Culpeper Police Chief says health director 'AWOL' as COVID-19 cases explode

Coronavirus cases in a small Virginia county are exploding and leaders are pointing to a lack of testing, outreach, and communication from the health district.

Cases in Culpeper County have more than doubled in the last two weeks, from 201 to 452. More than 70 percent are within the Hispanic population.

”Never did we think our biggest challenge would be with the health director,” said Culpeper Police Chief Chris Jenkins.

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Dr. Wade Kartchner is director of the Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District which serves five counties.

”He really has been AWOL, no one has seen him,” said Jenkins.

Last week Gary Deal, chair of the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors, posted on Facebook, writing in part: “ Dr. Kartchner, when will you start focusing on our community?” He also asked why Kartchner did not attend an important community meeting.

Testing has been a struggle in the county, with claims those seeking tests have been denied. Yanet Garcia, a leader in the Hispanic community, says at least two people she knows who died from coronavirus tried to get tested, but couldn’t.

Garcia said she was with the husband and young daughters of one of those victims, Elizabeth Barrera.

“How do you prepare two little girls that their mother just passed away?” said Garcia. “You shouldn’t have to bury a mother because we neglected her and neglected the community. We need to take that responsibility and we need to take high.”

FOX 5 spoke to Dr. Kartchner Tuesday about testing challenges.

“I’ve not heard of anybody being turned away from testing,” he said.

He later acknowledged he received an email from Jenkins stating concerns about people being denied tests. Kartchner says he’s only aware of one day when the town clinic became overwhelmed.

FOX 5 asked him about criticism from leaders.

“This has been an incredibly challenging time to navigate through the ability of public health to legally share information and to impart that information to law enforcement and first responders,” said Kartchner. “Those challenges are being worked through and continue to be worked through.”

Meanwhile, Garcia is continuing to do her own outreach. She’s collecting food for families in need, raising money, and updating her Impactando Culpeper Facebook page to provide much-needed information.

“I know these people and it breaks my heart,” Garcia said. “And I don’t want to lose another member of our community.”