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Harrisonburg's Mayor On Free COVID-19 Testing, And Why Residents Should Continue To Stay At Home

Deanna Reed is Mayor of Harrisonburg.  WMRA’s Bob Leweke spoke with her Monday morning (May 4), and started by asking for her view on why the city has had one of the highest concentrations of COVID-19 reported in Virginia.

REED: Well, there are a number of factors that could contribute to that number. One of which is of course the outbreak that occurred at Accordius Health. That accounted for roughly 100 positive cases, or nearly 25% of all of our positive tests. And you also have to factor in the amount of testing that has taken place here. Such as, every resident at Accordius Health center was tested for the virus, and that was one of the first times that full testing has taken place at a Virginia long-term care facility. And we should expect over the next several days, our numbers will go up because of the free testing in the two communities that we had this past Saturday. So all of that being said, we have seen too many positive tests here, and we need everyone to follow the correct steps to help reduce the spread in our city.

LEWEKE: Well I wanted to ask you about that testing on Saturday. The city sponsored mobile testing units in a couple of neighborhoods, one of them was the Mosby Court area and also the Northeast neighborhood. Can you tell me a little bit more about how that went and if you plan on expanding it?

REED: So that effort was a partnership between the city, the state, and Sentara healthcare, that that looks to increase testing and awareness in diverse community. The testing, as you stated, was in Mosby Court and actually my neighborhood that I grew up in, the Northeast neighborhood. The testing of both communities was very successful. I was there, me and Vice Mayor Romero was present, at Northeast, but we also visited Mosby. We had 83 people who tested, total and in those communities. These sites were selected because of their cultural diversity and we will continue to work with the state to get more tests with similar neighborhoods in our city.

LEWEKE: Is that partly due to some of the reporting that we're seeing, and of course this is around the country but also in Virginia, that communities of color are getting hit harder by COVID-19? Is this part of a process that the Virginia department of health is taking part in to address that issue?

REED: Absolutely. And we're very aware of that. And so we partnered, I'm pretty sure that you know that Governor Northam has a Health Equity work group that is led by Dr Janice Underwood, who is his chief director of diversity in his office, and so yeah. That's exactly why those neighborhoods were chosen and we do look forward to having more testing done in our culturally diverse neighborhoods.

LEWEKE: How is Harrisonburg dealing with reduced revenues caused by the economic downturn and what cuts if any do you think will have to be made to city services?

REED: Right, right. Well I can say our city manager, our finance director executive leadership team, are currently looking at ways to reduce operating expenses. Not only for the remainder of this fiscal year, which runs through June, but the next fiscal year in July. Tomorrow, City council has another budget work session, when we will discuss more of these efforts. You know, we don't know what we're really facing. We know that we got some challenges ahead of us. We know that once we approve this budget this month that there's a great chance that our budget is going to have to be amended, once we get our numbers in as to how much money we're losing. And so it's just a challenging time for all of us. But I can say that our city manager, he is working very hard to make sure that we do what is needed to make sure that we do what is needed to make sure that our city rebounds as much as possible from the challenges of COVID-19.

LEWEKE: Well Governor Northam is expected to announce next steps on reopening Virginia's economy sometime today. We may know about that before this interview actually airs. But I do want to go ahead and ask you, although that Virginians overall have been heading the governor's staying home and business closure orders for the most part. It seems to be some growing impatience with that, do you think it's nearing the time to begin relaxing those restrictions, and if not why not?

REED: No, I don’t. I think that especially here in Harrisonburg, I personally feel like we haven’t met our peak yet. And I know people here are anxious. It’s a beautiful day outside today and I know people want to get outside. But we still have a long way to go. We will continue to follow the Governor's direction and enforcing the stay at home order and recommendations for social distancing. Now is not the time to change course. Once those orders are removed, we will consider what steps we will take locally based on what trends we are observing at the time. But I will continue to say that we still have to be responsible for each other. And until those… until we have the… like you said, we might know more today when the governor gives his press conference.  But until we know that those orders have been removed and it's going to keep our city healthy and safe, we should continue to practice social distancing. Only go out when needed. And I'm asking everyone, and this is my personal recommendation, that everyone please wear a mask when they have to go out and public.

LEWEKE: Deanna Reed is Mayor of Harrisonburg. Mayor Reed, thank you very much for your time today. I really appreciate it.

REED: Thank you so much. Stay well.

Bob Leweke is WMRA's News Director and Morning Edition host.