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Grant to help Roanoke expand COVID-19 education outreach

Grant to help Roanoke expand COVID-19 education outreach

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Roanoke will receive about $50,000 of emergency money from the state to keep residents informed about COVID-19 testing and vaccinations.

The Roanoke City Council accepted the money Tuesday from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management and approved matching funds that will enable health care workers to reach out to non-English speakers and others in need of information.

All told, nearly $100,000 will be spent to support a citywide engagement team to inform people about the availability of tests and vaccines. In partnership with the Virginia Department of Health, the city will provide information through community announcements, schools, nonprofits and health care professionals. The city might be able to send a mobile clinic into specific neighborhoods, City Manager Bob Cowell said.

The grant will provide services through September, Cowell told the council.

Mayor Sherman Lea said that he thinks many people have let their guard down concerning the pandemic, including city school officials. Over the weekend, Lea penned an opinion piece in The Roanoke Times that criticized Roanoke City Public Schools’ decision to allow athletes to play winter sports.

“I don’t think they are getting what is going on with COVID-19,” Lea said, referring to the school board and school administrators.

According to the health department’s online dashboard on Tuesday, 165 people have been hospitalized in Roanoke and 111 people have died from COVID-19.

In other city council business Tuesday:

The council accepted a $20,000 community impact grant from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy geared toward connecting city children from low-income families to nature.

The program will take kids to public lands throughout the region for outdoors experiences that will include mountain biking, caving, camping, kayaking and paddleboarding. Children ages 11-13 will be able to register for the Outdoor Adventure Club through Roanoke Parks and Recreation in the coming weeks. The club also partners with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Virginia, which also provides funds for programs.

Part of the grant is funded by money from the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a controversial natural gas project planned to cross the Appalachian Trail and other public lands. The funds are meant to offset potential environmental damage caused by the pipeline’s construction.

Council member Joe Cobb, who said he was glad to “see something good” come of the pipeline controversy, elicited a few chuckles when he asked: “Are these hikes to show the kids what the pipeline has done to the Appalachian Trail and valley?”

The council approved a resolution in memory of Wendell Butler, a Roanoke dentist and public servant who was the first Black person to serve as school board chairman and second to serve on the city council, where he eventually became the city’s vice mayor. Butler died in November at age 96.

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Ralph Berrier Jr. has worked at The Roanoke Times since 1993. He covers the City of Roanoke and writes the Dadline parenting column.

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