Northam says it has cost $5 billion to care for unvaccinated Virginians with COVID

As Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam updated the public Monday on the commonwealth’s COVID-19 response, he had a few words for the eligible Virginians who remain unvaccinated.

It was a description of what it’s like to be on a ventilator.

“They put a tube just about the size of a garden hose down your throat to keep you alive,” said Northam, a pediatrician. “Having been at the bedside many times, it is miserable, it is expensive, and there’s no guarantee that you will make it.”

Nearly everyone who is getting COVID is unvaccinated, Northam said — twice. He added that so far, it has cost $5 billion to hospitalize unvaccinated Virginians who got infected.

“Believe me, you don’t want to get it,” said the governor, who still has no sense of smell or taste roughly a year after he got sick with the coronavirus.

And because the pandemic has put continuous strain on the health care system for a year and a half, Northam expressed concern that it’s driving workers to leave their jobs.

“We don’t want to get to that point, to the point where there’s not enough staff, there’s not enough beds and hospitals,” he said.

Virginia’s latest COVID metrics have shown minor improvement over the last week.

The latest seven-day average of hospitalizations is leveling off amid the latest surge, but it still remains above 2,100.

“The numbers are still way too high. Ask any exhausted nurse in any hospital in Virginia,” he said.

Virginia’s seven-day average test-positivity rate has also dipped slightly, from 9.5% to 9.2%. And the rolling seven-day average of new reported cases is down slightly to 3,156, compared with more than 3,600 in mid-September, which marked the highest peak in that metric since mid-January.

In terms of vaccinations, 60% of Virginians are now fully vaccinated, with 80% having had at least one dose. It places Virginia 14th in the nation.

Among Virginia schoolchildren who are eligible for a vaccine, Northam said their vaccination rate for the most part matches what is going on with adults statewide. Of the roughly 420,000 12- to 15-year-olds in the commonwealth, about 63% have had at least one dose.

“That’s pretty good, but it’s a little behind the rates for adults,” he said.

Northam singled out and praised Alexandria, where 98% of 12- to 15-year-olds have had at least one dose.

Still, a sizable segment of the nation remains ineligible for a vaccine — at least until government regulators grant emergency use authorization for those younger than 12.

The governor urged parents to remain patient and said he expects that authorization to come in late October or early November.

“Everyone needs to make sure that the science is right,” said Northam, adding that Virginia has long been preparing to roll out vaccines for the state’s youngest residents.

School officials from Arlington, Richmond and Roanoke joined Northam for the briefing, the first since he announced a vaccine mandate for state employees, as well as a mask requirement in all classrooms.



Jason Kamras, the superintendent for Richmond Public Schools, said mitigation efforts there, such as a staff vaccine mandate, are working: Of the roughly 200 cases since school began, more than 98% were contracted outside school, he said.

“I would venture to say the safest place for children in Richmond — and I would say all across the commonwealth — is inside school,” Kamras said.

Virginia schools, though, are weathering staffing issues amid the pandemic. The state government is trying to boost staffing with measures such as setting aside $11.5 million for hiring bonuses, said James Lane, the commonwealth’s superintendent of public instruction.

“Ultimately, for us to have the staffing that we need in schools, we’re going to have to pay a salary that incentivizes people to come to our schools,” he said.

Jack Pointer

Jack contributes to WTOP.com when he's not working as the afternoon/evening radio writer. In a previous life, he helped edit The Dallas Morning News and Chicago Tribune.

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