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Northam announces COVID vaccine funding, holds roundtable with Southwest Virginia stakeholders

Published: Oct. 23, 2020 at 4:33 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Friday, Governor Ralph Northam announced $22 million in federal CARES Act funding will help distribute COVID vaccines in Virginia once one is ready.

But a vaccine will not repair all the damage done by the pandemic.

That’s why Northam is virtually touring the state to learn more about how his administration can help.

“We’re here to listen. We don’t have monopolies on ideas here in Richmond," he said.

In his conversation with community stakeholders, organized by the United Way of Southwest Virginia, a major point of emphasis was broadband expansion.

“We’re in the digital divide here in Southwest Virginia," said UVA Wise Chancellor Donna Henry.

While broadband is also an issue highlighted by this pandemic in Pulaski County, mental health complications and drug overdoses are even more alarming concerns for County Administrator Jonathan Sweet.

“We’ve had 75 total COVID-19 hospitalizations in the New River Health District since the pandemic has begun and we’ve had 86 emergency room hospitalizations because of overdoses in the New River Health District in just the three months of June, July, and August," said Sweet.

For Josh Lewis, the Executive Director of Virginia’s Industrial Advancement Alliance, returning to Virginia’s pre-COVID unemployment rate of 2.6 percent is a top priority that could take some time.

“Moving forward into the recovery process is understanding how do we close the gap between urban and rural. Right now, they’re projecting about a three year difference from the time that we get back to pre-COVID levels of employment compared to the urban areas," said Lewis.

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