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UPDATED: Council discusses refugees

The Farmville Town Council discussed the possibility of Afghan refugees at Fort Pickett in Blackstone placing a strain on the local healthcare system at a special called meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 15.

The discussion was not part of the official meeting agenda.

Mayor David Whitus said he had been on a conference call the day before concerning the relocation of Afghan refugees, which are currently housed at Fort Pickett in Blackstone.

“They have active tuberculosis, measles and COVID,” Whitus said. “And as you know, the measles is highly contagious.”

Farmville Town Manager Scott Davis noted that those vaccinated against measles “should be fine.”

“The other thing, again, Mr. Davis, I’ll let you speak to, is the fact that there may be some refugees relocating to hotels in our community,” Whitus said.

Davis said he is part of a homeless task force group, representing the town’s interest, and had been on a conference call with the task force the day before. The group had in the past managed to put some homeless people up in local hotel rooms, Davis said.

“And they got notice that they would no longer be able to do that, because two hotels in town are soon to be having their rooms used by the Afghan refugee situation,” Davis said. “I can’t remember whether they’re refugees, support staff or a mixture of both, so don’t hold me to that exact, but it did have to do with that situation.”

Davis clarified on Thursday that “I do understand that the Super 8 and Quality Inn will be housing contractors who will be working with refugees but not housing refugees.”

He said that Fort Pickett has about 300 pregnant Afghan refugees now, and was concerned that this situation could place even further strain on the Centra Southside Community Hospital.

“Our hospital typically probably delivers an average of a baby a day, which is only 365 a year,” Davis said.

Whitus said, “We’re going to reach out to Senator (Tim) Kaine and Senator (Mark) Warner, and they are already on this. There was an article this morning saying that Senator Kaine and Warner have reached out to the Department of Homeland Security and asked that there be no more refugees brought into localities right now because it is placing a strain on the infrastructure of localities, particularly the health care system.”

Davis added that he felt the problem was a lack of communication from state and federal governments with local governments, which would end up bearing the brunt of the situation.

“Do we have any confirmed Afghani cases of COVID or measles at the hospital right now?” Council Member Sallie Amos asked.

“They wouldn’t share that information with us,” Davis said.

Amos further expressed concern about strains on the healthcare system and possible crime if refugees are relocated to Farmville, she said.

“I assure you, we’re going to be proactive,” Whitus said.

Whitus posted more information on his Facebook page from two conference calls on Monday, Sept. 20, one with Fort Pickett and another with multiple localities, including Fort Pickett, Fort Lee and Quantico.

Locally, despite rumors, only eight refugees have been transferred to the Centra hospital in Farmville, Whitus wrote. Six were admitted and of those, four were pregnant.

Despite concerns about measles, only one reported case, a child, is known, and was taken to Richmond.

“Evacuees are fully inoculated (absent proof of prior vaccination) for measles, mumps, rubella (MMR), polio, COVID, and other age appropriate vaccinations as determined by the CDC,” Whitus said in his post.

No refugees are being housed in local hotels, Whitus said. Rooms are being used by support staff only.

“If you see people of Middle Eastern descent in the community, they are likely interpreters,” Whitus said.

The refugees will eventually go on to integrate into society where they may have families or similar populations exist, such as in Northern Virginia, D.C. or California, he said.

Donations to help them may be made to Team Rubicon via Walmart and Amazon and through the American Red Cross.

“We will continue to keep you updated as more information becomes available,” Whitus said.

This article has been updated from its original version to reflect the most up-to-date information.