Though Virginia is performing better than average compared with other U.S. states, and vaccines could be arriving by the year’s end, Gov. Ralph Northam said caution and vigilance are needed as coronavirus cases continue to surge.
One of the ways Northam urged residents on Wednesday to be cautious was to limit private gatherings during the upcoming holiday season.
“We can be grateful for where we are and how far we have come together,” Northam said. “But I ask you, Virginia, to think hard about how you celebrate this holiday. Consider the risks — not just to yourself, but to your family and to your loved ones … This year, staying home is an act of love, too. Protecting the people you care about, protecting your neighbors and community, even protecting strangers, is an act of love.”
Last week, Northam announced tighter COVID-19 restrictions, including smaller in-person gatherings and curfews for bars and restaurants, that went into effect Sunday.
Northam said Wednesday that Virginia is hopeful the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are rolled out by the end of the year, but cautioned that they would only be made available to the most vulnerable populations first, meaning many residents would have to keep up social distancing and mask wearing until they were more widely available in 2021.
The Virginia Department of Health has indicated that they will need $120 million for a successful vaccine roll out. So far, $22 million has been allocated from federal CARES Act funding to help with distribution.
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Northam said he is hopeful that the gap will be filled by working with President-elect Joe Biden and Congress on federal relief, though Virginia will work on funding the roll out when the state’s General Assembly meets in January.
“I just signed a budget today, and we’re already working on the next budget — our revenue is good, is very promising in Virginia,” Northam said. “I hope and I suspect that the federal government will be there to help, but we’ll be in a position statewide to have the resources to keep Virginians healthy.”
On the restrictions that took effect Sunday, Northam admitted that limits on private social gatherings to 25 people or fewer would be difficult, but said that law enforcement could get involved if they received reports of people breaking the order.
“The health department has ways of enforcing, the ABC, law enforcement agencies all have that availability,” Northam said. “We … introduced and passed legislation to have a civil penalty rather than a class one misdemeanor — that doesn’t go into effect until March. So, between now and March, if there needs to be enforcement, it will be done through misdemeanor.”
Northam also urged Virginians to get a flu shot to potentially cut down on the number of people going to hospitals at once.
“As we get into colder weather, I want to remind everyone to get a flu shot,” Northam said. “It’s a simple and easy way to protect yourself and those around you. We don’t want you or our hospitals dealing with the flu while also fighting COVID.”