VACo members participated in a telephone town hall on April 23 on Virginia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic with State Coordinator of Emergency Management Dr. Jeffrey Stern and several state experts, who provided updates on efforts to supplement the health care workforce, develop models for the spread of the virus, ensure the needs of vulnerable communities are addressed, and mitigate the effects of the crisis on local budgets. VACo appreciates the panelists’ generosity with their time and the work of Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) staff in coordinating the call.
Dr. Stern opened the call with an overview of VDEM’s relationship with local emergency managers. He reminded participants that because the state is under a federal Major Disaster Declaration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will reimburse up to 75 percent of certain local expenses, a process that will be coordinated through VDEM. Dr. Stern encouraged localities to thoroughly document all expenditures which might qualify for reimbursement, and assured participants that VDEM can provide technical assistance with procurement and accounting.
Dr. Megan Healy, Governor Northam’s Chief Workforce Development Advisor, discussed the need to recruit additional volunteers to serve in the Medical Reserve Corps, which will be conducting tasks such as assistance with contact tracing and testing. She requested suggestions and ideas from counties about ways to encourage volunteerism, including possible coverage of volunteers under workers’ compensation.
Dr. Carter Price of the RAND Corporation briefed attendees on different models for the spread and potential peak of the virus in Virginia, stressing that the models are imperfect and that there is significant uncertainty surrounding the prevalence of the virus. Sable Nelson, Acting Director of the Office of Health Equity at the Virginia Department of Health, discussed the efforts of the Health Equity Working Group to ensure that attention is paid to vulnerable communities in emergency preparedness, response, and recovery. She encouraged accessibility in communications during the pandemic, such as the use of sign language interpreters and translation services, and the use of clear language in written materials.
Dr. Ron Carlee, Professor at Old Dominion University and former Arlington County Manager, discussed his research on the effects of the virus and associated containment measures on county budgets, pointing out that although many counties are less reliant on “vulnerable” revenue sources such as meals and admissions taxes, there may be long-term repercussions for real property tax collections in the future if brick-and-mortar retail stores and restaurants are not able to reopen. He encouraged localities to eliminate all non-essential spending until a clearer economic picture emerges, and to begin planning for reopening and recovery, to include working closely with local health departments.
VACo Contact: Katie Boyle