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Richmond’s Chief Elections Official Contracted COVID-19

richmond general registrars building with campaign signs on the front lawn
The Richmond General Registrar's Office on West Laburnum Avenue. (Crixell Matthews/VPM)

On Nov. 9, Richmond General Registrar J. Kirk Showalter held a press conference on the front lawn of her new building on West Laburnum Avenue. 

Showalter told the press gathered there that three people in her office had tested positive for COVID-19. The result, she said, was 90 percent of her staff was forced to quarantine. Although she was asymptomatic, Showalter said she planned to go get tested just hours after her public press conference. She was confident she was fine.

“I've been cognizant of the necessity to socially distance,” she said that day. “So I have been very careful to stay six feet away from most people.”

Three days later, Showalter’s test result came back positive. 

Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says anyone exposed to COVID-19 should quarantine at home. The CDC defines an exposure as being within six feet of a person with COVID-19 for more than 15 minutes. It does not matter whether masks were worn.

Showalter said Friday that she doesn’t believe she violated that guidance by hosting a public press conference after making an appointment to get tested.

“I was voluntarily being tested just to be on the safe side,” she said. “The positive result was as much a surprise to me as anyone as I was totally asymptomatic.”

Showalter says she did not notify the reporters who attended the press conference, because she does not believe anyone fit the CDC parameters for an exposure.

The COVID-19 outbreak at the Richmond General Registrar’s Office has ballooned since Nov. 9. Richmond City Health District Director Dr. Danny Avula said this week there are now 20 confirmed cases associated with the outbreak. 

Avula, whose office has handled the contract tracing for the outbreaks, said last week that a potential cause could be the lack of available space within the office for social distancing.

“The reporting has been consistent that people were wearing masks, however a lot of the gathering, a lot of the planning meetings, a lot of the training sessions, were done in spaces where six-foot distancing wasn’t really possible for the number of people required to pull off some of these events,” he said.

The Democratic Party of Virginia recently sent a letter to Richmond’s Electoral Board calling on Showalter to resign or be removed. Among the issues listed in the letter, is what the party says is “mishandling” of “the largest COVID-19 outbreak within city government to date.” They allege that Showalter failed to promptly notify individuals who were in the General Registrar’s Office after learning of the first COVID-19 case.

On Nov. 12, the day Showalter said she was notified of her positive test result, the general Registrar’s Office was officially closed. It is set to open up again on Monday.