COVID-19 vaccines given to residents of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County
Harrisonburg and Rockingham County population that is fully vaccinated

Health district has received 60,000 vaccine doses so far

Christina Rivera received her vaccination at Sentara’s invitation after hospital staff escorted her out of the hospital the first time she showed up for a vaccination appointment. (Photo courtesy of Christina Rivera)

Clarification: An earlier version of this story quoted Dr. Laura Kornegay as saying 20% of the health district’s residents have received one dose, however, some of the doses administered represent second doses.

By Ryan Alessi, publisher, and Randi B. Hagi, assistant editor

The Central Shenandoah Valley’s residents have received 60,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, said Dr. Laura Kornegay, health director for this area’s public health district.

Kornegay said Tuesday during U.S. Rep. Ben Cline’s telephone town hall meeting that her staff has helped administer those doses across its coverage area of roughly 300,000 people, which includes Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, as well as Augusta, Highland, Bath and Rockbridge counties.

That includes residents of all 18 skilled nursing facilities in those counties, she said. And each facility reported that at least 90% of its residents chose to receive the vaccine.

“So we’re getting the most vulnerable people protected, which has been great,” she said.  

Vaccines remained top-of-mind for Harrisonburg and Rockingham County residents who called in during Cline’s 45-minute telephone town hall session that began shortly after 6 p.m.

One caller, who said he was a general practitioner in Harrisonburg, said he and his practice could help administer the vaccinations to vulnerable patients who haven’t received one yet.

But Kornegay said there aren’t enough doses to provide them to primary care doctors to administer.

“Our total vaccine inventory per week for our entire very large health district is about 3,450 doses per week,” she said. “With the limited amount of vaccines that we have at this time, we’re primarily doing large events to try to get as much out as quickly as possible.”

That includes large vaccination sessions at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds and JMU for those who qualified as part of Virginia’s 1a group, which includes health care workers and long-term care residents, as well as those in 1b, which includes those 65 and older and essential workers, such as K-12 teachers.

Kornegay urged residents to sign up through vaccinate.virgina.gov and directed those who have limited computer access to call 877-VAX-INVA to register.

More than 5,000 public school teachers in the Central Shenandoah Valley have received vaccinations, and Kornegay said the district is gearing up to vaccinate private school teachers and childcare workers in the coming weeks.

And as school districts, like Harrisonburg City Public Schools, look to bring more students back to the classroom, Kornegay said that should help — not only with learning, but also with students’ mental health — and can be safe.

“Classrooms are particularly safe places for kids and teachers to be,” she said, as long as students and staff continue to wear masks and remain socially distant. “There’s little transmission within the classroom setting.”

Cline, a Republican who represents the 6th Congressional District, also invited Republican State Delegate Chris Runyon to the telephone town hall. And both men lamented the pandemic’s effects on K-12 students, most of whom have been learning online for nearly a year.

Cline said he has noticed how his children have struggled with maintaining their attention during online classes.

Kornegay said the health district has created a curriculum it’s shared with area school districts that explains the pandemic, including different ways it has caused stress.

“The effects of not having kids in the classroom — especially at the younger ages and kids who are special learners — it’s really pretty devastating,” she said. “It’s difficult for a lot of children to concentrate and learn in virtual environments. They lack that social environment.”  

Cline, meanwhile, indicated he’s not likely to support the proposed $1.9 trillion in COVID relief that President Biden’s administration and congressional Democrats have proposed. Cline echoed House Republicans’ concerns expressed last week that funding from the previous rounds of federal relief — including the bill Congress passed in December — hasn’t been spent or the spending hasn’t been reported yet.

“I do believe we need to account for the money that has not been spent and do our best to spend it before we can determine how much more is needed,” he said.

Council touts program to help Black and brown-owned businesses

A new program launched on Tuesday will provide micro-grants of up to $3,000 to Black and brown-owned businesses in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. The program, called “B-Cubed,” is an initiative of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce’s Diversity Business Council. 

Harrisonburg City Council member Chris Jones, who also serves on the Chamber of Commerce announced the program in the council meeting on Tuesday. The Daily News-Record was first to report about the program. 

“The idea was that we would exponentially help and grow Black and brown businesses in our community,” Jones said. “It’s not just an ethical, right thing to do, but it’s also the right economic thing to do, to have diversity in business.”

Jones said that the program was inspired in part by the nation’s current “social reckoning with race” as well as data showing how the pandemic — and national policies — have affected Black-owned businesses.

For instance, CBS News reported in January that thousands of minority business owners didn’t receive Paycheck Protection Program loans until near the end of its funding rounds. And in October, a Main Street Alliance/Color of Change poll found that “only 40% of Black business owners said they could last more than six months, compared with 46% of Asian respondents, 48% of Latinx and 55% of white respondents.”

Jones described this as a “disparity about even the pain that we all went through.” 

In addition to the grant, B-Cubed will provide businesses with mentorship, chamber membership, and technical assistance such as website development or legal consultation. Applications are available on the chamber’s website, and are open to any existing businesses that are at least 50% owned by a Black or brown individual, and any Black or brown resident of the city or county who is looking to start a business.

Molson Coors Beverage Company provided $15,000 in seed funding for the program, and additional funds have been donated by Farmers & Merchants Bank, Riner Rentals, and John Downey, president of Blue Ridge Community College.

Brian Shull, the city’s director of economic development, encouraged Black and brown residents to apply to the program, even if they only have an idea of a business they’d like to start.

“We’ll help take you to the next step,” Shull said.

Also in the meeting:

  • The council unanimously approved a resolution supporting the creation of an affordable housing fund. The resolution instructs City Manager Eric Campbell and City Attorney Chris Brown to research the steps necessary to establish the fund and develop an implementation strategy for the other recommendations listed in the comprehensive housing study that was presented in January.
  • Mayor Deanna Reed recognized the passing of Donald Harper, who served as the Harrisonburg Police Chief from 1992 to 2012. Harper died Jan. 29. “He set the bar for a police chief,” Reed said. “He was the example that we used when we talked about building relationships in the community, because he was that guy … he’d be sitting at my house talking to my granddaddy on the porch.”

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