VCE COVID-19 Updates

Virginia Cooperative Extension is committed to ensuring the health and wellbeing of our faculty, staff, and stakeholders and wants to help our community as it deals with the COVID-19 pandemic.

This page will provide updates from the state office as often as possible to keep our employees and the public aware of decisions from central VCE administration. Check back for updates.

Extension staff resources

Latest updates

Dear Colleagues;

We hope you all had a pleasant holiday weekend. It was a reminder of the many who have sacrificed that we might have the opportunities we do.

Next week will be another “Ask Ed and Ray” session on Wednesday at 11 a.m. via this Zoom link. We welcome all anonymous questions via this survey. If you have questions, please provide them by COB on Tuesday.   

Pursuant to Governor Northam’s Executive Order 63, when in VCE offices, face coverings/masks are to be worn by all visitors and employees when interacting with others in the office. At present no VCE office is open to the public, but may be open to select personnel. An employee, if alone, is not required to wear a face covering/mask. It is expected, at the present time, that employees and visitors will have to provide their own masks. We are exploring requirements and options to provide masks, if necessary, and additional information will be forthcoming. New signage is being prepared to use when unit offices reopen, informing visitors of the requirement to have a face covering/mask.

We want to alert folks that an email has gone out regarding the 4-H and VCE Emergency Relief Funds. It is being sent to people who have contributed to 4-H and VCE in the past, to alert them about the opportunity to give to the emergency funds. You will be receiving additional information and a toolkit to help you become engaged in this opportunity. Also, remember that you can apply for the funds to support your efforts by filling out the Emergency Relief Fund Application. Decisions are made on a monthly basis.

Stay safe,

Ed and Ray

Dear Colleagues;

Congratulations to the VESA board and membership on a great meeting today. We extend our appreciation to the leadership and especially, Past President Kevin Camm. The session, Getting to Know the VSU Specialists, was very informative. I know all would have preferred to be together in person, but that wasn’t to be this year. We want to extend special congratulations to all who received awards and were recognized today:

Epsilon Sigma Phi Awards.  Distinguished Team:  4-H Grows Teachers' Skills Team including members Tara Brent, Christina Murray, Rachael Morris, Wendy Herdman, and Krista Gustafson from the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula regions.  Early Career Service:  Theresa Pittman, VCE-Accomack County.  Mid-Career Service:  Kirsten Conrad, VCE-Arlington.  Less than Five Years:  Hannah Bishop, VCE-Dinwiddie.  Meritorious Support Staff:  Kathy Sealander, State 4-H Office.  Visionary Leadership:  Jeremy Johnson, State 4-H Leader.

VCE Program Excellence Awards State Winners.  Community Empowerment:  Sarah Sharpe and Team for Women in Agriculture Gathering Connects Untapped Minority Farmer Audience to Peers, Resources and Inspiration.  New Initiatives:  Sandy Stoneman and Team for Allergy Awareness Training for the Food Service Industry Program is Implemented and Expands Nationwide.  Program Evaluation:  Michelle Dickerson and Team for 2019 Junior 4-H Camp:  Camper, Teen, Adult, and Parent Evaluation.  Program Impact:  Phil Meeks and Team for Grow Wise Helps Growers Reach Higher.  Program Marketing:  Joanne Jones and Team for VCE Expands Marketing Opportunities for Southside Virginia Vegetable Producers.

Alumni Association Excellence in Extension Awards.  The Virginia Tech Alumni Association established the award for Extension Excellence in 1975 to promote Extension at Virginia Tech and to recognize the outstanding contributions of Extension professionals to the land-grant mission of the University.  Two awards, one for agent faculty and one for a specialist or administrator, are presented annually.  Each award consists of a plaque and a check for $2,000.  Congratulations to Corey Childs (Extension Agent) and Joe Hunnings (specialist/administrator) for achieving this well-deserved recognition.

Congratulations to Dr. Lex Bruce and Dr. Gordon Groover for being recognized with formal resolutions and Virginia flags, flown over the state Capital, provided by the Commissioners of the Revenue Association of Virginia and the Virginia Association of Assessing Officers for their combined 30 years of support for land use-valuation in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

And finally, Please continue to reflect on your work using our reflection tool . The tool is designed so that you can enter new or multiple reflections over time. You can also see all of your responses which can be helpful as our work continues to evolve during our COVID19 response.  Please feel free to contact Sarah Baughman, Tom Archibald, or Karen Vines with any questions.  

Stay Safe,

Ed and Ray

Dear Colleagues;

We hope you are all doing well. We are humbled by your creativity and innovation in helping your clientele and your communities. We have all been stretched beyond our comfort zones in finding new ways to reach our audiences. Yet, we continue to find solutions and make a positive difference across the state.

There will be no “Ask Ed and Ray” next Wednesday because of the annual VESA meeting.  We hope all have considered participating in this important organization event, and look forward to visiting with you virtually. You can view the VESA agenda and links to the sessions at your VCE Canvas site.

We are going to reduce the frequency of COVID-19 updates to once a week, on Wednesdays.  We, of course, will communicate important information and if warranted and may increase the frequency at some time in the future.

Visioning:  We are looking forward to initiating our VCE visioning process. We now have over 30 volunteers from all levels of the organization willing to engage in the process. We are putting the final touches in place concerning groups, process, facilitators, and expected outcomes. More information will be coming very soon.

 4-H Programming:  In alignment with the Governor’s restrictions for Phase 1 of re-opening, the Commonwealth and the University’s guidelines for summer programming, all in-person 4-H programming remains suspended at this time. VCE administration is committed to revisiting the programming suspension as additional information and resources become available. As part of this process, the State 4-H Office has developed a committee to make programmatic recommendations for a phased approach to lifting the 4-H suspension, once it is safe to do so.  Three subcommittees (4-H general programming, 4-H camping, and 4-H animal science), composed of state-level faculty and agents, will review guidelines from the CDC, VDH, the University, and the American Camp Association to make recommendations to VCE administration. Once recommendations are approved by administration, additional information will be distributed to the system ahead of Phase 2, and prior to making an announcement that will be shared with 4-H families. 

Congratulations to all the graduates!  Have a safe weekend!

Ed and Ray

Dear Colleagues;

The Governor announced that parts of Virginia will reopen on Friday afternoon. Our guidance continues with what was distributed on Monday and is available on the VCE-COVID website.  We have had questions regarding teleworking as offices open. We continue to urge teleworking to the extent possible; and, if you consider yourself at risk/vulnerable, please have that conversation with your district director or supervisor. Again, our primary concern is the health and safety of our VCE family and the people we serve.

Our attention has been focused on COVID-19, but we want to remind everyone that June 1st is the official start of hurricane season. There is already the potential for a tropical storm to form off the coast of Florida this weekend. Please be mindful of the potential of one disaster on top of another, as many of our normal approaches to hurricane response and recovery could be compromised by the current COVID-19 challenges. The Emergency Management program subteam is developing materials for dissemination in the near future, to help folks prepare and be mindful of hurricane season.  The Virginia Department of Emergency Management is also currently working with the State ESF-11 (agriculture) team to develop a response plan for a hurricane type event during COVID-19 restrictions.

We are excited about the upcoming VESA Conference to be held virtually next Wednesday, May 20. Here is the agenda for the 2020 VESA Conference.  If you haven’t had a chance, the planning committee is asking everyone to pre-register via this link - https://tinyurl.com/VESA2020. Once registered, you will have access to the zoom links for the sessions.

Stay safe,

Ed and Ray

Dear Colleagues;

Reminder - NO “Ask Ed and Ray” this week. We have moved to the first and third Wednesdays. Be prepared for next week.

When doing your leave report, remember to include your COVID Time.

Reopening:  There is a lot of discussion regarding opening some offices even though the threat of Coronavirus has not abated much. To assist local units in the process of reopening, should a county or city be preparing to do so, we have developed Virginia Cooperative Extension Local Office Re-Opening GuidancePlease be sure to communicate with your supervisor if you have questions, concerns, or specific situations to discuss. As always, your safety and that of your clientele is of utmost importance.

Game Changineer: Dr. Michael Hsiao, professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Virginia Tech, has created a platform to teach computational thinking and coding while also using the English language. The platform teaches literacy while teaching CS concepts. Dr. Hsiao, in partnership with 4-H, Jennifer Bowen, and Erika Bonnett offered a virtual Teens as Teachers training in Game Changineer. 72 teens from across the Commonwealth participated and learned how to use Game Changineer to teach other youth in their communities about community science. One teen from Franklin County commented, “This language is such a great way for me to introduce computer science in a simple way to younger youth.” A second training on Game Changineer is being offered for teachers, agents, and volunteers with 55 adults from across the Commonwealth. For more information, contact Erika Bonnett.

Stay safe!

Ed and Ray

Dear Colleagues;

We are all sure looking forward to the weekend.  And, Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers!

VESA:  The VESA conference is of course virtual this year, and as of today approximately 150 people have registered!  Even so, we understand some folks are having difficulty with the registration process.  If so, please go to the instructions at this link.  You can register by going to:  https://tinyurl.com/VESA2020

Travel:  A letter has been prepared for folks to attach to their travel reimbursement, and it can be found here.

Evaluation:  Recently, there have been questions about evaluating online programming efforts in addition to traditional program evaluation. A team consisting of Sarah Baughman, Erika Bonnett, and Tom Archibald are preparing some training and assistance.  You should be hearing more next week.

Guidance for Unit Offices:  We are putting the final touches on guidance for unit offices as they open up. That will be posted next week. We remind folks that there are still a lot of unknowns about what will be happening. Think flexible, think creatively, and think safety.

Application for VCE and 4-H Emergency Relief Funds: As mentioned previously, we provided donors the opportunity to support your COVID-19 programming. We have now developed a process by which you can apply for funding. You can apply for up to $500. Decisions will be made on a monthly basis. For additional information, please see the application here.

Today is the anniversary of the signing of the Smith-Lever Act of 1914.  Thanks to Chad Proudfoot, our resident historian, for providing the following. Building upon the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890, which created the land-grant colleges, the Smith-Lever Act utilized the models developed by Seaman Knapp, Liberty Hyde Bailey, Michigan State University, and others to create a national Cooperative Extension system. This included a federal Extension Service at the USDA, and a Cooperative Extension Service in each state and county (now including many cities and tribal lands). Within a few years, Cooperative Extension became the largest non-formal education network in the world. When signing the Act on May 8, 1914, President Wilson called it "one of the most significant and far-reaching measures for the education of adults ever adopted by the government." Secretary of Agriculture David F. Houston called the act "one of the most striking educational measures ever adopted by any Government."

This is the time of year when graduations are happening. We know people are greatly disappointed that this has to be virtual...no last hugs with classmates, no pictures with family at their favorite school location, no throwing caps into the air. In spite of that, it is a great achievement, and we send our congratulations to all the graduates and their families!

This week is Virginia Public Service week.  We can’t think of a group of people who know and do more with public service than all of you in VCE.  Thank you!

Have a safe weekend,

Ed and Ray

Dear Colleagues;

As the discussion about “opening up” continues in Virginia, it raises several questions, and we will try to address what we know at this time.

Travel:  For VCE employees who process their travel through Virginia Tech, we have not restricted in-state travel. Because of the information that came out yesterday in the Ledger, you may need to provide the following in your travel reimbursement requests:  

VCE considers travel to provide information and resources to clientele to be essential travel and is expected in the performance of their job responsibilities.

Teleworking:  We will continue to telework, even as the state begins to open up to the extent possible. We believe we should continue to stagger staffing, prevent or limit public access to facilities, etc. following guidance from the governor’s phased approach.  

Late summer activities:  It is possible that in-person activities may be possible in late summer, but they will have to adhere to all social distancing and public health guidance in force at the time. You may consider it in planning; but, do not count on it happening as there are still many unknowns about what the disease incidence and infection rates will be over the next several weeks. Be prepared for all contingencies.

Budget:  There is very little information on the budget at this time. We are going through the planning process, and it has been emphasized to us it is a plan, not a given.  The data that will be necessary to implement will be the extent the state has to reduce budgets to agencies for FY21, the amount of federal support coming to states and localities and agencies, health of local government budgets, and revenue projections for the state. Once there is more clarity on that, we will be able to fine tune our plans for implementation. We encourage you to be thinking about ways revenue can be generated at the program level.

Destiny:  We will continue the current waiver of Destiny fees on free programs and programs charging less than $75 through December 31, 2020, to assist with the development of online programs and registration for all programs.

Internships:  All units who were able to accomodate a virtual intern have been approved for that approach, and we have about 25 internships for this summer. We look forward to the lessons learned this summer and how that may be incorporated in the future internship programs.

Public Health Guidance:  Just a reminder that VDH and CDC continue to recommend the use of masks in public, or other circumstances where infections could be transmitted. This is important for the execution of your responsibilities as a VCE employee.

Thank you to everyone who joined us today for the Ask Ed and Ray Anything session.  We hope those continue to be useful.

Stay safe,

Ed and Ray

Dear Colleagues;

We hope all were able to safely enjoy the beautiful weekend.  

Ask Ed and Ray: We will be holding our weekly “Ask Ed & Ray Anything” on Wednesday at 11 a.m. via this Zoom link. We welcome all anonymous questions via this survey by 10 p.m. tonight.

We would like to share the efforts and updates from a couple more program teams. It is important for all of us to have information and knowledge that cuts across program areas to be effective in our work. This is even more important during this time when individuals, families, and communities are stretched and stressed.

Human Development Team 

·         Have pulled and posted all stress reduction materials

·         Developed a Teen Suicide Resources tip sheet for parents

·         Developing a Washing Hands with Toddlers video

·         Developed a weekly Balancing Life series addressing a number of topics, many in collaboration with North Carolina State University Extension and averaging at least 100 participants per session.  Participants span several states and are both internal and external partner participants.  

·         Developed a Teen Stress Assessment fact sheet for professionals working with that audience.

·         Collaborating with other program teams to continue work in farmer stress management and addressing family stress as a whole, coping strategies, and connections to support agencies.

Family Community Economic Team

·         Focusing efforts on how to support communities long-term with the impact of unemployment

·         Developing a strategy to enable VCE to be a connector of resources available in their community 

·         Working on modules and resources in the following areas:

·         Financial scams

·         Student loan deferment

·         How will tax deferment work this year

·         How will incentive money work 

·         Developed a CARES Act and Tax Rebate tip sheet 

·         Part of coordinated efforts with multiple program teams and the department of Ag and Applied Economics to provide support and resources to farm and agricultural businesses, including a webinar series with multiple state Community & Economic Development COVID-19 response agencies.

·         Developed personal finance modules that include videos and lessons; members of the program team are assigned geographically to regions across the state, to act as moderators and to provide individual financial counseling.

Please stay safe,

Ed and Ray

Dear colleagues;

Happy first day of May!  Hopefully all can enjoy good weather this weekend.  We have just a couple of items for today.

Currently, it seems everyone is interested in raising their own food. In response, the Extension Master Gardener state office created a new landing page for home vegetable gardening: https://ext.vt.edu/lawn-garden/home-vegetables.html. There you will find existing resources and publications for anyone interested in starting a garden. The Master Gardener program is also hosting a weekly live event on Facebook called “Get Gardening!” (https://www.facebook.com/events/226756471734154/). Each week they host a different specialist from VT or VSU. Also, because of the interest in gardening, the Northern District has responded by developing Victory Gardens. We hope some of you have the opportunity to get out and do some of your own gardening this weekend.

The Community, Local, and Regional Foods System Team has been extremely active.  The following paragraphs provide a synopsis of the team’s recent efforts. 

•   Team members offered a two-part in-service series titled “Food & Farm Connections” designed to train and equip VCE personnel about the food value chain, food system coordination, and connecting people and businesses in Virginia’s food value chain. Eric Bendfeldt, French Price, and Conaway Haskins led these in-service trainings, which were recorded.  Food & Farm Connections Training: Part 1 (Recorded April 22, 2020) – Understanding Value Chain Coordination & Navigating Resources and Tools Food & Farm Connections Training: Part 2 (Recorded April 29, 2020) – Using Virginia MarketMaker to Connect Food and Farm Businesses with Buyers & Consumers.  These recordings can also be accessed and shared on the Virginia MarketMaker YouTube channel (see Part 1 and Part 2) .

•   As part of the USDA-AMS Local Food Promotion Program grant outreach, French Price and Dr. Kim Morgan, along with cooperating Virginia farmers, organized and presented a MarketReady: Farm to eCommerce webinar https://youtu.be/urJ-4t2LhXQ as a cross-programming team effort to help connect farms and food businesses to electronic commerce online platforms.

•   CLRFS collaborated with the VT Center for Food Systems and Community Transformation to create a “COVID-19 and Food Systems Compendium” that is a collection of a news, public and scholarly literature, position papers, and VCE and partners resources (locally, regionally, & nationally) that address or relate to the impacts COVID-19 has brought to the food system.  

•   Team members are meeting with the Emergency Produce Distribution statewide team led by Virginia Fresh Match and the Virginia Farmers Market Association.

 •  Partnering with Extension agent Lenah Nguyen to provide CLRFS published resources and outreach support for a new Virtual Farm to Table program that is bringing a number of agents and program team members together to showcase the agricultural diversity of Virginia and the diversity of VCE work in the commonwealth (farm, community, cooking, food safety, and youth education).

•   The Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition sub-team continues to offer a monthly webinar series to support new farmers in addressing challenging start-up and sustainability needs.

•   The Farm Safety, Health, and Wellness sub-team is collaborating with the AgrAbility Virginia program and the Human Development team to develop and disseminate resources addressing mental health and stress for families and farm families/farmers. This includes new fact sheets (e.g., Grief in Times of Crisis; Lawn Safety for Youth), webinars (Stress and Safety: Reduce One and Increase the Other), and social media postings. May 13th is scheduled for a collaboration webinar on Grief and Crisis for Farm families, and Farmers.

 •  Contributed expertise to Farmers Market strategy meetings, helping farmers markets move to online sales.

•   Cross-team work through USDA planning Statewide Farmers listening sessions.  Also, working with CLRFS and AME program teams to address:  statewide efforts on food access, farmer support during disruptions in food systems, resource development in partnership with the Food System Council and Farmers Market Associations, and considering long-term solutions regarding how we continue to get food into the system.

Everyone stay safe and healthy.  We will be back on Monday!

Ed and Ray

Dear Colleagues;

There have been concerns about some state agencies and other organizations using Zoom.  Neal Vines has communicated with VITA and received confirmation that as long as a VT department utilizes the Zoom settings and best practices at: https://4help.vt.edu/sp?id=kb_article&sys_id=1c56da51db5c9fc41c1e86171b961980#Best , a state agency is approved to work with us using Zoom. We hope this may also help address concerns from clientele and other partners that Virginia Tech is working to ensure the use of Zoom is safe.

Today we’ll highlight recent efforts from Dr. John Bovay and the Agribusiness Management and Economics (AME) program team (co-chaired by Rachel Henley and Crysti Hopkins) and inclusive of AAEC faculty. Faculty delivered an Agricultural Policy and Market Outlook Forum https://www.pubs.ext.vt.edu/AAEC/AAEC-222/AAEC-222.html in March to include CARES Act implications for agricultural producers and other topics. A weekly open forum is offered via Zoom on Tuesdays at 1p.m. to engage with agents and specialists on agribusiness management and economics questions and concerns (obtain the registration link by e-mailing bovay@vt.edu). Dr. Bovay produced a non-peer reviewed publication entitled COVID-19 Resources for Virginia Farmers, Agribusinesses, and Cooperative Extension Agents and Specialists https://www.pubs.ext.vt.edu/content/dam/pubs_ext_vt_edu/AAEC/aaec-221/AAEC-221.pdf to accompany State Agency COVID-19 Resources for Community and Economic Development recently produced by Conaway Haskins and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Tax Rebates by Dr. Travis Mountain through his work with the FCE team. Bovay and AAEC departmental faculty are drafting a preliminary report regarding the economic impact of COVID-19 on Virginia’s agriculture industry in response to a request from the Animal Production Program Team. This report will be ready by the end of this week or beginning of next. In light of recent dialogue regarding supply chain concerns and accompanying news articles on this topic, please see the following resource from Dr. Bovay and courtesy of colleagues at Purdue University https://ag.purdue.edu/stories/the-road-from-farm-to-table/ that addresses some frequently asked questions you may be receiving in your communities. Thank you for these efforts!

Each spring at Virginia Tech the department heads, AREC directors, and district directors meet with senior leadership of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Yesterday was the day where Dean Grant, Dr. Saied Mostaghimi, Lonnie Johnson, Steve Kleiber, and Ed Jones had the opportunity to meet with each district director and hear about what has been happening in the district for the past year. It is always a highlight for me (Ed) and I believe for Dean Grant as well. The amazing creativity, impact, passion, and commitment that all of you have for your communities comes through clearly in your work. There is no way any of us in administration can know all the great things that are happening, but these meetings with district directors really help. Please know your work is recognized and appreciated. Thank you!

Reminder: Ask Ed and Ray will be moving to the first and third Wednesdays of each month starting next week.  We will reserve the right to call an emergency session if something emerges, and will provide the link to ask questions the Monday prior to each Ask Ed and Ray.

Stay safe!

Ed and Ray

Dear Colleagues;

We hope all had a good weekend and were able to focus on things other than work. Because our world has shifted so much lately I know it is hard not to focus, but everyone must for their own sense of well-being.

The Virginia Tech folks may have seen President Sands’ message in the VT Daily News where he is talking about what it looks like for the days ahead. In that message he referenced the need to begin planning for budget reductions. We want to emphasize up front that we do not know the nature of those reductions that will actually take place, but we can’t wait to plan or we will most likely make less than our best decisions. The leadership team will be developing scenarios around 5% and 10% budget reductions. That is for the state funds. We recognize that localities may also impose reductions on their contributions to Cooperative Extension.  Fortunately, we do not expect reductions in federal funds at this time. Another unknown is how much the federal government will help state and local governments offset their reductions in revenue. So, there are a lot of unknowns at this time. In Extension, our greatest asset and our greatest investment is people. We will evaluate all possible means of adjusting our budgets with the least amount of impact on current employees. When we know the actual amounts we need to cut, more folks may be engaged to help creatively address the situation.  

Possible budget reductions increase the urgency to move forward with the VCE futuring initiative. Creative guidance from that work will help guide how we may do short term reductions and help us prepare for longer term realities. In the next few days, we will be sending out more information on the implementation of the initiative. Thanks to all who have volunteered to be engaged. To be an effective organization for the future, we need all your help working on this as  we develop our blueprint for the future Virginia Cooperative Extension.

V3: Virginia Virtual Volunteer Conference was a big success. The virtual conference was held last Saturday with 511 people registered from 23 different states. Of those, 163 were from Virginia. There were around 150-200 signed up for any given workshop block, with a number of folks registering with the intention to view later as they couldn’t participate in real time.  Kudos to Chad Proudfoot, Kelly Rose, and all who contributed to this successful event!

Please stay safe and thank you for all you do!

Ed and Ray

Greetings Colleagues;

Happy Friday!  We do not have a lot to share today.  We do hope that all are adjusting to the circumstances as best you can.

When you are working under new circumstances, it is easy to get out of your rhythm so to speak.  One of the things that happens is that voicemails and other forms of communication get lost in the shuffle. It even happens during the best of times. As people are having limited personal contact, it is even more important to keep the connections with our communities, colleagues, and friends.  

2020 National Ag Agents Meeting:  With Andy Overbay’s permission, we are reproducing a portion of his April 23 communication regarding the 2020 National Association of County Agricultural Agents Annual Meeting and Professional Improvement Conference originally planned for July in Virginia Beach. The national meeting has been rescheduled.  Moving away from the July 19-23 dates, the only available days that the VA Beach Convention Center had open were September 29 through Oct 1 and two weeks prior to Christmas. Of course, there are no guarantees regarding the end of September either; but, this was the more attractive alternative from a national perspective, and thus the new meeting dates are September 29 through October 1. This change was made recognizing that the new dates conflict with the State Fair of Virginia. With the NACAA meeting now having a significantly reduced footprint, VCE anticipates being able to provide sufficient support to meet the needs of both events should they proceed. On a personal note, we--Ray and Ed--acknowledge that the NACAA AM/PIC Planning Committee members have invested significant time and energy over a long period of time to prepare for hosting this year’s national meeting. They and their efforts are honored, respected, and appreciated.

The question was raised about closed captioning of internal videos. According to our university colleagues, it is not legally required, but is definitely a best practice. For external videos, closed captioning is required by numerous laws and regulations. Instructions concerning closed captioning and posting recorded sessions can be found at the following URL. https://www.communications.cals.vt.edu/resources.html

For Unit Coordinators - the School of Public and International Affairs has a resource that may be of interest to local governments that you might want to share. 

https://spia.vt.edu/content/spia_vt_edu/en/leadership-development/localgovcovid19.html

Have a great weekend,

Ed and Ray

Dear Colleagues;

I (Ed)  apologize for not getting the update out yesterday afternoon. I had Zoom calls until late into the evening. Here it is now.

ZOOM:  There are a lot of virtual programming sessions happening and people can’t participate in all of them at the time they go live. We are in the process of establishing a system for cataloguing/archiving recordings, so that they can be found later to review or share. We jumped into this with the primary intent of getting needed information and programs out quickly.  Now, we have been at it long enough that no matter how we are able to operate in the future, virtual programming will continue to be part of our efforts. We are trying to create a system that could also serve as a master calendar for zoom sessions; it turns out it isn’t quite as simple as first thought.  Also to that end, we are exploring software to help make the video pieces easier and to hopefully allow folks to concentrate on content and not technological issues. This is indeed a high priority for us to support all agents and specialists.

Return to Work:  We have received questions about the original telework letter, saying we would return to offices, etc. on April 23. That was the original guidance, which has been superseded by EO 53 and President Sands’s memos. Our interpretation and expectation is that we will continue to work remotely or with staggered staffing with offices closed to the public until further notice.

Volunteers: This is National Volunteer Week. Be sure to thank all of your volunteers. We couldn’t have the reach we do without them!

Thanks to all of you that joined the Zoom meeting yesterday. It was great to see your faces and the creative Zoom backgrounds many of you have come up with! Keep up the great work that you do, and remember that at some point we'll be transitioning from figuring out the best way to manage through the pandemic, to telling our stories about how we did it. So please remember to note the work you're doing and the successes you're having; and, continue to share those stories with our two communication teams so they can help tell our story.

Stay safe,

 Ed & Ray

Dear Colleagues;

We are excited about the response to our call for volunteers to help us think about the future of Extension in Virginia. We will be putting a framework around this opportunity and engaging folks as we move forward. It is indeed important work. Thanks again!

Ask Ed and Ray: We will be holding our weekly “Ask Ed & Ray Anything” on Wednesday at 11 a.m. via this Zoom link. We welcome all anonymous questions via this survey by 10 p.m. today.

Good idea from the field: Provide soil sample boxes and forms, project materials, etc. in a container outside your office for clients to pick up. Remember to sanitize the container often. Some agents have also left soil sample boxes/instructions at essential businesses such as feed supply stores, along with their contact information, where to mail the samples, and a list of available resources.

VCE Internship Program: The VCE internship program will continue under a new format. Interns will assist Extension Agents in creating, coordinating, and implementing educational program events and activities, which can be delivered in formats other than in-person, aimed to improve lives and communities. A revised position description and survey was sent to host agents on Friday to determine continued interest on behalf of the Unit and the funding partner.

COVID Time: COVID time is to be documented for activities that have resulted from you having to plan to do your programs differently than you would have had we not been under current circumstances. For example, you were planning a gardening program, and had to shift to a different format, the time preparing is counted as COVID time. If you have developed new efforts that you hadn’t previously planned to deliver--such as a new gardening program, making masks, assisting in a food pantry, etc.--that is a direct result of the current pandemic, that too would be COVID time. Documenting COVID time is for tracking how much effort and the cost of suddenly switching directions as a result of the pandemic.  Being able to track the total hours devoted to Virginia Tech’s and VSU’s responses will enable the institutions to seek any federal reimbursements that may become available.  

Telework Letters:  We do not have any indication that VT or VSU telework letters will be reissued. Our position is that you continue under your current arrangements of telework, staggered scheduling, etc. until further notice. However, if anyone changes status, a new letter will be issued.

Next update on Wednesday.

Thanks again for all you do and stay safe!

Ed and Ray

Dear Colleagues;

These updates have been focused on the changing landscapes of policy at VT and VSU, on the need to keep folks informed of those policy changes, tools and ideas concerning changes in programming, and generally how to keep things moving in an uncertain time. We have been at it a while and we are all adapting to the circumstances, and in the most incredible ways. Knowing that the future we were planning just a few months ago will not be a reality, it is time to start thinking, planning, and implementing so that we are collectively in charge of our future as Virginia Cooperative Extension.

During the VCE emergency planning team meeting this morning, the group spent a considerable amount of time talking about what our organizational legacy will be when the pandemic is over, and just as importantly how we vision and create our place in this changing world. We are learning things daily about how to conduct programming in new and different ways, and that there are state, national, and worldwide audiences eager to consume the information that VCE is producing. A virtual field day that, when conducted as an in-person event, may previously have attracted 80 participants, has been viewed thousands of times by people from all over the world. We have distributed educational materials with school lunches and at food distribution sites. 

What are the long term implications for VCE? What will our organization look like as we continue to expand new found virtual capabilities, reaching new audiences while honoring our critical commitments to local clientele and local government partners? How do we transcend the growing digital and socio-economic divides that may result? How might our communities be transformed, and what role will VCE play in meeting emerging needs? How will we tell the story of the difference we made in this time? How do we tell the story of how we care about our communities today, and tomorrow?

We are establishing a task force to address these and other forward-looking strategic questions regarding the future of our organization. Task force members will be appointed, and volunteers from within the organization are also invited. If you would like to be part of this process, please send an e-mail expressing interest to Ed or Ray.  

Again, thank you for all you do caring for the people in your community and have a good weekend.

Stay safe and well,

Ed and Ray

Dear Colleagues;

Thank you to all who joined us on the “Ask Ed and Ray Anything” this morning. Please do not hesitate to ask questions. As Ray said, we don’t have all the answers; but, we try to find out and provide you tools as best we can. We will keep trying.

  • The Soil Testing Lab is now fully staffed and has worked through the sample backlog, so turn around time is back to normal. We are also answering the phone again and returning calls, generally starting in late morning after samples are set up. We have heard of some issues with clients trying to obtain soil boxes from local VCE offices due to the COVID disruption, but clients can mail in soil samples in their own containers if boxes aren't available. We are still receiving samples by mail only, no in-person drop off.
  •  Email issue: A problem exists where several emails from VSU specialists sent to VT or gmail accounts are going missing or being sent to junk folders. Please check your junk folders to make sure the VSU specialists you work with are added to your safe senders list. You may need to do this periodically.
  •  Zoom:  VT is not moving away from Zoom as other state agencies seem to be doing.  VSU is confirming their continued use of Zoom and will report back on the response from VSU IT.
  • Emergency Relief Funds:  These funds are to be used to support programming, and we will be providing more information on the application process and guidelines around their use in the near future.  The condition on being able to establish these funds is that we do not actively solicit support at this time.  
  • As you identify community issues that you believe should be addressed, please reach out to others within the system. Perhaps another agent, specialist, or program team is seeing the same issue and you can address it jointly. Feel free to share ideas and needs with us as well. We may be able to help make connections.

Again, thank you for all the work you are doing on behalf of the people of Virginia.  It is noticed and appreciated by many!

Stay safe and well,

Ed and Ray

Dear Colleagues;

We hope all had a good weekend, and no one suffered any damage from the storms.  

  • CDC Posters:  You can find the posters in English and Spanish on the storefront under publications, along with several fliers. There may be producers--as well as other businesses--in your area who need these to post. We suggest you print a handful of each to have in stock, as requests come in.  Our partner organizations will be letting folks know they are available through the unit offices. Please keep track of your costs to print these posters and fliers as Unit accounts will be reimbursed.
  • Ask Ed and Ray: Please join us for our weekly “Ask Ed & Ray Anything” on Wednesday at 11 a.m. via this Zoom link. We welcome all anonymous questions via this survey by 10 p.m. today.
  • Extension Agent, Rachel Henley has developed a resource to assist local emergency services coordinators with collecting, summarizing, and reporting daily usage and inventory of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to the state. Instructions about how to request and utilize this resource are located on the VCE COVID-19 Updates under the “Flyers and Downloads” tab. Please share this resource with your local emergency services coordinator. Please contact Rachel rachelhenley@vt.edu for further information.
  • Please note that the Contacts Reporting System is open and ready for use.  Please direct questions or concerns to Sarah Kelly, CALS-IT Application Developer, sakelly@vt.edu.
  • As of this morning, there are several in-service opportunities scheduled for this week.  These include a weekly Agribusiness Management and Economics Pressing Issues Open Forum scheduled for Tuesday at 1p.m. (and weekly thereafter), Wednesday Virtual Woods Walk: Timber Sales with members of the Natural Resources Program Team, Friday session on Balancing Life with Older Adults courtesy of the Human Development Program Team, and the FNH Program Team Listening Session: Needs and Opportunities for Advancing Food, Nutrition, and Health during COVID-19 (also on Friday).
  • To address multiple requests for guidance regarding community and school garden functions during COVID-19, an interdisciplinary team of agents and specialists has prepared a document entitled Virginia Cooperative Extension Recommended Guidelines for Community Gardening during COVID-19. This document is located on the VCE COVID-19 Updates web page under the “Administrative Documents and Updates” tab.
  • We would like to acknowledge the outstanding work of Agents, Specialists, and Program Teams. As you assess issues in your community, please consider how you might share the needs and address them efficiently by working with colleagues that may be facing a similar issue. This can be accomplished by agent teams, agent/specialist teams, and through the VCE program teams. Likewise, a specialist who identifies an issue in multiple counties may want to reach out directly to agents to confirm and to strategically plan a resolution.  Specialists who have not previously engaged with program teams may find this is an opportune time to make that connection. By working together, we avoid duplicative efforts and produce high quality programming. 
  • Reminder. We will only be sending out updates on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Stay safe,

Ed and Ray

Dear Colleagues;

Due to the Governor’s Stay at Home order and ongoing health concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the decision was made to cancel Virginia Cooperative Extension group programming until further notice. Additionally, following Virginia Tech guidance that was announced on April 6th, we made the very difficult decision to cancel 4-H Congress and all 4-H camps. We also interpreted the University guidance around cancellation of programs for our context. Understandably, it is very disappointing to cancel programs and events that people look forward to year-round. We all share your sense of loss.

Even so, we know that each and every one of you are striving to assist youth, families, agricultural producers, and your communities as they face a variety of issues. We applaud your innovation and creativity in these efforts. For some this has meant teaching adults how to help toddlers thoroughly wash their hands, preparing youth project packets to be distributed with food, designing a virtual livestock show, teaching producers to send pictures of a weed for identification, sewing a mask for a local health care provider, consulting with a beef producer who is watching the futures market plummet, or simply responding to phone calls and email requests for help. VCE program teams, specialists, and administrators are also working hard to respond to your needs.  

We will continually assess the situation and guidance provided through the University and the Governor’s office throughout the summer, and adjust programmatic decisions accordingly. Our top priority is the safety of our faculty, staff, volunteers, and those we serve across the state. It is also important that we model safety-conscious behaviors. 

Extension has made difficult decisions to cancel programs and events we organize and manage such as 4-H camps, 4-H Congress, Master Gardener Plant Sales, and State Contests.  We continue to support you as you work with your local partners on programs conducted collaboratively, such as summer county fairs and livestock shows. Please keep in mind that 4-H and our FFA colleagues support the education and development of youth, but the decision about whether fairs--and some other partner led events we are engaged in--will occur is in the hands of others. As you participate on planning committees, please encourage and assist the livestock show or fair board in developing contingency plans for the event. By doing so, we will be ready should fairs move forward or if the situation dictates they are canceled, postponed, or offered in a different format.

In the coming months, we know that our work will not be carried out as it has been in the past or the way we may have envisioned. But our communities are depending on us and we can’t let them down. Let’s do the best we can during this time. Please continue to share your needs and concerns, so together we can find solutions. We remain committed to working together to serve Virginians.

Please have a safe weekend.

Ed and Ray

Dear Colleagues;

Thank you to all who joined us on the “Ask Ed and Ray Anything” this morning.  We hope we provided some guidance to the issues you are raising. We all wish we had the answers and could accurately predict the future. In the meantime, we need to be creative and flexible.

Contacts reporting:  For the immediate future on collecting and reporting contacts data, just do the best you can. On open Zoom sessions, you can collect participation numbers and of course no demographic data. During this time, it is clearly recognized that that is the best we can do and are expected to do. Please note that action plans are currently being updated in the Contacts system. We will let you know when that process has been completed, so you can begin entering your contacts in earnest. 

Mark Sumner and Traci McCoy have scheduled a training session for 2pm on Friday, April 10 entitled VCE Online Programs.  This Zoom session will provide an overview of the technologies recently put in place to deliver Virginia Cooperative Extension programming, in a virtual environment. Learn about how to get started with Destiny One, Canvas, and Zoom to create online programs and collaboration spaces to remain in contact with your clientele base. Mark and Traci will help you learn how to get your programming online as quickly and easily as possible.  Visit VCE COVID-19 Updates for the link.

Several requests have come in asking for a list of Zoom session recordings.  We are in the process of compiling recordings and will start posting them soon.  If you have a recorded Zoom session that you would like to contribute, please complete the form located here:  https://forms.gle/9cPutDekX5QPWPym9

Plant Disease Clinic:  The Plant Disease Clinic is modifying its operations due to the limited mail service to campus. Please note those changes at the document linked here.

Soil Testing Lab:  The Soil Testing Lab continues to be operational and will soon be fully staffed. The way mail is being delivered makes it difficult to predict exactly how soon the results will be available, but they are diligently trying to work through the backlog.

Summer:  There are questions about what constitutes the end of summer. At the very least, do not plan on any face to face events before early September. Remember - the best thing to do is plan for virtual programs until we receive further guidance. Be creative.

Covid-19 Publications and Other Resources

Many of you have created or are in the process of creating resources related to covid-19. As you develop resources that you would like to have posted to VCE COVID-19 sites, please route them through Dan Goerlich or Cathy Sutphin. Please continue to follow current publication policies, if possible. We realize that some materials are more timely than others; but, hopefully, we can at least get the resources into a nonpeer-reviewed template for posting. To do so, please use the nonpeer-reviewed template which can be downloaded here. It is important that VCE publications consistently reflect the VCE brand. To expedite COVID-19 related publications, please enter a request here and make sure you note in the project description that it is a covid-19 related resource. You can also send Lori Greiner (lgreiner@vt.edu) an email, giving her a heads up that the request was entered. As you can imagine, there has been an increase in the number of publications and resources requested. The VCE Publication Team will process these as quickly as possible. If a resource is developed that needs to be posted immediately, please confer with either Dan or Cathy.

Good news - to date we are not aware of any of our VCE family having been diagnosed with COVID-19.  We do know that some in VCE have family members who are in ICU or may presumably have COVID-19.  Please know that we hold all affected by COVID-19 in our hearts.

Stay safe,

Ray and Ed

Dear colleagues:

We hope your week is off to a good start.  We have a short list of updates today, but are expecting several items from our universities soon.  We will only be sending out updates on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

  • Our weekly “Ask Ed & Ray Anything” session will be held Wednesday at 11 a.m. via this Zoom link. Submit anonymous questions via this survey by 10 p.m. today. Questions will also be taken during the meeting.
  • Plant Sales: To protect our Master Gardeners and clientele that are in a high-risk population for COVID-19, and in the spirit of the Governor's stay-at-home order, no plant sales will be taking place under the auspices of Virginia Cooperative Extension, either in person or virtually. In reaching this conclusion, please know that the executive team has the best interests of VCE’s Master Gardeners and clients at heart.
  • Budget: We are expecting to be given guidance on preparing for budget reductions for the next fiscal year which starts July1.  It is prudent at this time to limit all discretionary spending, anticipating carryover can help buffer some of the budget reductions.  We will also be given guidance on hiring
  • VCE Summer Internship Program: While awaiting University guidance concerning the VCE Internship program, we are developing a survey to send to supervising agents. The purpose is to assess your interest and ideas about interns which can support on-line programming efforts, as an alternative to the traditional internship experience. Responding to the survey does not commit your unit to hosting an intern.
  • Zoom Sessions: Remember that Zoom sessions submitted for internal audiences taking place this week are located on the internal COVID-19 website. Those for external audiences are located here:  http://bit.ly/VirginiaExtensionPrograms.  There are some cross postings for sessions that are offered for both internal and external audiences.

We continually marvel at the wonderful and creative ways VCE has accepted the challenge and is serving our communities.

Stay safe,

Ed and Ray

Dear colleagues:

There are several topics in today’s updates that we hope answer some of the questions that have been raised.  Please let us know when there are concerns or questions.  It is only then we can do something about it or let you know why we can’t.

We have responses to some of your fiscal questions...

  • Funds Handling:  During this time with offices closed or closed to the public, working remotely, and social distancing; specific efforts do not need to be made to collect the mail in order to collect and subsequently deposit checks. Thus, our expectations on deposits are relaxed; however, the expectation is that if a Unit chooses to continue to collect and deposit cash and/or checks that the required separation of duties and verification of funds per the policy be maintained.

Travel: It is Commonwealth of Virginia policy that a traveler be reimbursed for the shorter of the two distances to a destination be it home or office.  Unfortunately, we do not have the authority to modify that guidance.

Shipments:  Hokiemart does not allow us to change the “ship to” address.  Other options include:  1) purchasing via a P-card: However, if you are using a company found via the HokieMart punchout, a P-Card cannot be used (example, a P-Card cannot be used with Amazon) or 2) purchase with personal card and be reimbursed.  In either case, preapproval must be sought from unit coordinator, district director, AREC Director, department head, or other supervisor. This preapproval can be via email, which must be saved to provide documentation in the event of an audit. The email should include relevant detail related to the items planned for purchase and which program/research/or activity the items are for, as is the case with the current Pre-Approval paper process specific to VCE, but important for all other departments at this time.

DestinyOne:  DestinyOne charges for programs are waived through June 30, 2020.  Credit card charges cannot be waived; however, they will be charged to the appropriate accounts and documented so that if we receive emergency relief funds or other resources, then relief can be applied to those accounts.

On-line Programming

  • Conversations are underway about how to build out VCE programs into more complete educational experiences to duplicate, as much as possible, the in-person experience.  Combining Zoom, Canvas, and DestinyOne has many benefits, to include:   
    • Ease of registration for the participant through a public website
    • Ability to market the program with Twitter re-tweet and Facebook posting options of public website
    • Reporting that allows us to easily track programs and participation – will provide a means for agents to track their activities during this time period
    • Live and recorded instruction
    • Allows for handouts, discussion groups, quizzes, Zoom links, etc.
    • Ability to do batch emails, class announcements, and evaluations after the course

To get started, simply submit a request through: https://tinyurl.com/DestinyOneRequest. This will be followed up with a meeting with Traci McCoy and Mark Sumner to finalize all details.  Please allow one week lead time before you need the event completed.

Reflections Tool - Lessons Learned

  • If we don’t regularly document the lessons we are learning through this process of adaptation and response to the current COVID19 situation as we go along, we risk missing them. To encourage you to reflect on, learn from, and document your responses, VCE specialists have created a tool that can be used by individuals, program teams, units, ARECs and/or departments. Our hope is this will allow everyone to regularly and intentionally document how their work is changing and will provide space and time for reflections. 

The tool is a google form that will allow you to see your responses over time and will also allow you to see other people’s responses. The tool is primarily for you and will be most effective if you use it regularly on whatever schedule works for you (daily, weekly, etc.). Responses will also help us learn how the system is responding and give us a snapshot of organizational learning. The amount of time you need to complete the form will depend a lot on you, but you can generally go through the form in about 5-10 minutes. 

Click here to access the tool: https://forms.gle/4vhJxR9hgBgpx5o58

 If you have questions or comments about this form, contact Sarah Baughman, Tom Archibald, or Karen Vines.

Internal on-line training:

Update on our updates:

  • Starting April 6 the COVID-19 update will move to a Monday, Wednesday, Friday distribution schedule.

We have made it through another week, adapting and learning about how we can serve our clientele.  Enjoy the sunshine and have a great weekend.

Stay safe,

Ed and Ray

Dear colleagues:

It’s a beautiful, if a bit chilly, spring day! We wanted to share the following updates with you:

  • We received a number of questions on fiscal and travel policy.  We will have the answers to those questions in tomorrow’s update.
  • The Virginia State Police issued this press release yesterday that outlines how law enforcement is enacting the governor’s recent order. It also states that you do not need documentation when traveling in Virginia.  
  • We have heard from a number of people concerned about Zoom meetings being disrupted by someone joining a meeting and sharing inappropriate images or videos.  This practice is referred to as “Zoom Bombing” and is discussed in a communication disseminated this morning from Scott Shetrone.  Scott notes that, on March 31, Zoom enabled the Waiting Room feature to be on by default. This allows you to admit people individually into the meeting.  Zoom posted a detailed Best Practices for Securing Your Virtual Classroom article that outlines other ways to secure your meetings.  Please see Scott’s message for further insights.
  • VCE-branded Zoom backgrounds. We now have a number of VCE-branded backgrounds you can use in Zoom meetings. Download them here.  
  • A brief update on selected Program Team related events.  The Ag Policy & Market Outlook Forum will now include information on the effect of COVID-19 on agribusinesses, ag trade, and the ag industry in general.  The webinar will take place today from 5p.m. to 6:30p.m.  Request the link to attend directly from John Bovay bovay@vt.edu .
  • The Weed ID Clinic is continuing normal operations. They are working remotely to the greatest extent possible. Please continue to use the online submission website (https://weeds.cals.vt.edu/pages/login.php), so they are aware of when to expect samples.

Be well, friends.

Ed and Ray

Dear colleagues:

Thank you for all that you continue to do every day to help our friends and partners across the Commonwealth in these challenging times. Your flexibility, good attitude, and willingness to do whatever it takes to help our communities is a testament to both you, individually, and to the strength of our organization.  

Thank you for attending the “Ask Ed & Ray Anything” session today.  The recording is located here.    

“On Call” During the session, we discussed the topic of “On Call Leave” and have received several requests for clarification. Some employees may have work that they can complete at home; but, they may not have forty hours’ worth. For the additional hours, employees are in “on call” status, meaning that they are ready to be called to work as needed.  However, some grant supported employees may have different circumstances, and we recommend everyone consult with their supervisor with questions and how to address the situation.

Travel Authorizations There have been several questions about whether Virginia is requiring agricultural producers or workers to carry a letter showing they have permission to travel. Virginians are NOT required to carry a letter of this nature, Executive Orders 53 and 55 say that people are free to travel to work, get food, medical care and other important activities.

Sunbelt Farmer of the Year Nominations: Today was the original deadline for submitting Sunbelt Farmer of the Year nominations.  We have not received any nominations, as folks’ attention has understandably been focused elsewhere.  Dan Goerlich has extended the deadline for FOY nominations until April 15. Virginia farmers have won two out of the last three Sunbelt Farmer of the Year awards.  Let’s make sure that we have a candidate in the running again this year. Please contact Dan for a copy of the application.

Shout Out  We want to give a shout out. Within a two-week time frame, Scott Greiner worked with the BCIA board, and Extension Agents across the Southwest District, to move the annual SW Virginia BCIA Bull Sale from a traditional in barn sale, to a combination of on-line and telo-auction sales. Realizing that many producers lacked access or comfort in using these tools, Extension agents set up 11 remote sites, taking registrations and planning for adherence to social distancing guidelines. Our Agents quickly spread the word among producers and helped reassure them that the new format would work. On sale day, agents assisted producers at each of the sites. 115 bulls were sold for an average of $3,230 and almost half of the bulls sold through the remote sites.

Diagnostic Labs: As far as we know, all the labs are operating.  If there are changes we will let you know asap.

For details on the Insect ID Lab go to: https://www.ento.vt.edu/index/COVID-19_Insect_ID_Lab.html

Plant Disease Clinic:  They continue to be available and  are in the lab when notified samples have been delivered.  No walk-ins are accepted as campus is closed to the public.

Soil Testing Lab:  The lab continues to operate.  It is behind in processing samples due to reduced staffing but they are working to close the gap as best they can.  Again, no walk-in samples are accepted.

Thank you again for all that you do. As we said during the call today, please make sure to take the time needed to ensure that you are taking care of yourselves and your families, both mentally and physically. You have a lot on your plate right now - but we will get through all this together.  

Ed and Ray

Dear colleagues:

We know many of you are trying to plan around what life will look like when COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed, and we can start getting back to normal operations. We understand and respect the fact that you often need weeks or months to plan for programming events. Please be aware, though, that based on yesterday’s update from Governor Northam, Virginia Cooperative Extension should not plan to host any in-person programming until after June 10th, which is the date through which Executive Order Fifty-Five states Virginians must primarily remain in their place of residence.  Also, please take into account that any in-person programs planned for the immediate weeks or even months after June 10th may still need to be cancelled, postponed, or converted to an all-digital format, based on the circumstances at that time. Our recommendation is that, when planning events into the future, you think virtual first...and then transition to face-to-face later on if that is the preferred format, and the opportunity allows. We understand that this is a different way of thinking, but we feel it reflects reality for the foreseeable future. Additional updates follow:

  • Our weekly “Ask Ed & Ray Anything” session will be held Wednesday 11 a.m. via this Zoom link
  • The VCE Leadership team met today to discuss the impact of the most recent Governor’s Executive Order on spring and summer 4-H programming. The following plan is being operationalized for implementation:
    1. Given the Governor’s Executive Order released yesterday, we are planning for multiple circumstances with several possible scenarios in regards to spring and summer 4-H programming. We understand the impact on your programming and the anxiety that you are feeling as a result.
    2.  All in-person 4-H events scheduled for spring should be postponed until after June 10, at a minimum. Should the Governor's EO be rescinded or amended this will be re-evaluated. Given the uncertainty around when and to what extent restrictions will be lifted, you are strongly encouraged to plan for virtual programming, even beyond June 10, to ensure the availability of high-quality, consistent programming.
    3. State 4-H Congress will become a virtual event in 2020. Several exciting ideas are being discussed to make this an outstanding event for our teens. The Virginia All Star Executive committee will be discussing alternatives for tapping new members. The Centennial celebration will be rescheduled for 2021, along with all associated 4-H Alumni Engagement events.
    4. We have a unique relationship with our 4-H Educational Centers. We operate our 4-H camping program in partnership with each 4-H Center, which is an independent 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Thus, the centers receive minimal operating funds from VCE and must generate revenue to sustain the operation and to keep 4-H camper fees as low as possible. VCE is exploring all options to assist the 4-H Centers.
    5. 4-H Residential Camps - In order to offer camp to as many 4-Hers as possible, each 4-H Center will work with the units in their service area to create a modified schedule with camps beginning the week of June 28. This may require re-clustering to ensure each locality has the opportunity to camp. This plan provides a two-week window from the June 10 date for onsite training of staff, teens, and adult volunteers. Should the restriction be lifted early or each week not be filled by the camping units, 4-H Centers will consider offering specialty camps using open enrollment. 
    6. Please do not communicate with 4-H families until directed to do so. This will allow time for proposed schedules to be developed, and will enable administration to discuss refund policy and procedures with University officials, ensuring consistency across the state.
  • The 2020 Spring 4-H Paper Clover campaign with Tractor Supply Company (originally scheduled to take place 4/29 – 5/10) will be postponed to a later date.  Details regarding the new dates will be discussed between TSC and National 4-H Council in May, and confirmed next steps will be shared as they become available.  We also want to confirm that our partnership with Tractor Supply will continue with the Fall Paper Clover campaign as planned for 10/7 – 10/18.   
  • Improvements are being made to the internal and external VCE COVID-19 webpages. You will notice that they are organized a little differently to provide easier access to information. One example is that one no longer has to access a Google Excel sheet to view upcoming professional development sessions. Simply click on the Online Training Resources tab and a list will populate. Clicking the event title will start the Zoom session. Thanks to Lauren Shutt for her innovative approach to managing the website. Please continue to work through the VCE program teams to share programming needs or resources. 
  • We have received several requests for clarification regarding farm visits. Farm visits may continue. In doing so, we recommend that the agent and producer first determine if the matter can be resolved from a distance via a telephone conversation, e-mail communication, or by using an approach like FaceTime assuming the agent and producer have the necessary tools and connectivity. If the agent must physically visit the farm that is allowable. During a farm visit, the agent must strictly adhere to social distancing guidelines for the protection of both the agent and the producer. Upon conclusion of the visit, the agent can then provide the recommendation from a safe distance, via telephone, or via e-mail. We respect that there is often a social component to farm visits that this approach infringes upon. However, our goal in making these recommendations is to safeguard both the client and the agent, while still providing our clients with essential information important to their livelihood.
  • Thanks to Extension Agent Ed Olson for suggesting that the eXtension “Ask an Expert” (AaE) feature be considered for Unit office websites, as an additional avenue for clients to access Extension services. AaE is one way to receive and respond to questions from clients in the Unit office. It was developed by eXtension many years ago. Some Units already have an AaE widget on their Unit website landing page and adding it now will be a Unit office level decision.  If you would like to do this, here are the instructions for adding AaE, and doing so in a manner whereby questions will route first to the Unit office. 
  1. Put the AaE widget on your Unit landing page: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1G27UoUraRdi428ZRzsFmXGQBsTX2CGod/view
  2. Get an eXtension ID (if you don’t already have one):  https://people.extension.org/
  3. Log in to AaE: http://create.extension.org/node/99876
  4. Update your profile and location to include your Unit http://create.extension.org/node/94561

For questions about the AaE widget, contact Lauren Shutt (leshutt@vt.edu). For other questions about AaE, contact Mike Lambur (lamburmt@vt.edu).:

  • With regard to shipments coming to Unit offices, please consider if someone will be in your office to receive UPS shipments before placing orders on the VCE/Office Depot Storefront.  Some orders have been returned to the Office Depot print facility, because no one was in the office to receive them. If you have any questions, please contact vcedistributioncenter@vt.edu.

We know this is a long update, but we wanted to get new information out as soon as possible.  We appreciate all the creativity that is going into serving the people of Virginia.  We hope you are feeling free to really try new means of meeting your community’s needs.  Please take care of yourself and your family!

Stay safe,

Ed and Ray

Dear colleagues:

This afternoon Governor Northam announced a stay-at-home order for the Commonwealth of Virginia due to the continued spread of COVID-19.  To read more about the order, visit https://www.governor.virginia.gov/newsroom/all-releases/2020/march/headline-855702-en.html The Executive Order was extended until June 10 unless rescinded or amended by another Executive Order. More guidance for how this order impacts VT, VSU, and VCE will be forthcoming in Tuesday’s update.  

  • We are well-positioned for the Governor’s announcement through our efforts to telework and the great strides we have made organizationally, toward transitioning our educational content delivery model to virtual delivery modes.  Thank you for your efforts. They are noticed and appreciated.
  • Our weekly “Ask Ed & Ray Anything” session will be held Wednesday 11 a.m. via this Zoom link. Submit anonymous questions via this survey by 10 p.m. today. Questions will also be taken during the meeting.
  • Cyndi Marston cmarston@vt.edu has led an effort for many months to compile public facing ANR programming into a Google calendar http://bit.ly/VirginiaAgPrograms to expand the reach of our sessions.  Cyndi is now focusing this effort on virtual programming and has graciously agreed to expand this effort to include all program areas.  If you are offering an educational program for the general public and would be willing to make that available to audiences beyond your service area, please share that information with Cyndi and she will post to the Google calendar.  This will help us create a master list of public-facing educational programs that agents can share with clients around the state.  
  • Please continue to send internal-facing in-service professional development sessions to Dan Goerlich dalego@vt.edu for posting.  In-service sessions scheduled for this week thus far include efforts by Jeremy Daubert and Cynthia Martel (March 31), Dahlia O’Brien (April 2), Crystal Tyler-Mackey (April 2 & 3), and Chad Proudfoot (April 3).  Please note that Dr. O’Brien’s session on de-wormer resistance requires that you register in advance for the meeting:  https://virginiatech.zoom.us/meeting/register/vJwrc-6spzgqmMpWsNkHxOh7Q8nQr_wl9A (after which you will receive the Zoom link).
  • Deanna Sumners, Digital Content Specialist with CALS Communications, can help expand the reach of your social media based programming to additional audiences through the VCE Facebook page.  Deanna has noted an “amazing diversity and number of people we can reach when we do that.”  Please reach out to Deanna drreid@vt.edu to discuss further or share your social media events.  (Note that the Communications and Marketing staff will also be tracking the Google calendar maintained by Cyndi Marston.) And don't forget you can also tag https://www.facebook.com/VsuCollegeOfAgriculture/ to share your event on the VSU College of Agriculture Facebook page, as well. You can learn more about best practices in the March 26 update on this page
  • Zeke Barlow, Michelle Olgers, and the top notch communications and marketing teams at VT and VSU have developed a comprehensive and coordinated communication strategy to guide efforts going forward.  Stay tuned for further information.

We know we are all adapting to this current reality to some degree. We are experiencing new frustrations, and yet we are being creative and developing new ways of working and serving our communities.  We continue to encourage you to do what you are able under the circumstances.   We are one of the rays of hope for the people of Virginia. 

Stay safe,

Ed and Ray

Dear colleagues;

We wanted to end the work week (but we know there is no end of the work) with some more uplifting things that are going on.

First, a great success from VSU with Dr. Reza Rafie’s virtual blueberry walk. Go to VSU Cooperative Extension webpage to view this great example of education in our current times:  https://www.ext.vsu.edu/horticulture . Kudos to the team that made this possible, and showing how we can still take our programs to the people! The program was viewed live by 720 people and has, as of this morning, received an additional 958 viewers. It is also going to be featured on Virginia Public Radio and by Virginia Farm Bureau as an example of how VCE is transitioning to virtual programming during this challenging time.

Another great story highlights the 4-H Tech Changemakers in Charlotte County, and features one of our Youth In Action Award winners, Eli Price. The National 4-H Council release can be viewed here: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLQOnkCfioM&feature=youtu.be

State 4-H Update will be distributed through 4HOnline, informing parents and members of current programming restrictions. 

More great work from our Program Teams:

 

Animal and Production Team

  • The SW BCIA Bull test sale has moved to a combination of on-line and tele-auction, with agents hosting sites for producers without connectivity or unfamiliarity with technology. Producers are registering, so sites can adhere to groups of 10 or less people.

Food, Nutrition, and Health

  •  Information for people who don’t normally cook at home
  •  Grocery store resources
  • Healthy snacks and meals
  • A meeting of agents and specialists, from four program teams, was held and they have compiled a list of relevant VCE resources that currently exist; and, ones that they may need to identify from other Extension systems or may need to be created
  • FNP has excellent resources which are available for broader distribution
  • Feedback from agents indicate increased interest in:
    • Gardening 
    • Food preservation 
    • Renee Boyer is setting up a meeting to discuss producing some videos on basic food preservation
    • AG in the Classroom has been identified as a good resource
    • Exploring different ways to utilize social media to get the word out and connect Unit and VCE social media
    • Cooking with kids

We have met with the leadership of our agriculture partners and want to be sure folks know about their resources as well at:

Virginia Farm Bureau  https://www.vafb.com/FarmerResources and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services https://www.vdacs.virginia.gov/about-emergency-information.shtml

Don’t forget eXtension as another resource that is available to the entire Land-Grant University system to share various materials and institutional responses to COVID-19.  Check it out at https://impact.extension.org

Another good source is the Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) https://extensiondisaster.net/ .

We can’t thank you enough for the great work you are doing for the people of Virginia in these trying times.  As we go into this weekend, please be mindful of taking care of yourself and your family.   

Stay safe,

Ed and Ray

Dear colleagues;

We know there is lots of work taking place in developing creative ways to serve the people of Virginia.  We want to just inform you of some of the efforts from the Program Teams as they collaborate and work on those pressing issues.  Today we would like to highlight what is going on in the Human Development Team and the Family Community Economic Development Team:

The Human Development Team has:

  • Posted all stress reduction materials
  • Developed a teen suicide resources tip sheet for parents
  • Developed a Washing Hands with Toddlers video this week

The Family and Community Economics Team is meeting regularly to:

  • Focus efforts on how to support the communities in the long-term with the impact of unemployment.
  • Develop a strategy to enable VCE to be a connector of resources available in their community. 
  • Work on modules and resources in the following areas: financial scams, student loan deferment, how tax deferment will work this year, and how incentive money will work.  
  • Finalize an on-line introductory course in money management that would encourage people to reach out to Extension agents for additional resources and in-depth information. Lessons are instructional, focused on personal finance, and include with help videos. The concept is to assign select agents as “Course Facilitators” that will serve various regions of the state to ensure full coverage even in areas where communities do not have an FCS agent. These individuals would be included in an introductory video as community contacts for further information.

We know that others are working hard to adjust to the challenges presented by the COVID pandemic and are stepping up to help out in these challenging times. We encourage you to share and we want to hear about such stories. Our communications team is collecting them to write a story about your efforts to serve the community.  You can fill out this survey link or you can simply email our communications directors Zeke Barlow at zekebarlow@vt.edu or Michelle Olgers at molgers@vsu.edu.

Other updates Include:

  • Ask Ed and Ray Anything” recording.  Ed forgot to press record at the beginning of the Zoom session.  He will have someone take lead of that task in the future. My apologies.
  • Travel Authorization Letters;  In conversations with our agricultural partners we are proposing folks use the following language if needed in communications.  There are no restrictions although some industries that work across state lines might have different expectations in those other states.
  •  Authorization and Permission to continue working:  Many states have started to require/issue letters indicating the holder is part of an essential industry/enterprise or government service, and therefore able to move freely to conduct business. Currently in Virginia the primary focus is on limiting non-essential retail and recreational and entertainment businesses. Consequently, there are no restrictions on enterprises that are not deemed non-essential from performing job duties and traveling to and from jobs. Therefore, it is not necessary to have such a letter of authorization to be developed and provided. If the Governor does place further restrictions, new guidance will be provided. Entities operating across state lines should seek guidance from the other states within which they are doing business.
  • The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) has issued updated guidance for farmers markets, roadside stands, produce auctions, and U-pick operations.  These updated guidelines are located here.  A farmers market dialogue took place this afternoon via Zoom to discuss current issues, strategies, share examples of alternative business models, and connect agents to organizational resources.  The session recording can be viewed here.  A multi-agency team is being established within the CLRFS Program Team to respond to this issue.  Please contact Eric Bendfeldt ebendfel@vt.edu and French Price frenchprice@vt.edu with questions or to learn more about how to engage.
  • Social media: Since in-person programming is not happening right now, most events on social media, specifically Facebook, have been deleted. However, we are aware a lot is still going on, and we want to convey this message. Please tag Virginia Cooperative Extension and Virginia 4-H in your social media posts.

Also, please create Facebook events for upcoming webinars and programming that are open to the public and add VCE as a co-host. Creating Facebook events, in addition to creating promotional posts, will allow us all to promote the great things that are coming up. By adding VCE as a co-host, your event will show up on the VCE events page and our followers will see each event as a post. This makes it easier for the main VCE page to share and promote your event too. Additionally, the Facebook event format allows for a nicer way to include globs of Zoom information without having to take up valuable reading space in a post.

It is amazing how many people are reached by event posts, and this is another way to help the public see that VCE is still doing great things.

Facebook Event Tips

  • Tag Virginia Cooperative Extension in posts on all social media platforms so we can help promote events and information
  • If you don’t tag us, we may not see your post and won’t be able to help promote the great things you’re doing
  • Add Virginia Cooperative Extension as a co-host
  • Be clear about what the event is and where it is being held (online through Zoom or another platform)
  • Add all relevant Zoom login/access information to details section
  • Remember that most people do not use Zoom regularly, so only include what they need to access your program
  • Include your contact information for event and technology questions
  • Use a relevant, high-quality photo for your event header

Questions? Get in touch with Deanna Sumners at drreid@vt.edu

Stay safe and healthy,

Ed and Ray

Dear colleagues;

We want to thank you all who participated in the Ask Ed and Ray Anything session today. We hope we were able to answer your questions, and most importantly reassure you of the future of VCE.  It is apparent that as each of us reads information, it gets interpreted in multiple ways. We want  these daily communications and the weekly Zoom session help clarify and inform. Today's session was recorded and will be posted on our COVID-19 updates webpage.

Jobs:  We had multiple questions come in about the future of our jobs. We want to reaffirm that there are no discussions happening concerning people being laid off, furloughed, or otherwise adversely impacted. Both universities are intent on keeping our workforce in place.  As we indicated, when this is over, we are going to need everyone going full speed.  

Budget:  Although related to the previous item, it is pertinent to point out COVID-19 will have a profound impact on the economy. We, therefore, need to prepare for some belt tightening.  That would mean primarily not filling open positions and perhaps some reductions in operating funds related to programming efforts. There is no need to be worried about this until we have more information.

Summer Programming:  Even though a number of decisions need to be made very soon about a variety of programs and events for the summer, including camps, we are trying to get some additional guidance on some questions to help us make an informed decision.  We understand the pressure everyone is under to make plans, etc.

Teleworking:  If you are not clear on your circumstances, please contact your district director or supervisor for guidance. Each unit is different and we know things change quickly.  We also realize that there are many challenges with working remotely; please - just do your best to  do the job we are called to do, and don’t stress about it.

Ed was on a national call this afternoon with representatives from Google, Microsoft, and other major groups. There are 7 million youth in this country without connectivity. There are many in Virginia without connectivity. Let’s be creative and figure out how to reach and serve them.

Please check the VCE COVID-19 webpage for additional resources and information. Keep your questions, ideas, stories, and lessons coming. We are all in it together.

Stay safe and well,

Ed and Ray

Colleagues;

As we navigate these unchartered waters, we want to thank you for your patience and understanding as circumstances evolve.  Our first priority is your safety and well-being, and we take it very seriously as we try to get answers and provide guidance.  We know that many who are working from home have significant challenges with taking care of family members as you try to get the job done.  We acknowledge that stress and want to encourage you to take care of yourselves.  Extension folks have a tendency to focus on their clientele at the expense of their own mental and physical health.  When you are under stress as we are in a time of an emergency, please reach out to the resources available to support and help.

We are indeed in the early phase of an emergency, working to respond to the many issues and questions that come up.  During this phase, it is easy to lose sight of two very important things we need to be doing.  First, we need to regularly take a breath and think about what we have learned in this process. When it is all over, we will spend time evaluating and preparing for future events.  However, if we don’t regularly document what lessons we learned as we go along, we risk missing them.  We encourage everyone to periodically jot down some notes, and then as units or teams reflect and further document.  We want to be able to know how well we did and to be able to tell the value of who we are.  

Which leads us to the second item: We care about our communities, and because we do, we need to start thinking and strategizing now for what comes after this immediate crisis phase.  COVID-19 will be life-changing for many in our communities, jobs, businesses, financial issues, stress, farms, etc. are all going to be top of mind as we transition to recovery.  As you see the impact now, think of how we can prepare our organization to be there to help.  We know the program teams have started this thinking, and it will be through them we position our efforts to be the most effective.  There are many organizations willing to help in emergencies and disasters that do a great job.  However, they tend to be present for a limited period of time.  The value Extension brings is that we live in those communities and we will be here for the long haul.  We assure you this crisis will direct our programming for some time to come.

One last word before the daily updates.  There are many in our communities who are not connected to faith-based or other organizations, may be of limited resources or hampered with lack of other support systems.  I think of elderly without family, those who may be going hungry, you know who we are talking about.  I encourage everyone to think about what we collectively and individually can be doing to reach out and do what is right.  We serve all people in the commonwealth.

Updates

Our weekly Ask Ed Anything to answer your questions will be held Wednesday at 11 a.m. at this Zoom linkThese will be held weekly going forward and archived on the VCE COVID-19 website.

A youth livestock FAQ sheet is available on the COVID-19 website at this link.

In alignment with Governor Northam’s directive that all K-12 schools be closed for the remainder of the academic year, all in-person 4-H programming will remain suspended until further notice. We will continue to monitor the situation, discuss late spring and summer programming, and provide timely updates regarding the suspension. The State 4-H Office will schedule additional Zoom sessions for further guidance and resource collaboration.

Virginia Tech is hosting a zoom call on Friday for faculty of all classifications.  Details are in today’s Daily News.  They also have an FAQ for faculty at this link.

We have created a sign that you can customize to post at your unit offices with contact information when offices are closed. You can download and customize the sign here (it downloads automatically when you click it). There is also an instructional video on how to post the sign to your local unit office website here

We continue to add resources to the VCE COVID-19 webpages for the public and for VCE faculty and staff. Please visit them often. Several stress reduction resources have been posted recently.

Stay safe,

Ed and Ray

Good afternoon, colleagues:

Here are the latest updates from VCE administration regarding coronavirus developments.  This and all other communications and resources from administration can be found at the VCE coronavirus webpage.

  • The screening requirements outlined in the March 20 Virginia Tech communication to the university community apply to individuals returning to Blacksburg.  We believe similar guidance is appropriate for faculty and staff living and working elsewhere in the state.  Some folks live in COVID-19 hotspots and do not have to fill out the survey.  Those who don’t and have traveled to an area now considered a COVID-19 hotspot in the past 14 days are welcome to contact their local Department of Health office with questions about whether a screening is right for you.  State employees are not allowed to travel outside the state for work.  However, employees who live outside of Virginia can continue to commute as long as their office remains open.   Travel within the state is still allowed, but caution should be exercised.
  • Going forward, we will host weekly “Ask Ed Anything” sessions to answer questions from the field.  The next session will be held Wednesday, March 25 at 11 a.m. via this Zoom link. Submit anonymous questions via this survey by 10 p.m. the Monday before the meeting.  Questions will also be taken during the session.
  • Federal ESF 11 would like feedback regarding any supply chain issues with livestock and poultry production and processing that are known in Virginia at this time.  Please communicate any known issues to Dan Goerlich dalego@vt.edu for compilation.
  • The Animal Production/Livestock-Forage In-service previously scheduled for May has been canceled.  The organizers will decide at a later time about how to proceed (i.e., rescheduling vs. alternative delivery method).
  • We are starting to populate the VCE coronavirus webpage with subject matter Zoom sessions volunteered by specialists, program teams, and DPLT members.  The first session is coming up on March 26.  Please note whether the sessions are intended for internal audiences, external audiences, or both.  Sessions described as “internal” are in-service training for faculty and staff.  Sessions including the “external” label can be marketed to clients and partners.   
  • ESF 11 and VDEM are closely monitoring feeding programs and the food supply chain.   The Virginia Feeding Task Force currently anticipates a lack of volunteers and need to coordinate the distribution of nutritional assistance to individuals who do not have access due to social distancing restrictions or lack of distribution sites.  Please promote and engage with food distribution programs where appropriate.  
  • VCE is temporarily suspending faculty and staff hiring.  We continue to explore creative ways to move forward with the VCE Summer Internship Program and appreciate the valuable thoughts that have been contributed in this area.

Thank you for your commitment to VCE and the people of Virginia!

Ed and Ray

Good afternoon, colleagues:

Here are the latest updates from VCE administration regarding coronavirus developments.  This and all other communications and resources from administration can be found at the VCE coronavirus webpage.

  • Thank you for participating in the “Ask Ed Anything” session on Thursday.  I appreciate your questions, contributions, and professionalism as we work through this time together.  Going forward, we will host weekly “Ask Ed Anything” sessions to answer questions from the field.  These sessions will be held every Wednesday at 11 a.m. at this Zoom link. Submit anonymous questions at this survey by 10 p.m. the Monday before the meeting.  Questions will also be taken during the session.
  • We would like to learn about the unique subject matter content needs that you are seeing in the field.  To facilitate our ability to connect these needs to program teams and specialists, please share your information needs through this survey link.
  • We are exploring the mechanism for adding the eXtension “Ask an Expert” feature to Unit office websites.  The concept is that questions arising within the Unit would first route to the agents in that Unit for review and response.  We will have more information on this soon.
  • We have received requests for consistent signage to place at entrances to Unit offices communicating our status to clientele.  In response, Zeke Barlow and his staff are developing a template for review by the administrative team that includes welcoming language and communicates our current status.  The signage will have a customizable section where Units can place their alternate contact information.  
  • In order to assist 4-H clubs in meeting the current restrictions for programming and operations, approval for 4-H Club Fund transactions may now take place via email instead of needing original signatures. Please see this memo from Chad Proudfoot, 4-H Organizational Specialist, for more details on this temporary procedural change.
  • Please note that, after today (March 20) the VT Soil Testing Laboratory will no longer be serving walk-in clientele until further notice.  Agents can continue to mail samples but please note that response time will be delayed as outlined in March 16 and 17 e-mail communications from Rory Maguire.
  • For informational purposes and consistent with the theme of helping our communities, please note the following information about blood drives in Virginia.  4,000 canceled blood drives are putting significant strain on the nation's blood supply.  For information on a blood drive taking place near you please visit this link.

Thank you for your patience, creativity, and commitment to VCE and the people of Virginia.  Have a safe weekend!

Ed and Ray and Ed

Colleagues;

Thank you to all who participated in the “Ask Ed Anything” Zoom session today.  We hope many of your questions were answered, or you understood why we don’t have definitive answers to some questions yet.  If you missed it, the recording will soon be posted on the internal COVID-19 website.  We are also keeping the survey open for additional questions, and will respond in our updates as they come in.  We will also do another “Ask Ed” Zoom session in about a week.

Some of the important topics from today are:

  • Teleworking:  District Directors are working with the faculty and staff in the district on the best approaches to teleworking.  There may be different reporting expectations based on whether or not an individual is supported by particular grants or other funds, which require additional documentation.  The important part is flexibility and understanding of circumstances.  Department and AREC faculty and staff should work with their department head or director.
  • Reminder: No gatherings larger than 10.  Minimize face to face as much as possible.
  • Office Closures:  The most frequent circumstance will be that offices are closed to the public.  We must adhere to that requirement.  However, we can work with clientele, but again minimize face to face.  Be creative in virtual delivery and remote support to the community.  ANR agents may need to make farm visits, but arrange to minimize any contact; there are creative ways to do that.  Remember it is not only for our protection, but that of our clientele.
  • Wage Employees:  VT Human Resources is seeking solutions on how to support our wage employees during this time.  As soon as we have something we can share, we will.
  • Students using Eduroam:  We have been asked by the University if we can allow students to use our wifi from parking lots.  We have agreed to have the following listed in the University resources to students. "Eduroam may be available at Virginia Cooperative Extension offices and Agricultural Research and Extension Centers (https://ext.vt.edu/offices.html). Please observe public health guidelines and access these resources from the parking lot, keeping in mind that Eduroam may not be accessible in the parking lots of all offices, and there may be local limitations on using parking areas.”

We are very clear that it may not work everywhere and if there are issues identified by the county/city government, it may not be available.  We made no promises that we have to do it.

  • Schedule past April 30: We really have no idea about when this will end.  Consequently, think about postponing or cancelling any events in May.  We will know more in the coming days, but it is better to err on the safe side.
  • Virtual programs:  We are encouraging agents and specialists to create virtual office hours, chat rooms, etc. to stay connected and provide information and guidance.  This is a good time to explore virtual discussion groups to help convey educational information to clients and help them feel connected and supported.  VT-based specialists, the Associate Directors will be in contact with a schedule from which you will be able to select date/time combinations for delivering Zoom sessions that do not overlap.  VSU specialists please work with Michelle Olgers.  This approach will minimize the chances that programs will be presented at the same times.  Specialists - please note that as the schedule is completed session topics and times will be posted to the VCE coronavirus webpage on your behalf.  Please do not e-mail your session to the listserv.  
  • Telling our story: I know that you care deeply about the communities in which you live and work and many of you will be stepping up to help out in these challenging times. I encourage you to. We also want to hear about such stories. Our Communications team is collecting them to write a story. You can fill out this survey link or you can simply email our communications director Zeke Barlow at zekebarlow@vt.edu

Finally, the number of confirmed cases in Virginia jumped to 94 as of noon today.  This is indeed serious.  So please take care of yourselves and your family, and remember to be kind and grateful for all those who continue to make everyday life possible, the clerks in grocery stores and gas stations, those who are working diligently in our healthcare sector, and those in public safety.  

Stay safe and healthy, and thank you for doing your best to support our communities,

Ed and Ray

Good afternoon, colleagues:

Here are the latest updates from VCE administration regarding coronavirus developments.  This and all other communications and resources from administration can be found at the VCE coronavirus webpage.

  • First, we would like to acknowledge that the quantity and pace of information, changes, and resulting stress and confusion are hard on everyone.  We are aware that as the situation evolves and information changes, people are impacted.  We are striving for consistency in messaging, and these efforts are also impacted by decisions made by Virginia Tech, Virginia State, the Commonwealth of Virginia, health organizations, and other entities.  We will continue to strive to deliver consistent guidance recognizing that the coronavirus situation and accompanying responses are rapidly changing.  We are all in this together. 
  • Public Gatherings: Governor Northam, following guidance from the Center for Disease Control has issued guidance recommending that gatherings greater than 10 people be canceled or postponed.  Therefore, please postpone or cancel gatherings of more than ten people. We strongly suggest that faculty seek alternatives to face-to-face program delivery for all events.  Faculty and staff should not attend non-essential partner group meetings of more than ten people. 
  • Ask Ed Anything: I will be holding a special Ask Ed Anything on Thursday from 11 a.m. to noon to answer any questions you may have about how we are handling HR issues, VCE’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, and how we can help in our local communities. You can watch and participate at this Zoom invite: https://virginiatech.zoom.us/s/913146153  Please submit any questions you’d like answered via this anonymous survey by midnight Wednesday.  Ed will also be fielding questions during the Zoom call.
  • A Message about Advancement at Virginia Tech: This is a time when we want to keep our constituents close and be thoughtful of the messages we convey.  If we stay in touch with our constituents through tough times such as this the connections with those individuals will be stronger when we emerge together on the  other side of the crisis. We will continue to process philanthropic gifts to VCE through our normal processes.  However, as Virginia Cooperative Extension professionals, I ask that we all pause on new solicitations of our donors and friends at this time. When the time comes where we begin soliciting our donors and friends in the future, we will be well served by this action we take today.
  • ARECs:  The ARECs have been closed to the public.  Operations will continue, and they will be providing a place where people normally drop off samples.
  • The internal VCE coronavirus webpage and public-facing “COVID-19 Resources” website https://ext.vt.edu/covid-19updates/resources.html are updated on a daily basis.  Please continue to check these sites for the latest resources.  If you have additional resources to recommend please route that content to the appropriate Associate Director.  The AD will then work with Communications to post.

We know circumstances are constantly changing, and we thank you for your flexibility, patience and commitment to VCE and the people of Virginia.  

Ed and Ray

Good afternoon, colleagues:

Here are the latest updates from VCE administration regarding coronavirus developments.  This and all other communications and resources from administration can be found at the VCE coronavirus webpage

  • Teleworking for field offices:  We authorize all field units to telework.  We encourage you to communicate with your district director your plans and stay connected with them.  Recognizing some people may have challenges with internet access, please prioritize responsibilities within the unit so those who have internet issues still have productive work to do.    Teleworking does not mean staying away from the office entirely, there may be limited use of the office or visits to the office to check mail, pick up or drop off materials, etc.  This is an important time to work together as a team, and share responsibilities across the board to protect yourselves yet serve your community.  We know there are questions regarding leave, etc. We will continue to work with human resources to the minimize any untold consequences, especially for staff, part-time employees and those without internet access.  The district director team are working together to help with guidance and support.  Please note that the ARECs, CALS Departments and VSU are providing guidance to their employees.
  • Ask Ed Anything: I will be holding a special Ask Ed Anything on Thursday at from 11 a.m. to noon to answer any questions you may have about how we are handling HR issues, VCE’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, and how we can help in our local communities. You can watch and participate at this Zoom invite: https://virginiatech.zoom.us/s/913146153

Please submit any questions you’d like answered via this anonymous survey by midnight Wednesday.

I will also be fielding questions during the Zoom call.

  • Working Online Resources:  Please visit:  virtual.extension.org  for seminars and other tools.  One free seminar is at 2 p.m. TODAY.

We know circumstances are constantly changing, and we thank you for your flexibility, patience and commitment to VCE and the people of Virginia. 

Ed and Ray

Good afternoon, colleagues:

Here are the latest updates from VCE administration regarding coronavirus developments.  This and all other communications and resources from administration can be found at the VCE coronavirus webpage

  • Dean Grant has asked that communications to VT CALS and VCE go through the appropriate Associate Dean, Dean or Director of Human Resources.  There is a lot of well-meaning sharing that can create challenges in volume, conflicting messages, etc.  For VCE please send to Ed, Dan or Cathy for consideration.
  • The Center for Disease Control has issued guidance recommending that, for the next eight weeks, organizers throughout the U.S. cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people or more.  We recommend that all should follow this guidance.  We also strongly suggest that faculty seek alternatives to face-to-face program delivery for all events, and reserve face-to-face for priority or critical needs.
  • In a time of emergency we encourage faculty and staff to focus on what can be done to support the communities in which we live.  Areas where we might be able to help include assisting food insecure families and communities, assisting schools and food pantries with food distribution, serving as volunteer shoppers for senior citizens, and other contributions identified locally.
  • If the local government office closes, the VCE office will be closed as per the authorized closing guideline.  Even so, we support efforts to assist vulnerable populations.  We are gradually getting more clarity around specific leave questions and will share more information as it is developed.  In the meantime, telework arrangements should mirror VT and VSU guidance.  For Virginia Tech employees, even for those employees who are not directly impacted by the closure of public schools, supervisors and department heads are encouraged to arrange for employees to work remotely.  We are currently making these arrangements on a requested basis.  Please work with your supervisor if you feel the need to request a telework arrangement.  Please note that guidance around teleworking continues to evolve and management will continue to stay in touch with their employees during this time.
  • A new public-facing website of VCE resources to assist citizens was created and can be found here.  Please share this on social media and other channels.
  • The Virginia Emergency Support Team (VEST) and Emergency Support Function #11 have been fully activated. 
  • Should someone associated with VCE programming indicate that they have had contact with or have symptoms of the coronavirus, please contact your local health department and follow their guidance.

We will continue to keep you posted as the situation develops.  Thank you for all you do for the citizens of Virginia.

Ed and Ray

Colleagues:

Here are the latest updates from VCE administration regarding coronavirus developments.

  • Out-of-state travel for business purposes has been restricted.  In-state travel, however, is not affected at this time.  For planning purposes, please note that Washington, D.C., is considered out-of-state.
  • In alignment with Governor Northam’s order to close all K-12 schools in Virginia, ALL4-H programming will be suspended from Monday, March 16, through Friday, March 27, at a minimum. This measure is also consistent with the 4-H weather cancellation policy.

    Should school divisions reopen prior to April 30, 2020 local unit 4-H programming may resume with the following restrictions remaining in place: All 4-H activities, regardless of size, at the area, regional, district, statewide, or out-of-state level will be postponed or cancelled. Additionally, all Virginia Cooperative Extension and Virginia 4-H participation at events or activities where more than 100 participants are expected to gather will be canceled or postponed. This also includes 4-H participation in events hosted by other organizations. These responses are subject to further change.

    This information will be disseminated to all enrolled 4-H families through 4HOnline.
  • Force majeure contractual language, along with a partner letter, have been posted on the VCE coronavirus webpage.
  • We are encouraging creative thought processes in how to continue delivering educational content to audiences during the disruption in face-to-face programming. 
  • For Virginia Tech employees, a regularly updated list of frequently asked questions is located here.

We will continue to keep you posted as the situation develops.

Ed and Ray

Good afternoon:

Our team met this morning to continue decision-making and guidance regarding VCE educational programming given the evolving coronavirus situation, and to translate both university’s requirements to the field.  Here is the latest information.

  • Virginia currently has 17 presumptive positive or confirmed cases of coronavirus and 117 negative tests.  Governor Northam declared a State of Emergency this afternoon that we will review and address in Friday’s update.
  • We have received many questions regarding domestic travel.  We have requested clarification on travel that is specific to Virginia Tech/VCE and will share that in another communication in the very near future.
  • The Virginia Tech and VSU requirement to cancel or postpone events, including 4-H camp onsite registration, where more than 100 participants are expected to gather applies to Virginia Cooperative Extension.  In order to align with many local school systems, 4-H will not participate in or host area, regional, district, statewide, or out-of-state events throughout the restriction period. This impacts events currently planned through April 30 and is effective immediately.  We recognize that there are events taking place after April 30 that are currently being planned.  Please continue planning efforts as the timeline will be continuously evaluated. 
  • Additionally, VCE is encouraging all VCE faculty and staff to personally refrain from attending events with more than 100 people.  Agents and others who routinely travel to meet with the public out in the field are asked to consider if face-to-face meetings are absolutely necessary before traveling.  In many cases a phone call or other type of electronic communication may suffice.
  • We recognize that there are some very specific nuances regarding a number of events during and after this time period and more guidance will be needed.  4-H camp is one example.  A  VCE coronavirus webpage is being established that will be regularly updated by leaders with more detailed program-specific information.  Updates such as this one will be posted and archived on that site. Local unit offices are encouraged to update their websites and social media channels with current unit-specific information on programming.
  • Please note that events scheduled where less than 100 participants are expected may continue at the present time, provided they are not on the VSU campus or Randolph Farm.  Agents, Program Assistants, specialists, and staff members continue to make informed decisions about whether to proceed with previously planned local events or not.  (Note that guidance regarding state and international events will come from the appropriate program leadership at the state level).  If you decide to continue hosting an event, then we encourage you to communicate to clients that they should use good judgment when making the decision whether or not to participate.  This includes following Virginia Department of Health guidelines.  We strongly encourage folks to consider alternative mechanisms of providing education and information to limit the need for gatherings.
  • Faculty and staff engaged in program planning that involve contractual obligations after April 30 are strongly advised to include a force majeure clause that allows VT/VSU/VCE to terminate without penalty in event the emergency conditions continue.  The clause will be posted to the VCE coronavirus webpage .
  • We have drafted a letter that faculty and staff can share with local partners where necessary to help communicate the rationale and support for program cancellation.  The letter will be posted to the VCE coronavirus webpage .
  • Virginia Tech and VSU requirements regarding international travel apply to Virginia Cooperative Extension.  This includes 4-H international youth exchanges, both inbound and outbound programs.  Please refer to the VT coronavirus webpage for further details.
  • Please begin tracking your anticipated financial losses from program cancellation, if applicable.  We may need this information at a later date to the benefit of units and programs.

We are committed to providing the best service and information we can to help you carry out your mission under these challenging circumstances.  We will distribute another communication Friday, March 13.  Thank you for all you do for the people of Virginia.

Sincerely,

Ed and Ray

Dear Colleagues,

Virginia Cooperative Extension is committed to ensuring the health and wellbeing of our faculty, staff, and stakeholders and wants to help our community as it deals with the coronavirus (COVID-19).

As such, VCE has formed a team to discuss our programming and operational approach during the coronavirus pandemic. The team, made up of members from both VSU and VT, met this morning and plans to meet regularly hereafter to stay current with this rapidly evolving situation.

As you may know, there are now nine confirmed cases of coronavirus in Virginia, with additional cases in neighboring states. Although the risk of contracting the virus presently remains low, we wanted to share guidance to assist you in your decision-making process related to Extension programming and operations to minimize the risk to you and your program participants.

  • Virginia Tech maintains a website containing recommendations for minimizing the spread of COVID19 and updates on how the university is handling the situation. The site is regularly updated and contains links to resources from the Virginia Department of Health and Center for Disease Control, among other sources. The Virginia Department of Health site includes guidance for steps to follow before, during, and after large scale events, as well as resources relevant to educational institutions, communities, and more.
  • Due to the rapidly evolving and situational nature of COVID19, agents, specialists, and staff members are currently empowered to make their own informed decisions about whether to proceed with previously planned local events or not. (Note that guidance regarding state and international events will come from the appropriate program leadership at the state level). Those that decide to cancel local events will be supported in those decisions. Please consult with your supervisor if necessary for input in deciding whether to cancel or continue a program.
  • If you decide to continue hosting an event, then we encourage you to communicate to clients that they should use good judgment when making the decision whether or not to participate. This includes staying home if one is demonstrating symptoms of illness or is considered to be a high-risk population.
  • Recognize that decisions regarding program continuation / cancellation may need to be made and communicated to clientele on comparatively short notice.  As a result, please ensure that you have current contact information for volunteers, collaborators, and program participants to facilitate communications about event status.  We encourage updating Unit office websites to reflect program closures and cancellations in addition to your normal communication channels.
  • Remember that faculty in affected areas can explore offering virtual events where feasible.
  • Regarding the 4-H Youth International Exchanges, the State 4-H Office is working closely with Virginia Tech Global Education and States’ 4-H International to make decisions related to 4-H youth international travel including inbound and outbound exchanges.  Additional announcements will be made concerning the impact on summer exchange programming.
  • For a discussion of 4-H Camp please refer to the e-mail distributed by Sam Fisher, 4-H Camping Specialist, on March 6.  The health and safety of our faculty, staff, and constituents are the highest priority for all programs whether unit based or 4-H Center based.  We are monitoring this situation and discussions are on-going.  We understand that you may be receiving questions from parents regarding refunds as you register youth for camp.  Please share with those parents that we continue to monitor the situation and our number one concern is the health and safety of youth.
  • We will be meeting with HR to discuss leave options for employees who have, or have families in the same household, with suppressed immune systems.
  • We will provide further guidance regarding office closures if/when that becomes necessary.  In the meantime, we will continue with the approach that if the local government is open, the Extension office is open (and vice versa) and any Extension programming may continue if the organizer deems it appropriate.

We will do our best to provide you with timely information to support your decision-making, and we look forward to being back in touch soon.

Thank you,

Ed and Ray
M. Ray McKinnie, Ph. D.
1890 Extension Administrator
Dean, College of Agriculture