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Speaker plans to reconvene House outdoors April 22

Virginia continues to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak as best we can.

Gov. Ralph Northam has closed beaches, entertainment venues, and many other non-essential places of commerce. In the meantime, the commonwealth continues to see a steady growth in confirmed cases, and sadly, deaths.

The CDC now recommends those who leave their homes use some sort of face covering — either a cloth mask, a bandana, or some other fabric that covers the mouth and nose consistently. N95 and surgical masks should be reserved for front-line medical providers, but as the surgeon general said at a recent briefing, something is better than nothing.

Masks can be made from something as simple as a T-shirt, and a cottage industry of mask makers has sprung up overnight on online stores such as Etsy. Other guidelines remain the same; stay at home as much as you can, and wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds frequently.

RECONVENE SESSION

Madam Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn asked for the caucus’ input on how best to proceed on April 22 but has decided that the session will go forward outdoors somehow. Leadership learned of this decision through the press and will pass on any information we receive as soon as it is made available to us.

Legislators, businesses, and advocacy groups have all asked the governor to veto or delay the implementation of the anti-business legislation passed during the 2019 session. Virginia is facing one of the most serious economic downturns in our history. Congress is actively working to remove burdens from small businesses. The General Assembly shouldn’t be doing the exact opposite.

EASTER CHURCH SERVICES

We have received a number of questions regarding the attendance of religious services. Guidance on attending religious services can be found on the Commonwealth of Virginia Coronavirus FAQ page.

Attendees may travel to their place of worship, park in the parking lot and listen to the religious message while remaining in their vehicles. Participants must remain in their vehicle at all times, except as necessary to visit a restroom. There must be no more than 10 individuals leading the religious ceremony or functioning outside of the church in support of the religious ceremony.

Any interaction by the faith leaders and those in the vehicles must be strictly limited, such as using social distancing methods when passing out palms, serving Holy Communion using sealed or self-contained elements, and priests directing congregants to place ashes or water on their own forehead as opposed to priests applying the ashes or water directly on the foreheads of the congregants.

Any objects used for collecting monetary offerings shall not be passed from attendee to attendee but may be offered to attendees in a vehicle as long as the object stays in the possession of the person assisting with collection. Appropriate measures should be taken for the safety of those functioning outside of the cars. Faith communities should also adhere to any noise ordinances.

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

In the previous week, more than 114,000 individuals have filed unemployment claims in Virginia. The Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) is moving swiftly to expand its capacity to deal with the surge in claims. The VEC has upgraded its website, expanded server capacity, and will be increasing call center staffing by 20%.

FEDERAL MENTAL

HEALTH RESOURCES

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’s (SAMHSA) Disaster Distress Helpline — 1-800-985-5990 (or text TalkWithUs to 66746) — provides 24/7 crisis counseling and support to anyone who is seeking help in coping with the mental or emotional effects caused by developments related to the coronavirus pandemic.

DISTRIBUTION OF

ECONOMIC PAYMENTS

Distribution of economic impact payments to individuals will begin in the next three weeks and will be distributed automatically, with no action required for most people. Social security recipients, who are not typically required to file a tax return, will automatically receive economic impact payments.

My office is continually monitoring the situation and will continue to provide you with updates as we receive them.

DEL. C. MATTHEW FARISS represents Buckingham in the Virginia House of Delegates. His email address is DelMFariss@house.virginia.gov.