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Fredericksburg officials who hosted Virginia first lady this week 'shell-shocked' to learn she tested positive for virus
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Fredericksburg officials who hosted Virginia first lady this week 'shell-shocked' to learn she tested positive for virus

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Shawn Calaman wonders why Virginia first lady Pamela Northam was allowed to tour the preschool his son attends when parents haven’t been able to enter the building since March, in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“I guess the photo opportunity was worth more than protecting our kids,” said Calaman, whose 3-year-old suffers from the aftermath of a respiratory viral infection. “I think the whole reason for her tour was just publicity and media attention.”

Calaman had called Kids’ Station, a preschool, day care and before-school facility for children of Mary Washington Healthcare employees, when he heard that Northam planned to visit on Tuesday. He said he urged the director to cancel Northam’s visit as part of her Back to School tour, calling it unnecessary in the midst of a pandemic.

When it was announced on Friday that Northam and Gov. Ralph Northam both tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday—two days after her visit to Fredericksburg—Calaman and other parents questioned why the tour of Kids’ Station and Downtown Greens, a community garden in Fredericksburg, happened in the first place.

“We can’t even go inside with our own children, yet both of them have been traveling and doing different site visits all over the area,” said Stephani Streithof, a Stafford Hospital nurse whose child attends Kids’ Station.

She cited the various measures the governor has touted, including social distancing and staying at home.

“If he believes all of these recommendations were necessary to get through the pandemic, then they should not have been at my child’s day care facility,” Streithof said.

The parents were among Fredericksburg-area residents who reeled from the news that the Northams have confirmed cases of the virus.

“I’m just really shell-shocked right now,” Sarah Perry, executive director of Downtown Greens, said Friday morning, soon after hearing the news. “Of all the visits, I feel like ours was probably the least potential for spread because we were all outside, the whole entire time, nobody was in a car or building with her.”

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That wasn’t the case at Kids’ Station, where Northam rubbed balloons on the heads of children as part of a lesson on static electricity and walked through a classroom, looking at artwork. Northam wore a mask during her visit.

So did Fredericksburg Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw, who was with her at Downtown Greens. Greenlaw scheduled a COVID-19 test Friday.

“We’re making arrangements just to be sure, just to be safe,” the mayor said. “I’ve been dreading this to happen, and I’ve been trying to be very careful, only going to outdoor gatherings and always wearing a mask.”

The Northams tested positive for the virus after a member of the governor’s official residence staff developed symptoms, according to a press release. It also stated the governor has no symptoms and the first lady, mild ones. Both plan to isolate for the next 10 days, and the governor continues to work from the executive mansion.

“As I’ve been reminding Virginians throughout this crisis, COVID-19 is very real and very contagious,” the governor stated. “The safety and health of our staff and close contacts is of utmost importance to Pam and me, and we are working closely with the Department of Health to ensure that everyone is well taken care of.”

Perry was noticeably shaken by the Northams’ positive results. She hadn’t been notified by the governor’s staff at that point, but already had canceled weekend plans to visit a friend and see family members.

Six board members and four staff of Downtown Greens were present during the first lady’s visit, and Perry said everyone maintained 6 feet of distance unless someone showed something to another person—such as when Northam held up garden bugs for children to see.

The news certainly put a damper on an otherwise “beautiful visit,” Perry said. “The first lady was so knowledgeable, and it was just a pleasure to have her in the garden. It’s too bad. But this is the current situation that we have, that we’re dealing with.”

While at Kids’ Station, Northam spent time with about 20 students and three staff members, said Kathy Wall, senior vice president and chief human resources officer with Mary Washington Healthcare. Wall said the MWH’s precautions were put in place, including temperature checks and masks.

“We have taken immediate, proactive action in response to this news [of Northam’s positive test],” stated a letter from Kids’ Station to parents. “We’ve been in touch with our local health department and our licensing agency, and we are scheduling additional cleaning this weekend to further ensure the health and safety of our students and their families.”

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

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