Small businesses and nonprofits in Virginia that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic are now eligible for grants of up to $100,000 from the state under an expanded assistance program announced Wednesday by Gov. Ralph Northam.
The Rebuild VA program launched in August with $70 million in federal coronavirus relief funding, but was restricted to certain kinds of businesses and had a maximum grant amount of $10,000. Eligibility has now been expanded to include virtually all businesses with fewer than 250 employees and revenues under $10 million. Northam has also added $30 million to the fund.
During a news conference in Richmond, Northam noted the impact that the pandemic has had on a wide variety of small businesses. “We are committed to helping them through this difficult time," he said.
Businesses that previously received a Rebuild VA grant can receive a second award correlated with the updated guidelines, the administration said. Details and application information are available at https://www.governor.virginia.gov/rebuildva/.
Also during his wide-ranging news conference, Northam warned that additional restrictions could be coming for Southwest Virginia if the region's number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise. The sparsely populated region currently has the highest seven-day average of new cases in the state, and Northam noted that Ballad Health, which has two hospitals in the region and another in northeast Tennessee, has seen a significant increase in COVID-19 patients. The region also has a current test positivity rate of over 8%, compared with 5% or lower in the rest of the state.
"That, quite frankly, is troubling," Northam said. He noted that contract-tracing efforts indicated the surge has been caused in part by small family gatherings. "Look at these numbers and step up your precautions. Wear face protections."
As coronavirus case numbers increase in other states and countries, so have restrictions, Northam added. "Nobody wants to have to do that, but this virus remains a very real threat. We’re keeping an eye on this."
Northam also noted that the state has stepped up enforcement of its COVID-19 restrictions, especially on restaurants and bars.
"Most people are doing the right thing and they are tired of seeing other folks disregard the rules and disregard the health and safety of other people," he added.
He encouraged Virginians to take precautions around Halloween activities this weekend. "Make good choices. Big crowds are a bad idea. We all need to keep our guard up," he said. "We don’t want Virginia case counts to look like most other states. … We all need to keep doing the right thing."
Other issues addressed by Northam at the news conference included the recent news articles about alleged racism at Virginia Military Institute, his alma mater, a judge's ruling allowing the state to proceed with removing the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue in Richmond, and the upcoming election.
Regarding the election, over 2 million absentee votes have already been cast in Virginia, both in-person and by mail. That represents more than 50% of the total votes cast in the 2016 presidential election.
Dr. Keyanna Conner, the state secretary of administration, who oversees the Department of Elections, said localities have been given a cut-off of 11 p.m. on election night, Nov. 3, to process and count early votes. They will resume counting those votes, as well as any that are delivered after Election Day, until Friday at noon, when they must submit final numbers. Local boards of elections will affirm results on Tuesday, Nov. 10, and the State Board of Elections expects to certify results on Nov. 16, she said.
Northam noted that the large number of early votes and the time required to count them may mean that winners are not known, especially in close races, for several days.
“We’re looking at an election week more than an election night, and that’s nothing to be alarmed about," he said.