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COLUMN — Virginia was not prepared for vaccinations

Our second full week of the 2021 General Assembly session has come to an end, and I wanted to take a moment to update you on what’s happening in Richmond.

Much of our attention this week was focused on Virginia’s effort to get the COVID vaccine out the door and into the arms of Virginians. Vaccine is finally moving from the federal government to Virginia, but the last mile, getting it out of the freezer and into arms, has been affected with problems.

Our phone lines are jammed with people just like you, desperate for any sort of information about where and how to get the vaccine or even how to get on a waiting list. Unfortunately, Gov. Ralph Northam and his team weren’t prepared for this phase of the pandemic. Other states, like West Virginia and Maryland, have done much better. I’ve heard of some citizens crossing state lines in an effort to bypass the local health departments.

Our local health districts are working as hard as they can, but they received practically no guidance from the governor’s team, leaving them to stand up a mass vaccination program on their own.

The 59th District covers three health districts, Blue Ridge, Central Virginia and Piedmont.

If you live in Buckingham County, please visit https:// www.vdh.virginia.gov/piedmont/.

If you are elderly or know someone elderly who does not have access to the internet, please call my office at (434) 821-5929, and we would be happy to assist. The instant I have more news about how and when you can get vaccinated, I will share it with you.

The Virginia Employment Commission has finished its programming of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance extension program. Qualified workers can once again apply for benefits. Unemployed independent contractors and self-employed workers can now apply for additional benefits through the Gov2Go site. A VEC spokesperson said payments would start Tuesday, Feb. 2.

If you or someone you know is having difficulty with the Virginia Employment Commission, please call my office and staff will assist.

We’re also working hard to get our schools back open as soon as possible. The longer we go with schools closed or in virtual learning, the more we learn about the terrible impact it has on our children.

Stories come into my office every day from teachers and parents who see children languishing on Zoom calls for six hours a day. They’re not learning — they’re just existing. In Las Vegas, a rash of elementary school suicides prompted the district to reopen to help children fight depression.

In Virginia, we’ve seen poor children and children in minority communities fall behind at an unacceptable pace. Some children simply need face-to-face instruction to succeed, and all children deserve the chance to learn in person and be around other children.

That’s one reason I’m supporting a measure that will tie school funding to in-person education resuming. If schools aren’t going to teach our children, they shouldn’t get state funding. The science is clear — schools, with proper procedures in place, are safe for kids and teachers. And just this week we learned that having kids in school may actually slow the spread of COVID by keeping children out of environments with higher rates of transmission.

The clock is ticking, but we’re not going to stop until schools are open again.

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