More Contagious UK Strain of COVID-19 Identified in a Northern Virginia Resident

The new, more contagious, strain of Covid-19 has made its way to Virginia, state Department of Health has confirmed.

The variant first found in the United Kingdom last year was identified in a Northern Virginia resident with no travel history. The health department declined to provide details on the case, including where the person lives in Northern Virginia so we aren’t sure if the individual lives in McLean, Arlington, Alexandria or elsewhere – and it really doesn’t matter. The concern is that this strain is now local.

The variant known as B.1.1.7 is one of several strains of COVID-19 identified worldwide by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Viruses change all the time, and we expect to see new strains as disease spreads,” State Health Commissioner Dr. M. Norman Oliver said. “We know this variant strain spreads more quickly between people than other strains currently circulating in our communities, but we still have more to learn about whether it causes more severe illness.”

Health experts have warned that the variant sweeping through Britain will probably become the dominant source of infection in the U.S. in the coming weeks.

“The modeled trajectory of this variant in the U.S. exhibits rapid growth in early 2021, becoming the predominant variant in March,” states the CDC on its website.

Even though the new strain is not believed to be more severe than the original COVID-19, it’s likely to infect more people because it’s more contagious. So the actual number of people who develop severe illnesses and die will be higher simply because of the greater volume of those infected.

“Instead of 4,000 deaths a day, we could be looking at 6 to 7,000 deaths a day in the United States by February or March,” said Dr. Christopher Newman of Fredericksburg, VA. “That’s really tragic, that is catastrophic.”

Governor Ralph Northam took to Twitter to ask the residents to be vigilant and follow the standard operating procedures.

“Though not unexpected, the presence of the highly contagious #COVID19 variant in our Commonwealth should be a reminder to all Virginians that now more than ever, we need to be vigilant about following public health and safety measures,” he tweeted.  

Scientists are still studying the makeup of the new strain, but believe the current vaccines are effective, according to the Virginia Department of Health. 

The U.S. has reported almost 200 cases of the variant in 24 states so far. California has been the most affected state with 72 cases as of Monday. 

The SARS-CoV-2 has the ability to mutate which means that there can be several other variants of the virus, according to the Virginia Department of Health. In fact, Dr. Anthony Fauci has warned of ‘more ominous’ COVID-19 strains from Brazil and South Africa.

Virginia is Home to Another Non-Native Lizard Species that Hitchhiked it’s Way to the Commonwealth

Virginia is home to a number of native and non-native lizard species. Red-eared sliders, Mediterranean house geckos, and Italian wall lizards are a few of the non-native reptiles that have established reproducing populations in Virginia. The commonwealth is now home  to another lizard species – the green anole.

According to the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, the lizards arrived as hitch-hikers on nursery plants being shipped from Florida or released as unwanted pets. 

“We’ve always thought maybe because of warming climates, they would shift north and naturally come to Virginia, but we have not seen that happen,” said J.D. Kleopfer, who studies reptiles and amphibians for the commonwealth of Virginia. “If this was a natural range extension, it would be in Back Bay, False Cape and southern Virginia Beach first.”

The green anoles are native to the southeastern United States. They have showed up in inland and suburban areas which means they most likely arrived on houseplants that came from the south. 

Green anoles have been documented in the cities of Blacksburg, Franklin, Norfolk, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach, but only Virginia Beach has evidence of a reproducing population. 

The lizard species was quite popular in the 1970s and was sold in pet stores as a Chameleon. However, they aren’t true chameleons since they can only switch between brown and green colors. 

Red-eared sliders are also native to the Southern US and Central America and, thanks to the pet trade, have become an invasive species in Virginia.

The Mediterranean Geckos were first reported in Virginia in November 2016. 

Also known as Anolis carolinensis, the green anole has an average length of 5 inches and can extend up to a maximum length of 9.2 inches. 

Kleopfer has deemed the species safe and has asked residents to send photos of the reptile to the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources if someone happens to see it. 

Robert E. Lee Statue Removed From U.S Capitol, Set To Be Replaced by Barbara Johns Statue

Virginia has removed the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from the Capitol. The Capitol allows each state to display two statues of important figures in the national building and the Robert Lee statue had represented the state along with George Washington’s statue since 1909. 

Laborers removed the statue from the National Statuary Hall on Monday, December 21. The step is a continuation of the recent string of removals of Confederate statues nationwide amid the racial justice movement. 

“We should all be proud of this important step forward for our Commonwealth and our country,” said Governor Northam. “The Confederacy is a symbol of Virginia’s racist and divisive history, and it is past time we tell our story with images of perseverance, diversity, and inclusion,” said Governor Ralph Northam when announcing the decision. 

The statue is expected to be replaced by a statue honoring civil rights activist Barbara Johns. Barbara Johns was a pioneering leader in the American civil rights movement. On April 23, 1951, at the age of 16, Powell led a student strike for equal education at R.R. Moton High School in Farmville, Prince Edward County, Virginia not far from McLean Virginia.

“I look forward to seeing a trailblazing young woman of color represent Virginia in the U.S. Capitol, where visitors will learn about Barbara Johns’ contributions to America and be empowered to create positive change in their communities just like she did,” Northam added. 

The Virginia General Assembly still has to formally approve Johns’ statue before it can be officially commissioned, which will reportedly take place after the legislature resumes on Jan. 13.

Governor Northam had requested the removal of the statue in early 2020. Northam signed legislation establishing the Commission for Historical Statues in the United States Capitol charged with studying the removal and replacement of the Robert E. Lee statue. The eight-member commission, chaired by State Senator Louise Lucas, voted unanimously on July 24, 2020 to recommend removal of the statue. 

Virginia Museum of History and Culture in Richmond, Virginia will accept ownership of the statue at the request of the commission.  

While a number of statues of other Confederate leaders have already been removed in Virginia, a statue of Lee in Richmond, Virginia, has been a particular source of contention. A group of Virginians are appealing an October court ruling that allowed the statue to be removed. The faculty of Virginia’s Washington and Lee University also voted to remove Lee from the university’s name in June, which is still in the process of being completed.

Virginia Department of Corrections Awarded Gold Standard Recognition as Breastfeeding-friendly Workplace

The Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) has been recognized for its efforts to become a breastfeeding friendly workplace. VADOC has been awarded the gold standard recognition for earning 32 or more points from the applicable criteria set out for the award. 

The award was given through the Richmond Virginia Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace Recognition Program. The recognition program is a partnership between the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the Virginia Breastfeeding Coalition (VBC). Launched in 2019, the program is designed to elevate knowledge of the health, economic, and societal benefits of breastfeeding. Child Care Aware Virginia and Virginia Early Childhood Foundation were also part of the program. 

State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver stated in a letter announcing the VADOC recognition saying, “By receiving this recognition, you have demonstrated that your workplace is dedicated to supporting mothers and families in meeting their breastfeeding goals, especially as they return to the workplace.” 

The points are earned based on a number of factors: providing educational training about breastfeeding support policy; providing guidelines to supervisors and managers; providing private areas free from intrusion with a chair and table; access to electricity and a nearby working sink; refrigerators for breast milk storage. VADOC earned 32 points from the set out criteria warranting gold standard recognition. 

A bronze award goes to those employers with 6-14 points, a silver award to those earning 15-31 points. 

Virginia has seen a greater emphasis on making workplaces breastfeeding friendly. Governor Ralph Northam encouraged breastfeeding in a letter to employees marking Breastfeeding Awareness Month back in August. 

“While the decision to breastfeed or formula feed is a personal one based on many different factors, research shows that breastfeeding and human milk provide general health, growth, and developmental advantages while significantly decreasing the risk of infant mortality and many acute and chronic diseases,” he said. 

In Virginia, mothers have the right to breastfeed in any public or private location, as long as they are legally allowed to be there.  As of July 1, 2020, the “Virginia Values Act,” went into effect and expanded Virginia’s Human Rights Act (“VHRA”). The legislation extends important protections to Virginians on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status, disability, and status as a veteran. Now, breastfeeding employees are protected from discrimination. 

The VADOC claims to provide clean, private, secure, locked accommodations for new mothers at each of its facilities, including prisons, probation and parole offices and other agency locations.

Why is “Virginia For Lovers”

Are you a history lover? Go to Virginia. Do you like the golden sand on the beaches? Go see Virginia. Do you find theme parks amusing? You should definitely visit Virginia. Love nature? Virginia is the place you need to see. Virginia has a bit of something for everyone, and that’s why “Virginia is for lovers”. 

Interestingly, David N. Martin and George Woltz, the men behind the slogan, initially come up with slogans such as “Virginia is for beach lovers” , “Virginia is for mountain lovers” and “Virginia  is for history lovers”. It was only later that they realised that none of these would actually say everything about the birthplace of the nation”.  

The slogan first coined in 1969 went on to become one of the most iconic ones ever. It was in 2009 that “Virginia is for lovers” was acknowledged by Forbes as one of the top ten tourism marketing campaigns ever. The slogan has been mentioned in several songs by top artists. It even appeared on the state’s license plates in 2014. 

So what is it that makes a slogan coined half a century ago so special? Obviously the beauty that Virginia is itself. From scenic roads to mountain vistas and from historical monuments to breathtakingly beautiful beaches, Virginia has it all. 

It is said that history is everywhere in Virginia. It was in 1607 that Jamestown became the first permanent colonial settlement in North America. The state also boasts being the birthplace of the highest number of Presidents – 8 of the native sons of the state of Virginia have held the country’s highest office till date. 

Two of Virginia’s top tourist attractions, Mount Vernon and Monticello, are homes of presidents. Others include the Colonial Williamsburg, Arlington National Cemetery and the Colonial National Historic Park encompassing both Jamestown and Yorktown. It is said that the revolution ended here. Moreover, the State Capitol in Richmond is of great interest for history lovers from around the world. 

Virginia isn’t all about history either. If you are an adventure lover, the Busch Gardens is just the right place to visit. Built upon a European theme, it has everything from adventure rides to exotic birds. 

Are you a nerd? Well, Virginia never disappoints. One of the most popular family attractions in Virginia Beach, The Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, provides a wide range of exhibits and activities for people belonging to all age groups. The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is home to thousands of artifacts and aircraft which inspire awe in visitors interested in war history. 

The Natural Bridge of Virginia leaves sightseeing enthusiasts in awe of its natural beauty. Lined by one of the most beautiful beaches on the Atlantic coast, the Assateague Island along with the Chincoteague Island serves as a wildlife sanctuary and a home to its famous wild ponies and over 300 species of shorebirds and waterfowls. 

It’s no wonder that Tourism is Virginia’s fifth-largest industry and hit $25 billion in terms of revenue. The place, indeed, is for lovers regardless of what they love. The slogan initially adopted by fate, has really gone on to describe the heaven that is Virginia.

Weird Virginia “Snake” Actually a South Asian Worm

A weird creature found in Virginia last week, initially thought of as a snake, has been identified as a large invasive species of Asian worm.

Images posted on Virginia Wildlife Management and Control facebook page on October 28, showed a long weird snake-like creature. It was reported to be 10-12 inches long and had a half moon-shaped head. The post compared it to another spooky creature found in Virginia a couple years ago. The department was not sure if it was a “freak of nature” like the two headed copperhead they were involved with a few years ago. 

The facebook post was soon filled with comments pointing out that the creature was in fact a hammerhead worm.

The information was later verified by the Texas Invasive Species Institute. The hammerhead worm is a “terrestrial flatworm” native to South Asia. Indeed one of the commenters on the post was from Okinawa Japan and pointed out that it was found in their locality. A resident of Mecklenburg County VA also claimed to have seen the species in their yard.

The department later posted the video that was sent to their Snake Identification Hotline from Midlothian Virginia. 

According to Texas Invasive Species Institute the species hitchhiked its way to the U.S. decades ago in the horticulture trade and specimens have been found in greenhouses as far north as Maine.

Virginia is not among the state’s where the worms have been found, but they have turned up in nearby North Carolina, the institute reports.

The species of the worm is hermaphroditic which means it has both male and female genitalia. The worm can also quickly regain any damage to its tissues and can grow into multiple new creatures if cut into pieces. Everybody had the same joke about the hammerhead worm being practically immortal. There is indeed some truth to the claim. 

“Flatworms may not look that exciting, but they have an astonishing superpower: regeneration. When bits of them are amputated, these bits can regrow into complete worms — even from snipped-off fragments that represent 1/300th of the worm’s body,” Live Science reports.

For that reason, the Virginia Wildlife Management and Control officials did not kill the worm. They thought it was better to just leave it alone. 

Virginia Wildlife Management and Control department services all of Central Virginia and its surrounding areas 24/7 and can be contacted anytime, day or night at 804-617-7086 or 804-304-0464 for animal or pests related issues.

Virginia Launches the Largest Infrastructure Project in the Commonwealth’s History

Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel expansion project is set to become the largest infrastructure project in Virginia’s history. Governor Ralph Northam launched the project along with the officials from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) on Thursday. 

The $3.8 billion project will increase tunnel and interstate capacity along 9.9 miles of Interstate 64 between Hampton and Norfolk, reducing congestion and easing access to the Port of Virginia and the world’s largest Naval base.

The Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel was the first ever crossing built between two man made islands. Built in 1957, the HRBT will now act as a corridor between two thriving port communities. 

The traffic on the HRBT has remained consistent even during the pandemic. Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine informed that traffic volumes have been nearly 95 percent of historic average since July. 

“The world’s best designers, builders, engineers, and technology are converging here in Virginia to build your new tunnel,” said Valentine. 

“We are bringing every asset to the table to give people what they may value most—time.”

The HRBT Expansion Project will add twin, two-lane bored tunnels and widen the four-lane segments of Interstate 64 in Hampton between Settlers Landing Road and the Phoebus shoreline, and in Norfolk between the Willoughby shoreline and the I-564 interchange. The bridge is used by over 100,000 drivers daily who will welcome the relief effort. 

Governor Ralph Northam said that the project will literally bring people closer and retreated the ambition to invest in infrastructure in the region.

“We are making critical investment in the infrastructure of our region,” said Governor Northam.

“Travel will be safer and more reliable,” said the Governor. “We are supporting families, commerce, shipbuilding, tourism, our military and The Port of Virginia.”

A highly-specialized tunnel boring machine will be used to dig through the soil and construct tunnel segments simultaneously. The advanced technology is used in the construction of highly complex projects such as Manhattan’s Second Avenue Subway.

The new HRBT is only the fourth roadway project to use this equipment in the United States. The machinery, currently under construction in Germany, is expected to arrive in Hampton Roads in 2021. It is expected to begin tunneling operations in early 2022 after a lengthy assembling process. 

A funding agreement with Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission announced in 2019 will provide 92 percent of locally sourced funding for the project. $200 million will be secured from the Commonwealth’s Smart Scale Program and $108 million will be provided by VDOT.

In addition to reducing congestion, the project will also give a huge boost to the economy. It is set to bring in more than 4.6 billion in investment and 28,000 new jobs.

The expansion project is set to be complete in November of 2025.

Virginia Becomes Third State to Ban No-Knock Warrants

Virginia became the third state in the country to ban the controversial no-knock warrants. The move came this Wednesday when Governor Ralph Northam signed police reform legislation that includes a ban on no-knock raids. The raids are used frequently by the police to make drug busts. 

The move came after months of protests that had engulfed the Nation following the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor back in March. Taylor, a 26 year old Black woman, was with her boyfriend Kenneth Walker at her Louisville, Kentucky home when the raid happened. The incident also took the life of a police officer as Walker opened fire first fearing an intruder. 

The incident happened because the Police executed a no-knock warrant that created confusion. The Police claim that they announced themselves and knocked for a minute before breaking inside while Kenneth Walker says he did not hear the police identify themselves despite asking several times.  Prohibition of no-knock warrants is believed to help both the law enforcement and the residents. 

Virginia started deliberations over the move in early September when the Virginia Senate passed legislation to enact several police reforms. The bill passed along a party-line vote also included banning chokeholds and higher training standards for police. 

Virginia’s move will also require law enforcement officers to get permission from a judge to conduct a warrant at night. Governor Ralph Northam also approved other legislations including limits on the use of neck restraints and reducing the use of military equipment. 

“Too many families, in Virginia and across our nation, live in fear of being hurt or killed by police,” said Governor Northam in a press release on Wednesday. “These new laws represent a tremendous step forward in rebuilding trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”

Virginia joins two states, Florida and Oregon, and 13 local governments or police departments that have banned the warrants or restricted their use in response to the killing of Breonna Taylor. 

Lawmakers in at least ten states have now introduced or pre-filed legislation to ban or restrict the no-knock warrants. 

The new reforms generally gained support however there was some criticism from criminal justice experts. Few experts were of the opinion that the warrants are useful in dangerous situations and drug smugglers may use the loopholes in the new legislation. The law will go into effect on March 1, according to Alena Yarmowsky, a spokesperson for Northam.

7 Fascinating Hidden Gems to Visit in Fairfax

Fairfax Virginia is a great place to be if you want to visit amazing tourist attractions. From colorful and scenic views of regional parks to historic and science museums, here’s a list of hidden gems you should visit this Fall. 

Meadowlark Botanical Gardens

Meadowlark Garden is a true hidden gem of North Virginia. The park will have so many beautiful colors to offer this Fall. Hickories and Tulips stand out among the tall oaks and beautiful red maples. The cooler temperatures allow visitors to get the most out of the scenic views.

A Korean Bell Garden was recently added to the park. The garden offers a few Asian structures adding an essence of the unique and delicate Korean taste. The garden is surrounded by Lily pond lakes adding to the beauty of the area. 

Tickets are $6 per adult. Children under six can enter for free and enjoy a full day of soothing views. 

Great Falls Park

The 800 acre Great Falls Park located just off the Potomac River is another beautiful place to visit this Fall.

Walks bordering the Potomac River can be so soothing. Mather Gorge is always a great sight and presents beautiful picture taking opportunities.

The Park also offers other moderately difficult trails. So if you want to avoid crowds you can take one of the interior trails. 

When you pay for admission it’s good for re-entry for a week so you can visit multiple days in a row.

Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail

Another little gem for the fans of the beautiful view and scenic trails. Trails are marked by painted color squares in mature trees. There’s very little man-made influence here; a few trash cans and benches with some signs near the parking area. 

It’s a conservatory park meaning no vehicles firearms and camping or campfires. You’ll see horseback riders, hikers and lots of dogs. 

It’s quiet, safe without speeding bikers and a great location to visit with family.

There’s part of the canal still intact from George Washington’s time.

If you like natural woods and a peaceful environment you will enjoy Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail.

George Mason’s Gunston Hall

A little known attraction, George Mason’s Gunston Hall is perfect for museum lovers and history buffs. 

The Hall was once a tobacco and corn plantation owned by the Author of Virginia Declaration of Rights, George Mason. 

Touring Gunston Hall gives visitors a detailed account of George Mason’s life. 

Purchasing a pass gives you all-day access to hiking trails, grounds, Visitor Center exhibitions and guided tour of the home. Grounds are well kept and there’s a picnic area near the parking lot. 

Hike the scenic trails and discover George Mason’s lasting legacy here. 

Sully Historic Sites

Both a Virginia landmark and a nationally registered historic place, it is a great place to visit for the fans of Sights and Landmarks. The place also known as Sully Plantation is very intricate to the American Civil war. 

The guides are very educated about the history of the house which makes for an informative experience. It’s also a great place to take out of town guests. 

The place offers a house tour and “Forgotten Roads” which is all about the lives of enslaved people who lived here. Overall the site gives visitors a fascinating perspective of life on a Virginia plantation. 

Steven F Udvar Hazy Center

A space museum like no other, the place offers so many fascinating pieces of history. 

There’s a huge display of flying machines from Enola Gay to the Discovery Shuttle. Once you are here you’ll be spending the whole day. The place fascinates people from every age group and really sets a standard for other similar places. 

You get to see an SR-71 spy plane, a retired SST (Super Sonic Transport), the original Boeing 707, the Enola Gay and much more. 

A lot of aviation history is found here and gives visitors a sense of how much things have changed over the years. 

Mustang Sally Brewing Company

If you have had enough of scenic views and museums, you can always go out for a round of food and drinks in Fairfax.

Are you a fan of live music and great beer? Mustang Sally Brewing Company is the place for you. 

It’s a great hang out place for Families and offers a lot of parking. You can drop by with your friends and enjoy outside seating in season.

There’s also Pinball and Corn hole set up and ready to play. Great ambiance, relaxing environment, lovely music and great beer. What’s not to like? 

Tips to Stay Safe During Halloween – COVID-19 Edition

Halloween is around the corner but like every other activity this year, the Covid-19 pandemic will have to be considered, especially when trick-or-treating. The virus spread isn’t slowing down and parents are worried about letting their kids take part in Halloween activities. 

Health authorities are encouraging residents to follow CDC guidelines or even skip the activity altogether. The big question then is: How to stay safe while also enjoying Halloween? 

This year Halloween can be even more fun as there’s an opportunity to get creative and find alternatives to traditional Halloween activities. Some of the activities that can be fun and keep everyone safe are: 

Virtual Costume Parties

Going out for traditional costume parades carries the risk of virus transmission. But that can’t stop you from dressing up and showing off your costumes. Just gather all friends and family through conference calls and guess each other’s costumes. It can be a fun and personalized activity. Most importantly it keeps everyone safe. 

Creative Halloween-Themed Decorations

Social distancing guidelines don’t mean you can’t have fun with decorating pumpkins. Lighting your house according to Halloween traditions can also be a fun activity. Get really creative with your lawn decorations. Surround yourself with that Halloween like environment.

Halloween Movie Night

Movie nights are a fun activity in their own right. Add that Halloween spice by selecting an age-appropriate spooky movie, dress up in your Halloween costumes and watch it together with your family. Get everybody’s reviews and even try to recreate some of the best scenes using costumes. 

Candy Scavenger Hunt

Trick-or-treating is a no go for many families this year. But you can still have fun with your candy. Hide the treats in the house, Gather the kids and set them off on a scavenger hunt. Offer special treats to the winners and even turn it into a yearly tradition. You can even hand a Halloween themed trophy to the winner.

Stay Safe when outside

If you still plan on engaging in outdoor activities make sure that you follow social distancing rules to the maximum. Thankfully, Trick-or-treating is a low contact activity but even when interacting with people avoid contact. 

Some of the methods you can adopt to ensure safety and hygiene are

  • Wear a mask but don’t depend on themed masks as they aren’t as effective. Avoid painting your masks as they might contain toxins.
  • Practice social distancing by creating space between yourself and trick-or-treaters. You can also use gloves or build candy chutes to give out treats. You can learn how to make candy chutes here.
  • Use hand sanitizers and tell your kids to properly wash their hands before going out and upon coming back. Take the sanitizers with you and use them extensively. 
  • Stay in your locality when trick-or-treating. Keep an eye out for virus transmission rates and most impacted areas. Steer clear of high-risk areas. 
  • Keep community gatherings short even if required and stay socially distanced anyway. 

Halloween this year is going to be tricky. The best way to enjoy the holiday is to be creative and minimize outside contact. Stick to the CDC guidelines even when outside. The most important thing is you and your family’s well-being. Have fun and stay safe. 

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