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Local
State adds some new vaccine information to website, but details on distribution still lacking

The Virginia Department of Health added information Tuesday to its COVID-19 vaccine dashboard that shows how many doses hospitals, health departments, long-term care facilities and others have put into arms, but it doesn’t provide much in the way of details.

While the department reports that it has distributed 773,825 doses, it does not show who received the vaccine vials.

The state reports that 200,402 doses have gone into arms, and that it believes this figure to be an undercount. But the only window it provides on the other half-million unaccounted-for doses is found in a distribution chart showing that about 130,000 doses have been shipped to vaccinators since Sunday.

While Virginians can now view a daily count that shows, for example, that local health departments have administered 42,456 doses, there is no corresponding information to say how many doses have been distributed to those local health departments, or when.

How to sign up for COVID-19 vaccines

Each of Virginia’s health districts is responsible for determining how best to safely and efficiently administer their allotments of COVID-19 vaccines in their areas based on their partners and resources.

Accounting for the distribution and administration of the doses has been fuzzy. Gov. Ralph Northam has promised more transparency but said it would take time.

A month into the most massive public vaccination campaign in U.S. history, the department reports that 19,086 Virginians are now fully vaccinated with both doses and that 181,316 had received at least one dose.

Until Monday, only health care workers and long-term care residents and staff were eligible for the vaccine. Parts of Virginia, including the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts and the New River Health District, are also now starting to vaccinate other essential workers who are at high risk of exposure and people 75 and older who are at high risk of serious illness from the virus.

Dr. Cynthia Morrow, director of the Roanoke and Alleghany districts, said Tuesday that doses have been limited and that this week she received enough to give 1,500 people their first dose and 300 their second.

She places an order each week but is not guaranteed that she will receive that number of doses or that they will arrive in time for scheduled clinics.

The districts have been holding clinics for first responders in the Roanoke Valley on Tuesdays and Thursdays and give out 600 appointments for each. Other, smaller clinics take place in Craig County and Covington.

Morrow said they are using a computer system that quickly reports to the state how many doses were given, but even that can be an undercount. Last week, for example, some of the district’s doses were redistributed to health care providers, so while they ended up in arms, the doses don’t show up as having been administered by the district.

Other health districts are using paper records, which delays reporting.

The vaccinators receive large shipments -- which show up in the state’s numbers as having been distributed -- but then are using them over the next week to 10 days. They also have an additional three days to report that the shots were given.

Morrow said the health districts are helping pharmacies and health care providers file the necessary paperwork to become COVID-19 vaccinators so shipments can be sent directly to them, increasing the places people can go for their shots.

“The more options people will have to be vaccinated, while it takes a little more time in the beginning, we will be able to get to more people more effectively, and in a more sustainable way,” she said.

However, the doses are still limited.

She said her next order will ask for more doses, but she expects every other district also is asking for more.

“All of us are very hopeful the vaccine supply will open up,” she said.

The dashboard on Tuesday showed that hospitals had given out 105,191 doses; health departments, 42,456; long-term care facilities, 22,375; medical practices, 12,779; pharmacies, 1,613; and other community providers, 15,988.

The demographic breakdown of those who have received the vaccines shows that 7 out of 10 people are between the ages of 30 and 59, and that more than two-thirds are women. The race and ethnicity data is lacking for about two-thirds of people.

Only 16,550 people age 70 or older have been given the vaccine, according to the dashboard.


Politics
House races to oust Trump (copy)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House pressed forward Tuesday toward impeaching President Donald Trump for the deadly Capitol attack, taking time only to try to persuade his vice president to push him out first. Trump showed no remorse, blaming impeachment itself for the “tremendous anger” in America.

Already scheduled to leave office next week, Trump is on the verge of becoming the only president in history to be twice impeached. His incendiary rhetoric at a rally ahead of the Capitol uprising is now in the impeachment charge against him, even as the falsehoods he spread about election fraud are still being championed by some Republicans.

Three Republicans, however, including third-ranking House GOP leader Liz Cheney of Wyoming, announced they would vote to impeach Trump, cleaving the party’s leadership.

“The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” said Cheney in a statement. “There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”

Reps. John Katko of New York, a former federal prosecutor, and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, an Air Force veteran, said they, too, would vote to impeach.

As lawmakers reconvened at the Capitol for the first time since the bloody siege, they were also bracing for more violence ahead of Democratic President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration Jan. 20.

“All of us have to do some soul searching,” said Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, imploring other Republicans to join.

Trump, meanwhile, warned the lawmakers off impeachment and suggested it was the drive to oust him that was dividing the country.

“To continue on this path, I think it’s causing tremendous danger to our country, and it’s causing tremendous anger,” Trump said.

In his first remarks to reporters since last week’s violence, the outgoing president offered no condolences for those dead or injured, only saying, “I want no violence.”

Trump on Tuesday took no responsibility for his part in fomenting a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last week, despite his comments encouraging supporters to march on the Capitol and praise for them while they were still carrying out the assault.

“People thought that what I said was totally appropriate,” Trump said. He made the comments during his first appearance in public since the Capitol siege, which came as lawmakers were tallying Electoral College votes affirming Biden’s victory. Trump arrived in Texas on Tuesday to trumpet his campaign against illegal immigration in an attempt to burnish his legacy with eight days remaining in his term, as lawmakers in Congress appeared set to impeach him this week for the second time.

Impeachment ahead, the House was first pressing Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet to remove Trump more quickly and surely, warning he is a threat to democracy in the few remaining days of his presidency.

The House was expected to approve a resolution calling on Pence and the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to the Constitution to declare the president unable to serve. Pence, who had a “good meeting” with Trump on Monday, their first since the vice president was among those sheltering from the attack, was not expected to take any such action.

After that, the House would move swiftly to impeachment on Wednesday.

Trump faces a single charge — “incitement of insurrection” — in the impeachment resolution after the most serious and deadly domestic incursion at the Capitol in the nation’s history.

During an emotional debate ahead of the House action, Rep. Norma Torres, D-Calif., urged her Republican colleagues to understand the stakes, recounting a phone call from her son as she fled during the siege.

“Sweetie, I’m OK,” she told him. “I’m running for my life.”

But Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a top Trump ally just honored this week at the White House, refused to concede that Biden won the election outright.

Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., tied such talk to the Capitol attack, interjecting, “People came here because they believed the lie.”

A handful of other House Republicans could vote to impeach, but in the narrowly divided Senate there are not expected to be the two-thirds votes to convict him, though some Republicans say it’s time for Trump to resign.

The unprecedented events, with just over a week remaining in Trump’s term, are unfolding in a nation bracing for more unrest. The FBI has warned ominously of potential armed protests in Washington and many states by Trump loyalists ahead of Biden’s inauguration and Capitol Police warned lawmakers to be on alert. The inauguration ceremony on the west steps of the Capitol will be off limits to the public.

Lawmakers will be required to pass through metal detectors to enter the House chamber, not far from where Capitol police, guns drawn, had barricaded the door against the rioters.

The final days of Trump’s presidency will be like none other as Democrats, and a small number of Republicans try to expel him after he incited the mob that violently ransacked the Capitol last Wednesday.

A Capitol police officer died from injuries suffered in the riot, and police shot a woman during the violence. Three other people died in what authorities said were medical emergencies.


Education
Sanghanis' $10 million gift to help Virginia Tech's Northern Virginia campus take shape

Virginia Tech is renaming a data research center at its new campus in Northern Virginia for alumni Mehul and Hema Sanghani after the couple donated $10 million to the university.

The Sanghani Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics will be headquartered in the first academic building at Tech’s Innovation Campus in Alexandria. Most of the gift — $7.4 million — will go toward recruitment, research and fellowships at the center, which has operated since 2011 with space in Blacksburg and Northern Virginia. A Sanghani Center scholars program will also fund scholarships for underrepresented minority students to pursue graduate degrees with a focus on artificial intelligence, the university said.

Tech President Tim Sands is set to announce the news at his State of the University address Wednesday afternoon.

“This gift fuels growing momentum as we expand the university’s footprint in the greater D.C. area and explore the human-computing frontier,” Sands said in a statement. “The Sanghanis’ investments in data analytics and artificial intelligence will advance Virginia Tech as a catalyst for discovery, growth, and opportunity.”

The $1 billion campus in Northern Virginia aims to boost the university’s profile as a leader in computer science and engineering. State officials have cited Tech’s Innovation Campus as a key reason why Amazon chose Virginia for its second headquarters. In an agreement with the state, Tech has committed to produce more than 16,000 computer science graduates by 2040, including 750 master’s degree students at the new campus by decade’s end.

“As the Innovation Campus launches, the Sanghanis’ gift will enable us to be more ambitious in our research and education objectives,” Naren Ramakrishnan, director of the Sanghani Center and a professor of engineering at Tech, said in a statement. “These funds will be used to create endowments to support the recruitment of top-notch academic and research faculty, launch new educational programs, pursue high-risk seed projects, and recruit promising Ph.D. students.”

Construction on the Sanghani Center is set to begin this year, with the building expected to open in August 2024. The 11-story building, designed by the architecture firm SmithGroup, has a largely glass facade of soaring, angled sides.

Mehul Sanghani, a 1998 alumnus and a member of Tech’s Board of Visitors, is the founder of Octo Consulting, a Reston-based company that provides technology services to the federal government. Hema Sanghani, a 1999 alumna, is a manager at CGI Federal, Inc., which provides IT services to federal agencies.

“With Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus coming online, we were presented with the unique opportunity to be part of growing our university’s standing as a world class institution that uses innovation — specifically artificial intelligence and data analytics — to transform our society for the greater good,” Mehul Sanghani said in a statement.

The university said $1.5 million of the couple’s gift is earmarked for a new student food pantry that Tech announced in September. The remaining contribution will support Virginia Tech Athletics and a Global Business and Analytics Complex that will be constructed on the Blacksburg campus.


Local
Blacksburg Town Council passes gun ban in town buildings

The Blacksburg Town Council voted 7-0 Tuesday to ban the carrying of firearms in its municipal buildings and other public places such as streets during festivals.

Passage of the ordinance makes Blacksburg one of several Virginia localities that have taken such action — something localities can now do based on a local option measure passed by the General Assembly last year and that took effect in July.

Other localities that have passed a similar measure include Fairfax County and the cities of Alexandria and Newport News. Roanoke is considering a similar ordinance.

Some council members cited the painful memory of April 16, 2007.

“Finally we are empowered to vote on an ordinance that many, many of our residents have been requesting for years,” said Councilwoman Susan Anderson, who recalled being on the Tech campus with her students during the 2007 shooting.

Anderson clarified that she doesn’t view lawful carriers “evil or violent.”

But she’s not sure “all of them understand the fear and discomfort they cause some other folks in our town,” she said. “This message of fear has been dominant in many messages to me.”

Anderson’s colleagues echoed some of her points.

“I do not believe carrying weapons into town buildings to conduct town business adds anything to our civil discourse,” said Councilwoman Lauren Colliver.

Town Attorney Larry Spencer said the new ordinance will go into effect March 1.

Other places where firearms will be banned are town parks and town-owned recreational facilities.

Regarding the ordinance’s effect on streets, Spencer clarified that the ban would be in effect during permitted events. One such event will be the annual Steppin’ Out festival, which has in the past been linked to gun rights debates.

Several speakers on Tuesday showed both support and opposition for the measure.

Blacksburg resident Steven Gillespie praised the town for pushing the measure, especially amid the current political climate.

“I commend you for it,” he said.

Town resident David McGrath also voiced support.

“I’m suspicious of a lot of people’s desire to carry guns in public,” he said. “I think this ordinance could save lives.”

Opponents, however, voiced concerns about the ordinance stripping them of their ability to protect themselves.

“When I carry it has nothing to do with any intimidation. It’s only for the preservation of my life in a situation I deem … is a clear threat to my life,” said Christiansburg resident Scott Bunn, who added that he still considers Blacksburg home due to how frequently he is in there.

Bunn said he’s not sure he’ll still feel safe going to town events. He also criticized the council’s unanimous support of the measure.

“When no one’s thinking different, no one’s thinking,” he said. “You’re making the good guy a criminal.”


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