestern border, in Tennessee, Ballad Health is reporting COVID-19 spikes.
The COVID-19 positivity rate in Southwestern Virginia is barely below 8%, about double that of other Virginia regions.
The COVID-19 positivity rate is 5% in the Central region, 4.7% in Northern Virginia, 4.1% in the Eastern region, and 4% in the Northwestern region.
Countries around the world are reimposing restrictions to slow further spread of COVID-19. “Nobody wants to have to do that, but this virus remains a very real threat,” Northam said.
He attributed the elevated COVID-19 statistics in Southwestern Virginia to small family gatherings and not wearing face coverings.
It was later clarified that Northam was referring to small gatherings of around six or eight people from the same family but several different households.
Social distancing is recommended and wearing face masks indoors is suggested at those gatherings.
Virginia has received a shipment of 27,000 rapid antigen COVID-19 tests, out of a total order of 200,000 tests. Antigen tests are considered more accurate than antibody tests when screening asymptomatic patients for COVID-19.
The first shipment of 26,000 tests was received last week, and the tests are being sent to nursing homes and longterm care facilities.
“As scientists learn more about this virus over the past eight months, we all learn more about how easily it spreads through the air,” Northam said.
He asked Virginians to make good choices this weekend and avoid big crowds and Halloween activities that are “not cut out for social distancing.”
Virginia Health Commissioner Norman Oliver reported 176,754 total cases of COVID-19 in the state, including 1,345 new cases, and 3,616 total coronavirus-related deaths, including 16 new deaths.
The governor urged his constituents to continue to “be smart in how you socialize, how you shop, how you act when you go out of your house. Wear a mask, please. Keep your distance from other people.”
Northam said, “I am so proud of how Virginians have stepped up during this pandemic. You can see the results in our numbers compared to other states. We just need to keep it up.”