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Hokies 2020 football schedule overhauled as ACC makes pandemic-related adjustments

Throw out those 2020 Virginia Tech football schedules.

Same goes for the Virginia Cavaliers.

The ACC announced Wednesday a new scheduling model for the 2020 season that consists of 11 games — including an unprecedented 10 conference games. The league, which made these changes due to concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic, will begin play the week of Sept. 7-12.

Each team will also be permitted one nonconference game that must be played within the home state of the ACC school.

And there’s one other twist: Notre Dame will also play a 10-game ACC schedule this season and be eligible for the conference championship game.

All 15 members will be thrown in one division, with the top two teams based on conference winning percentage facing off in the ACC Championship game, which will be held on Dec. 12 or Dec. 19 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.

In a press release sent out Wednesday afternoon, the ACC said the scheduling model came out of discussions over the last several months between member schools and the league’s COVID-19 medical advisory group.

The advisory group also outlined minimum standards for the return of fall sports — they put out a seven-page document Wednesday — that recommended weekly testing of football players within three days of each game.

“The Board’s decision presents a path, if public health guidance allows, to move forward with competition,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said. “Our institutions are committed to taking the necessary measures to facilitate the return in a safe and responsible manner. We recognize that we may need to be nimble and make adjustments in the future. We will be as prepared as possible should that need arise.”

Virginia Tech’s athletic department released a brief statement Wednesday, but declined to make athletic director Whit Babcock or head football coach Justin Fuente available to answer questions. Babcock has declined multiple requests to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 on the athletic department and the upcoming fall season going back to a brief virtual press conference in early April.

“We support the ACC’s decision to proceed with a planned 10+1 model for the 2020 football season, as well as the plan for other fall sports,” the statement said. “We will continue to follow standards established by the State of Virginia, Virginia Tech and Montgomery County public health officials as we continue our preparations.”

Virginia Tech is now scheduled to play home games against Boston College, Clemson, Miami, N.C. State and Virginia and road games against Duke, Louisville, North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Wake Forest. The Hokies’ original 2020 conference schedule included Coastal Division rival Georgia Tech at Lane Stadium, which has been eliminated. The N.C. State and Clemson games are new.

The dates and times will be determined later. The games will be played over a 13-week period, with each team having two open dates.

Virginia Tech’s original 2020 schedule included nonconference home games with Liberty, North Alabama and Penn State, with a road game at Middle Tennessee State. The Penn State game was canceled in early July when the Big Ten announced it was moving to a conference-only schedule for the 2020 season.

Middle Tennessee was scheduled to play at Duke on Sept. 5 in the season-opener and host Tech on Sept. 19. Neither school gave the Blue Raiders any advanced notice of the ACC’s decision Wednesday.

While the timing of the announcement came as a surprise, the school had been planning for the possibility of losing the games in recent months given the “unprecedented” nature of the situation.

“This was one of many scenarios we have gone through concerning our schedule, and I hope to have more clarity in the near future as this news was just released,” Middle Tennessee athletic director Chris Massaro said in a statement. “Unfortunately, this is not very surprising, but is disappointing as our players and fans look forward to games like these.”

An athletic department spokesperson for Liberty told The Roanoke Times on Wednesday that the Flames were hoping to keep the game against Virginia Tech along with two other ACC matchups with Syracuse and N.C. State.

“We are still talking to the administration with all three ACC schools we were scheduled to play about rescheduling those games,” the spokesperson said. “The one thing we know for certain is that we won’t play Virginia Tech on Sept. 5 — that’s not within the parameters of their league — but as of right now the other two are on the current schedule. We are still talking about those games being played in 2020.”

Liberty athletic director Ian McCaw has previously stated that the Flames still hope to play a 12-game schedule.

Virginia Tech’s players are currently on campus, going through walk-throughs and meetings, with fall camp expected to officially start the week of Aug. 9. Players started coming back to campus in June for voluntary workouts.

The Roanoke Times confirmed with multiple sources that players were tested when they returned to campus and isolated until they got results. Tech has declined to reveal any virus-related testing results campus-wide.

Longtime Roanoke Valley radio voice Larry Dowdy prepares to step away from the mic

For the past 47 years, Larry Dowdy has been behind a microphone in a radio booth, or on-air with a television crew.

This morning, he is broadcasting for the final time.

Dowdy is retiring from WLNI-FM (105.7 FM), in Lynchburg, where he has spent the past five years doing a morning news talk show. Hear the broadcast at, but don’t expect a big to-do during his 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. slot, “The Morning Line with Larry Dowdy & Kenny Shelton.”

“I’m not a big person on goodbyes,” Dowdy, 63, said. “I’m like till the last day, let’s keep the show as close to what we normally do as possible. I probably will mention it, just after we come on the air at 6, and I definitely will mention it like the last 5 minutes of the show, just to thank the listeners.

“These folks get up, they start their day, they take time to text or call in to be part of the show. That means a lot to me.”

They’ve risen to hear Dowdy on the air in a variety of Roanoke-based settings, including the old WROV-AM, K92 (WXLK-FM, 92.3), Star Country (WSLC-FM, 94.9) and Sunny FM, even TV for a few years on television on WDBJ (Channel 7). Dowdy got his start at WROV while he was a student at the former Jefferson High School in Roanoke.

Dowdy said he didn’t have a specific reason for leaving, but he looks forward to spending more time with his wife of 31 years, Glenna.

“I’ve always felt guilty about how time-consuming this job is,” he said. “Typically I’m up at 1:45 [a.m.]. Out the door by 3. In the building by 4, sometimes earlier. You’re looking for soundbites. You’re looking for things. People don’t realize the show prep, doing your homework, that goes into doing something like this.”

He and newsman Shelton banter about news and trivia, and take calls and text messages during a shift that precedes shows from Brian Kilmeade, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

During the first half of Tuesday’s show, Dowdy speculated that Gov. Ralph Northam’s tightening of coronavirus-related restrictions in Hampton Roads might lead the voters there to join those in central and Southwest Virginia, voting Republican in November. Dowdy played soundbites from Attorney General William Barr’s Monday hearing in front of Congress, and opined that “Barr is going to get even” with Democrats who had made the country “a laughingstock.”

In between calls and texts, they discussed an elderly man who had gone missing in Forest, only to be found in South Carolina. That sparked a conversation about such medical issues as Alzheimer’s disease. The possibility that an Apple Watch or Fitbit could help indicate whether its wearer has COVID-19 was on the agenda, too.

“Believe me, I never thought I’d do news talk,” Dowdy said. “Never! In fact, it you’d told me 10 years ago I’d be doing news talk one day, I’d tell you you’re out of your mind. I learned to appreciate the format. I learned to appreciate opinions of people, listeners. And I’m still amazed at the phone calls that come in to a news talk station. The volume of calls is what you used to get in top 40 radio, and that’s not the case anymore, unless you’re giving away a new car.”

COVID has been a hot topic, of course, as has the presidency of Donald Trump, he said.

“Ever since President Trump got into office, I had no idea how easy my job was going to be. You can’t write it. You can’t make it up.”

It may not have been the job he wanted, but it was a job he needed after iHeartRadio’s Sunny FM (WSNV-FM, 93.5) unceremoniously bounced him five years ago. His friend Brett Sharp, at Roanoke-based Mel Wheeler Inc., told him the company had recently bought WLNI. Soon, Dowdy was making the Roanoke-to-Lynchburg commute.

That flexibility was no surprise to Dowdy’s longtime friend, Mike Stevens, the longtime WDBJ sportscaster who is now Salem’s communications director. Stevens began his Roanoke Valley career in radio in 1983 at K92. He got the job there because there was an opening — Dowdy had just taken a gig in Baltimore.

About a year later, Dowdy returned to the valley, and for another year, the two worked together on K92’s morning show. There, Stevens found that his new colleague prepared like no other he has seen since in the radio business.

“The thing about Larry that superseded anybody that I ever worked with was the amount of time he put into preparation for a show, what they call show prep,” Stevens said. “No one could touch Larry Dowdy. He was on his game every time he got behind the microphone.”

The two became close, with Dowdy becoming one of Stevens’ mentors, and Stevens serving as Dowdy’s best man. Dowdy would join Stevens at WDBJ from 1992 to 1997, when Dowdy was part of the “News 7 Morning” show.

“Radio is theater of the mind, but with TV, your mind can see it, so you gotta add to it,” Dowdy said. “I’ll tell you, I had a ball at Channel 7. We were at a different location five days a week, and I got to see a whole lot of Virginia. It was fun, but I decided after five and a half years, so many shows on the road, let’s slow it down a little bit.”

Dowdy kept that sense of preparation, constantly keeping an eye on a phone or pad for news notifications that might work for “The Morning Line.” He said it will take a while to get past that impulse. As for the possibility of sleeping in, there is a feline complication. The Dowdys have three cats, and one of them, Michael, likes to rise with Larry.

“He’s an alarm clock,” Dowdy said. “He’ll start at 1:30, and come in again at 1:40. If you’re not up by 2:20, he’s squawking a storm. He wants his breakfast.”

Sounds like a talk radio topic.

Photos: Larry Dowdy signs off Thursday after a 47-year career on radio and TV

COVID outbreaks at Virginia's psychiatric hospitals kill 5, infect dozens

Virginia’s mental health agency is dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks at three psychiatric hospitals and a training center that have infected dozens of patients and employees and have caused five deaths.

Most of the state’s psychiatric hospitals have more patients than capacity and are operating at critical levels, said Alison Land, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services. She and Dr. Daniel Carey, the state’s secretary of health, last week wrote a three-page letter to lawmakers asking for help.

Piedmont Geriatric Hospital in Nottoway County has stopped admitting new patients.

“Unfortunately, we have had five deaths at this hospital related to COVID outcomes,” Angela Harvell, deputy commissioner for facility services, said in a Wednesday phone interview.

Six of Piedmont’s patients are now in a medical hospital. Another 18 patients are infected and remain at the Burkeville psychiatric hospital. Nine staff members also have tested positive for the virus.

“They just recently tested all the other patients at this facility, and they were negative. So the outbreak was contained to one unit, so we were fortunate in that regard,” she said.

The other state psychiatric facilities with outbreaks are Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg, Southern Virginia Mental Hospital in Danville, and the Southeastern Virginia Training Center in Chesapeake. Western State Hospital in Staunton has one patient and two staff members who tested positive, but it is not considered as having an outbreak.

Until now, the state hospitals had seen only isolated cases among staff or patients.

“We were closed to visitors early on in the process. In doing so, we believe we were able to delay as much as possible outbreaks in our facilities for several months,” Harvell said.

Land said the hospitals were able to lower their census numbers early in the pandemic, but admissions began to rise rapidly as Virginia began to lift pandemic-imposed restrictions.

“If you remember before the community started reopening, most everybody stayed at home,” Land said. “I really think it is more prevalent in the community and people are out more.”

She said the hospitals screen staff and take temperatures, but if workers are infected and without symptoms they bring the disease into the facilities.

Eastern State has 16 staff members and six patients with infections. Harvell said the National Guard is doing a point prevalence survey to determine if others are affected. The results are pending.

Southern Virginia Mental Hospital is caring for seven positive patients and has transferred another patient to a medical hospital. The department is working with the Virginia Department of Health to get all tested.

At the Southeastern Virginia Training Center, five residents and four staff members tested positive.

“We are fortunate in the layout of that facility in that there are 15 separate homes with five beds each. So it’s a little bit easier to isolate, and assign staff specifically to that area,” Harvell said.

The state’s psychiatric hospitals serve as the bed of last resort when people are going through a crisis and need inpatient mental health treatment, and a private hospital won’t take them.

At the start of the pandemic, private psychiatric hospitals reduced their capacity both to put more distance between patients. Their goal was lessening the spread and freeing up space, staff and supplies for anticipated COVID patients.

Land said some of the private hospitals also ceased admissions after having patients and staff test positive.

Land said her agency early on also decreased the census at its hospitals. Just as people delayed care for physical ailments and stayed away from hospitals, so, too, did those with mental illnesses.

The geriatric hospitals remained full, she said, but the adult beds census dropped to 80% to 85%. But that changed with reopenings.

As of last week, the statewide census was 100%, with six of the eight adult hospitals exceeding 100%.

“Because state hospital beds are only funded at 90 percent capacity, state hospitals are unable to sustain such high census level because of major challenges such as staff burnout, turnover and operational issues,” Land wrote in the letter to lawmakers. While the department isn’t turning patients away, some are experiencing delays and waiting in hospital emergency rooms while staff work to free beds.

Before the pandemic, the state’s hospitals often operated beyond capacity. The department has been rolling out the STEP Virginia plan to build services in the community that are aimed at preventing crises and hospitalization and at supporting patients after discharge so they won’t require readmission.

“We were going in the right direction, and then COVID hit. We had such wonderful things in the budget that of course became unallotted because they had to because of COVID and the revenue gap,” Land said. “So how can we move back to where we can get this funding? We have wonderful plans.”

As virus aid talks stalemate, Trump scorns help for cities

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Wednesday dismissed Democratic demands for aid to cash-strapped cities in a new coronavirus relief package and lashed out at Republican allies as talks stalemated over assistance for millions of Americans. Another lawmaker tested positive for the virus.

Republicans, beset by delays and infighting, signaled a willingness to swiftly approve a modest package to prevent a $600 weekly unemployment benefit from expiring Friday. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., roundly rejected that approach as meager, all but forcing Republicans back to the negotiating table.

“As of now, we’re very far apart,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the White House’s top negotiator.

Stark differences remain between the $3 trillion proposal from Democrats and $1 trillion counter from Republicans, putting aid for millions of communities at risk. Money for states and cites is a crucial dividing line as local governments plead for help to shore up budgets and prevent deeper municipal layoffs as they incur COVID-19 costs and shutdown economies.

Trump complained about sending “big bailout money” to the nation’s cities, whose mayors he often criticizes.

“It’s a shame to reward badly run radical left Democrats with all of this money they’re looking for,” he said at the White House.

Democrats proposed nearly $1 trillion for the local governments, but Trump and Republicans are resisting sending the states and cities more cash.

Instead, the GOP offers states flexibility to more broadly use an earlier $150 billion allotment that had been restricted to virus-only needs. At one point this year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said states could just declare bankruptcy.

Governors and mayors who have been urging Congress for help, warned failure to act would hit hard in local communities.

“If Congress fails to dedicate financial assistance to state and local governments, it will force deep cuts to the very programs workers and families need to get back on their feet,” said Tara Lee, spokeswoman for Gov. Jay Inslee, D-Wash.

Most states have built up reserves since the Great Recession and were meeting current revenue expectations before the pandemic stopped swaths of the economy in its tracks in March.

But as the virus took hold, layoffs have begun. By June, about 1.5 million fewer people were working for governments in the U.S. compared with February, according federal data. More than half the government layoffs have been in education, a sector facing daunting costs as schools prepare to reopen to students.

Congress in March sent $150 billion to the states, big cities and counties, but experts say it’s not nearly enough and didn’t reach smaller jurisdictions. Last month, Moody’s Analytics said states were facing a cumulative budget gap of $312 billion over the next two years and local governments would need nearly $200 billion more. Some estimates have calculated the budget gaps as even bigger.

“These are not fancy actions,” said Nan Whaley, the mayor of Dayton, Ohio, and vice president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. “These are actions around emergency medical providers, fire, police, services the president claims he values.”

It’s clear that Democrats hold sway in the negotiations because Republicans are so deeply divided over the prospect of big government spending.

Trump dismissed the GOP bill as “semi-irrelevant” as his team launched talks with Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

McConnell defended his approach as “serious,” but he was unable to bring his majority on board. Many Republicans started coming around to the White House’s pitch for the fallback plan of a smaller package by Friday.

That’s when the $600 unemployment benefit boost as well as a federal eviction moratorium on millions of rental units expire, potentially sending households into devastating turmoil.

Speaking at the White

House, Trump signaled his interest in reaching a deal and preventing an eviction crisis.

But the president said his GOP allies should “go back to school and learn” after they balked at $1.7 billion for FBI headquarters in the bill. Trump wants the FBI’s central building to remain in Washington, across the street from his Trump International Hotel. McConnell opposed the request as unrelated to virus relief.

But Pelosi showed no interest in going small bore on aid. Asked by reporter what she thinks of that approach Pelosi said, “Nothing. Not even ‘not much.’ Nothing.”

Republicans propose cutting the $600 weekly unemployment benefit bump to reduce it to $200 a week as an incentive to push people back to work. On the eviction freeze put in place in March, Democrats proposed extending it, but Republicans did not include it in their bill and Trump hasn’t specified what he’s willing to do on that.

“There’s no consensus on anything,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

At the Capitol, Pelosi used a zoo metaphor to explain to Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows the gulf between the two bills.

Say you are at the zoo, Pelosi told the White House team late Tuesday during private talks. You see a giraffe. You see a flamingo. These two bills, she said, they “aren’t mateable.”

Schumer called the Democratic approach a lion — a “beautiful lion.”

The conversations were relayed by two people who were not authorized to publicly discuss the private session and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Outspoken Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, who often objects to mask-wearing, became the latest lawmaker at the Capitol to test positive for the virus.