Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Thursday that the commonwealth is following federal guidance to immediately open vaccinations up for people who were not initially included in the earlier phases of the rollout.
That means people age 65 and older, and people with certain health problems that make them more vulnerable to the coronavirus, can now get vaccinated as part of Phase 1b. A number of Virginia health districts, including Northern Virginia, are already in Phase 1b.
“This means about half of Virginia is now eligible to receive the vaccine. That’s a major logistical effort, and it’s not going to happen overnight,” Northam said, and he praised better coordination with federal partners.
Phase 1a covers health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities. Phase 1b includes front-line essential workers, and people living in correctional facilities, homeless shelters and migrant labor camps, and initially included people age 75 and older. Phase 1c includes other essential workers, such as those working in media or food service.
If residents want to check their vaccine eligibility, they can visit the Virginia Department of Health’s online portal.
Virginia is steadily working its way through its list of Priority 1 recipients of the COVID-19 vaccines, but the director of the commonwealth’s vaccination efforts said that more would need to be done to stop the steady rise of coronavirus cases.
Dr. Danny Avula, who was appointed by Northam to oversee the vaccine rollout last week, said that there would need to be mass vaccination sites around Virginia if the goal of 50,000 vaccines distributed per day was going to be met.
“We’re gonna need to do more, and so part of what ‘more’ looks like is standing up fixed-site mass vaccination centers across the commonwealth — places that will be six- to seven-day a week operations,” Avula said.
He added that he hopes these facilities will eventually be staffed by members of the National Guard and contracted vaccinators.
That target of 50,000 vaccinations per day was set in order to achieve herd immunity in Virginia, according to Avula.
On the front of public schools, Northam said Virginia would be looking into the possibility of schools operating year-round in order to make up for lost time, but that those were longer-terms plans that still needed to be further developed.
For the short-term, Northam said he wanted school districts to begin thinking how they could get students back in schools safely.
“It’s not going to happen next week, but I want our schools to come from this starting point: How do we get schools open safely?” Northam said. “Schools are places where we can do all the mitigation measures easily — social distancing, mask wearing and cleaning.”
Northam said though vaccination efforts would help schools, they were not necessary for reopening.
The Virginia Department of Education will be issuing new guidance for schools that will emphasize the importance of getting schools reopened, and how school districts can go about making that happen safely.
“The guidance will lay out a pathway, including how to use mitigation measures in school buildings and how to prioritize students,” Northam said. “Every school district will have to decide what works best for it, working with the local health department.”
“I know all of Virginia shares the goal of getting our children back to school,” Northam said.
Also Thursday, the Virginia Department of Health announced that it had partnered with Walgreens pharmacies to provide COVID-19 antigen testing at no cost to the public.
“We are pleased to announce the expansion of this public-private partnership following a successful pilot with four Walgreens locations,” said Dr. Parham Jaberi, VDH Public Health and Preparedness deputy commissioner in a statement. “Our continued partnership will help ensure increased access to COVID-19 testing at no cost for some of our communities that lack a fixed testing location or have higher rates of vulnerable populations.”
Virginians can see which Walgreens stores are participating in the program online.
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