Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday touted the commonwealth’s “forward progress” on getting residents vaccinated against COVID-19, saying the state was on pace to have every adult vaccinated by the summer.
Noting that the state’s first COVID-19 case was a year ago last Sunday, and the first death was a year ago this coming Sunday, Northam said “it’s been a tough year for everyone,” but that as cases go down and vaccinations go up, there’s “light at the end of the tunnel.”
In January, he said, the goal was to get 25,000 shots a day into Virginians. To get all adults vaccinated by summer, the goal was 50,000 a day, and the state is currently at about 51,000 a day, Northam said, adding that Virginia is sixth nationwide in percentage of doses used and that 18% of the population has had at least one dose.
Some health districts have done so well at vaccinating those 65 and over that they’re moving toward other people in Phase 1b, he said.
With the help of the Federal Emergency Management Administration, Northam said the state will be phasing in community vaccine clinics that might not be as big as the stadium-sized sites found in other states, but could handle several hundred to several thousand people in a day. Such sites are already planned for Danville, Petersburg and Portsmouth. Emergency Management Director Curtis Brown said there would be up to 13 sites running in the next three months.
Northam urged all Virginians to preregister on the state website or by calling 877-VAX-IN-VA, and added that the vaccination program was provoking an exception to one piece of long-lived advice: Unlike normal times, he said, you should answer your phone even if you don’t recognize the number it’s coming from.
“Everybody, including myself, is tired of spam calls,” he said, but he had been hearing from local health departments that people were missing out on the offers of vaccine appointments by not answering.
Health Officer Dr. Norman Oliver said, “We’re in a race to get everyone vaccinated” before a variant comes along that is even more infectious or more deadly.
Northam also encouraged school systems to return to some form of in-person learning, saying that all systems in the state had formulated a plan to do so, and added that 40% of school staff around Virginia are fully vaccinated.
“We’ve got more data and science now than we did six months ago, and we know schools can handle in-person classes safely,” Northam said.
Last month, he wanted all school divisions to have a plan to have students in schools by March 15. All school systems have submitted plans for in-person learning options, and about half have started.
Children “have been our champions, but we know it has taken a toll,” Northam said.
He added that he had toured classrooms and that “the enthusiasm is real” from teachers and students, who are doing a good job of keeping masks on and maintaining social distance.
He said, however, that the final call on returning all students to in-school learning would be up to the school systems, and that he understood some families’ health situations might lead them to want to keep kids learning at home.
Dr. Danny Avula, the director of Virginia’s vaccination program, said that people who can’t find themselves in the preregistration system should call the call center to get it ironed out. All of the merging from local health departments’ waiting lists to the state list has been done, he said, but some people have missing information that has prevented them from getting an appointment or showing up when they search for themselves.
He added that the commonwealth would give out about 188,000 first vaccine doses this week, and that vaccine hesitancy among African Americans, usually the most hesitant group regarding vaccines, has “changed dramatically” since the fall. Since then, the main hesitancy comes from “white Republicans in rural areas,” Avula said.
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