Dogwood Download: Things You Should Know For Tuesday, March 16

By Brian Carlton

March 16, 2021

Unemployment keeps dropping, more students head to class, we look at the COVID-19 test rate and continue our #ThisIsVirginia series.

Daily Number

5 – We mentioned this a bit yesterday, but it’s worth a highlight. There are five teams from Virginia playing in this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament. That includes VCU, UVA, Virginia Tech, Liberty and Norfolk State. Why does that matter? It is second only to the seven teams competing from the state of Texas. 

Positive Test Rate Keeps Dropping in Virginia

Virginia’s positive test rate keeps dropping. On Monday, the Virginia Health Department reported the percentage of COVID-19 positive tests over the last seven days fell to 5.4%. That’s the lowest percentage so far in 2021 and one of the lowest overall in six months. 

In fact, Monday’s data showed good news across the board. The state reported 1,130 new COVID-19 cases Monday, down 43 from the previous day. Also, 1,013 people were hospitalized as of Monday with COVID-19. That’s down 50 from Sunday. 

What’s driving the changes? Vaccination. As of Monday, 2.74 million Virginians have been vaccinated. 

Unemployment Rate Continues to Fall

There’s also good news today on the jobs front, as Virginia’s unemployment rate fell again in January. In a statement Monday, Gov. Northam said unemployment fell to 5.3% by the end of the month. That’s a 0.3% improvement from December, with 14,100 jobs being added. 

There’s a couple positive indicators here. First, Virginia’s unemployment rate continues to be below the national average of 6.3%. Second, the Commonwealth’s unemployment rate is only 2.8% higher than the pre-pandemic numbers released in March 2020. Now that people are being vaccinated at higher rates, state officials believe the economy will start speeding up. 

“We can see the light at the end of the tunnel as the vaccines are being distributed and we work to safely reopen key sectors of our economy,” said Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “We are fortunate to have a strong pipeline of economic development projects that are injecting much needed capital investment and new jobs into our communities.” 

By comparison, Virginia’s unemployment rate ranks 23rd in the nation. 

More Virginia Students Head Back to Class

Dogwood Download: Things You Should Know For Tuesday, March 16
Whos heading back to class Heres a look at Virginias school districts Photo courtesy of Virginia Dep of Education

More students are heading back to class across Virginia. For example, before this week, 98,000 staff and students had returned to schools in Fairfax County. Today, the final group joins them. Students in grades 3 through 6 return to in-person instruction today in the county.

The only students left remote are those whose parents opted to keep them in that program for the rest of the semester. Fairfax County even feels confident enough to open up playground equipment during recess.

District staff responded to a question on this one, saying “students will adhere to mitigation strategies before and after use.” That means staying six feet apart from each other and wearing masks. Staff members will also clean the equipment after each use.

Carter Asks State to Randomize Candidate Names

One candidate for governor is asking that names on this year’s primary ballots be randomized. Del. Lee Carter pointed out that per state law, candidates could start submitting their petitions March 8 at noon. However, the Virginia Dept. of Elections didn’t set up an online submission system, as they said they would in the Candidate Bulletin.

That meant candidates had to submit in person. As a result, those closer to the Department of Elections had an advantage, Carter argued, and a better chance of being first. Names on the ballot are typically placed in order of who submitted first.

That is, in every case except the presidential primaries. Virginia law requires those names to be randomized. Carter argued that all primaries, not just the presidential, need to be randomized.

“We originally sued to randomize the candidate names as a matter of principle and fairness,” Carter said. “Since DOE failed to implement an electronic submission system last Monday, randomization has become essential to the integrity of this year’s process.”

Carter is one of five Democrats and 16 candidates overall to compete in this year’s governor’s race.

Washington County Wipes The Slate Clean For Some Fines

If you returned a book late, brought it back with some damage or did something else to earn a fine from the Washington County Library System, you’re in luck. The group decided Monday to wipe the slate clean and start over.

That covers fines at all the system’s libraries in Abingdon, Damascus, Glade Spring, Hayters Gap and Mendota. Now you still can’t actually venture inside any of the buildings. Those are still closed to the public. However, the library system has a curbside pickup service set up in each location.

For more information, or just to check out pickup times, you can click here.

#ThisIsVirginia Series Continues For Dogwood

If you’re new to the Download, you may be staring at this and saying ok, it’s an Instagram picture with a story attached. This is part of our #ThisIsVirginia series, which runs each day on our Instagram feed.

Every day, we go snap photos of people in some part of the Commonwealth and ask them to share a story of some kind. It can be about their life, their family or something they heard. This is meant to be a snapshot of sorts into the wide variety of people who call the Commonwealth home.

Just A Reminder, Your Stimulus Check is Safe

No, the system hasn’t crashed. Yes, your stimulus check is safe. IRS officials are trying to clarify that, after Sunday’s rollout didn’t exactly go as planned. Even though the IRS site’s live now, it may take several days before you can check the status of your check, as I explain here.

Yesterday’s Trivia Answer: Why Were Roller Coasters Invented?

It sounds crazy, but roller coasters were built to save people from the devil. Yes, that devil, the one in the Bible. To explain this one, we go back to 1884. LaMarcus Thompson was fed up with “sinful” businesses like saloons and brothels. To get people away from those places, he came up with the Switchback Gravity Railway.

For five cents, anyone could ride the new invention, which Thompson built at Brooklyn’s Coney Island. Now let’s be clear though, these first rides were a bit…different. They went less than six miles an hour and instead of a thrilling ride, the cars went through some painted landscapes. You could travel through the Swiss Alps, for example.

Why Tents? Montgomery County Schools Use Unique Anti-Viral Methods

Montgomery County Schools kept in-person instruction going when most other districts shut it down. How? By using a variety of unique virus mitigation methods as Ashley Spinks Dugan explains

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