Gov. Ralph Northam remarked on the one-year anniversary of COVID-19 in Virginia, spoke about vaccine distribution and the return to in-person education.
RICHMOND – Community vaccine clinics will start going up across Virginia next week. That effort, combined with help from FEMA, will increase the state’s vaccine distribution, Gov. Ralph Northam said Tuesday.
The weekend marked a difficult milestone in Virginia’s history. On March 7, Virginia’s experienced the one-year anniversary of the first confirmed COVID-19 case in the state. One week later, the first Virginian passed away from COVID.
A year later, more than 9,000 Virginians lost their lives to the pandemic.
However, 367 days after the first case, there’s hope.
Gov. Ralph Northam addressed the state on Tuesday as part of his ongoing response to COVID-19 and the corresponding vaccinations.
The Immediate Future
As early as next week, Northam noted a phasing in of community vaccine clinics. The state received assistance from FEMA, making the offering possible.
The events will host large numbers, ranging from hundreds to thousands of people each day.
“We’re working to identify sites that will help us vaccinate people equitably,” Northam said.
The first three clinics will be in Danville, Petersburg and Portsmouth.
“We’re scheduling for these clinics and the other vaccination events run by health departments in part from the pre-registration list,” Northam said.
The governor urged those who have not used either the state’s online pre-registration list or utilized the call center to sign up, to do so.
He also noted the importance of answering calls that could hold vaccine appointment information.
“Our call center and local health districts are telling us that a lot of people aren’t [answering their phones]. And I think we’re all guilty of that because of numerous reasons,” Northam said. “I know that everybody, including myself, is tired of spam calls. And most of the time, as we usually say, it’s not smart to answer if you don’t know who’s calling. But right now, until we get everybody vaccinated, please answer your phone. It’s about getting your shot scheduled.”
Back to School
Several weeks ago, Northam asked schools to work toward reopening to in-person learning by March 15. At the time, approximately 30 school divisions – about one-third in the state – remained fully virtual.
The timeline gave many teachers an opportunity to receive a COVID-19 vaccine before returning to the classroom.
“Our school divisions report that two-thirds of staff have received at least one dose of the vaccine and nearly 40% of staff are fully vaccinated,” Northam said. “We are continuing to prioritize vaccinating teachers and school staff and we’re encouraging the pharmacies in the federal pharmacy partnership to prioritize teachers as well. While vaccinating teachers isn’t essential to offering in-person learning, it certainly helps that effort.”
The return to in-person learning came alongside the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s updated federal guidance for schools.
“Our Department of Education and Department of Health have worked closely together throughout the pandemic to make sure that our schools have what they need to make the best choices for their students and their staff,” Northam said. “And now they’re updating our guidance to schools so divisions understand how they can remain open safely and continue bringing students back this spring.”
Northam recently visited open school buildings, seeing their COVID-friendly operations firsthand. He highlighted the staff and students for their continued efforts.
“I just want to reiterate to families out there that if you’re concerned – and I understand your concerns about your children being back in the classroom – it is one of the safest places to be and I encourage all of you to be open-minded and work with your teachers, work with your principals, your schools and do everything that we can to get our children back in the classroom,” Northam said.
Vaccine Distribution on the Rise
Northam noted that cases are going down while vaccination numbers are going up.
“We’ve achieved the aggressive goal we set in January. Back then, as you remember just a few weeks ago, our goal was to get to 25,000 shots a day and we accomplished that. We set our long term goal to get everyone vaccinated by this summer would be 50,000 shots a day and we have achieved that,” Northam said. “We’re now averaging almost 51,000 vaccine doses administered each day in our commonwealth.”
The governor noted that Virginia ranks 11th in the country for vaccine doses given and sixth in percentage of dosage used.
In fact, on some days, we’ve administered more than 60,000 or 70,000 shots a day,” Northam said.
Approximately 18% of all Virginians received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by Tuesday afternoon. That’s about 1.5 million Virginians out of close to 8.5 million.
Given the state’s approach to the vaccine distribution, some areas recently moved into the next subset of Phase 1B. Mount Rogers, Cumberland Plateau and Lenowisco Health Districts were among the first to offer vaccines to people under age 65 with preexisting health conditions.
“Our health districts will keep vaccinating anyone who is older than 65,” Northam said. “This is good news. It’s forward progress and we’re going to keep it up.”
A Return to Normal
Northam also mentioned the CDC’s newest guidance. Now, vaccinated people can gather with other vaccinated people indoors without masks.
“That’s why we all need to get vaccinated as soon as we’re able to,” Northam said. “This is literally our path back to normal.”
Until then, Northam recommended doing the things proven to work: washing hands, wearing masks and social distancing.
“But there is every reason to be hopeful that things are getting better for all of us,” Northam said. “So hang in there. We’re going to put this pandemic in the rear-view mirror.”
Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected]