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Harrisonburg City Council urged to take further measures to protect essential workers

A sign advocating for poultry workers at a Harrisonburg car rally on April 28.
A sign advocating for poultry workers at a Harrisonburg car rally on April 28.(WHSV)
Published: May. 26, 2020 at 11:09 PM EDT
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Callers during Tuesday night's Harrisonburg City Council meeting expressed concerns for the safety of workers throughout the Friendly City.

Many speakers were advocating for poultry plant workers, as well as service industry workers, asking the council members for even more COVID-19 testing in the city.

But council members later explained many opportunities for free testing over the last few weeks and said they've been listening to the stories of essential workers in Harrisonburg.

Jake Krug, an organizer with the Shenandoah Socialist Collective, said they want the council to pressure businesses to follow proper safety procedures and provide the CDC recommended personal protective equipment (PPE) to workers.

"There hasn't been enough done to assure front line workers that you are going to be protected, you are going to have the necessary PPE you need, and we want city council to take a bold stance on that," Krug said.

Krug said he understands people want to get back to work, but the safety of essential workers should be the top priority of businesses and leaders in the city.

Mayor Deanna Reed said the city will continue to offer COVID-19 testing with two testing sites offering up to 500 tests this week.

Testing this week will take place May 28 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.at the parking lot of Faith Community Church and Eastern Mennonite University Commons. Each site will administer up to 250 tests on a first-come, first-served basis.

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May 25:

A socialist collective in the Shenandoah Valley is calling for the city of Harrisonburg to delay its reopening plans amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most of Virginia entered Phase 1 of Governor Ralph Northam's

for reopening on May 15, and it's expected,

, that the governor will make some sort of announcement on Tuesday regarding timing for Phase 2.

If not an announcement on Phase 2, he's expected to announce when Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Accomack County will be able to enter Phase 1. Each of those localities is formally asking to start reopening this coming Friday, May 29, which would mark the minimum two weeks announced when their delays were granted.

a few days before Phase 1 began, and Gov. Northam approved their request. The evening before Phase 1 took effect, the governor also approved

, where local government leaders said their area was not ready to enter Phase 1.

, 1,040 cases of COVID-19 have been identified in the city of Richmond, which has a population of about 227,000.

However, in the Shenandoah Valley, Harrisonburg, with a population of about 50,000, has 727 identified cases, and Rockingham County, with a population of about 82,000, has 467 cases, giving the area some of the highest per capita numbers in Virginia.

With data on the exact locations of outbreaks only available when facilities choose to let the health department release information about them, it's not clear exactly where most cases have been reported in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, but

by letting you see the number of cases confirmed in any particular zip code, not just by locality.

State health commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver has said in several of the governor's COVID-19 briefings that the

are likely connected to outbreaks at poultry plants; however, none of the facilities have confirmed any information about exact case numbers to WHSV.

Due to the high numbers, the Shenandoah Socialist Collective says they're asking Harrisonburg Mayor Deanna Reed and Harrisonburg City Council to request a delay in further implementing Gov. Northam's reopening guidelines.

Northam has repeatedly said in his recent COVID-19 briefings that he is open to granting extension requests to any locality where leaders determine they cannot safely move forward with reopening plans, although he won't grant requests for a locality to reopen faster than other areas.

The socialist collective states, "the essential workers of Harrisonburg are being put in danger without necessary protections all while the number of cases continues to climb."

"Moving too quickly into Phase 1 not only puts these workers at risk, it also forces them to choose between taking that risk to return to work or losing what little unemployment benefits they're already getting," the group continued.

They launched a

that has gained 277 signatures and are pushing for it to be considered at Harrisonburg City Council's May 26 meeting.

Mayor Deanna Reed has previously told WHSV that the city is moving forward with reopening because the higher numbers in our area are because the area has done more testing. Testing within the Central Shenandoah Health District has been among the highest per capita in Virginia, with nearly a thousand more tests administered than in the Richmond health district.

With multiple community testing events that have been set up in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, partially through a partnership between Mayor Reed and Gov. Northam's Health Equity Group, city leaders have expected increases in case totals for the area.

Mayor Reed told WHSV previously that the council would evaluate if there were any dramatic changes in the city's case count after Phase 1 began, but at this point, numbers have stayed fairly steady, without any sudden spikes.

Process is also key when it comes to requesting delays. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney was able to send a request to Gov. Northam because he was elected by voters and Richmond is the only locality in the Commonwealth with a Strong-Mayor system. In Harrisonburg, such a decision would require a vote from the Harrisonburg City Council.

The Rockingham County Department of Fire and Rescue, in partnership with the health department, will host a mobile COVID-19 testing site from 2:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 27, at SRI, located at 140 Research Drive, Harrisonburg, Virginia 22802.

That event will offer more free testing for the area.

If you plan to get tested, you're asked to wear a mask, stay at least six feet away from others at all times, and talk to a healthcare provider if you are having symptoms of COVID-19 such as cough, shortness of breath, and/or a fever.

The City of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County urge all residents to continue following the

on hand-washing and social distancing, as well as to continue following Gov. Northam's Safer at Home order and executive order banning gatherings of more than 10 people.

Earlier this month,

packed with face masks, hand sanitizer, and flyers on prevention in different languages, thanks to donations from the COVID-19 Health Equity Working Group of Virginia’s Unified Command.

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