By Stefanie Jackson – Gov. Ralph Northam urged Virginians not to become complacent about the coronavirus pandemic after the recent announcement of the Pfizer drug corporation’s COVID-19 vaccine that’s 90% effective.
“This isn’t the magic bullet. Any approved vaccination will still take months to distribute,” Northam cautioned.
“When a vaccine is ready, one that is safe and effective, we will be ready, too, in Virginia,” he said.
Virginia has been planning for months to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine in an equitable manner.
The Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity also has been involved in the distribution of personal protective equipment, or PPE.
Chief Diversity Officer Janice Underwood has overseen Virginia’s Health Equity Work Group as it distributed more than 850,000 masks and nearly 700,000 bottles of hand sanitizer across the state.
The governor also offered advice on handling the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.
“I’m not saying don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, but if you’re planning to gather with people outside of your household, think about ways to do it more safely,” Northam said.
COVID-19 spreads through the air and is more easily spread indoors. When planning a gathering of family members from multiple households, consider how well the home is ventilated and whether the event can be held outdoors, he said.
There is no “genetic immunity” to COVID-19 that will prevent its spread from one family member to another like a parent or grandparent, Northam said.
Family gatherings should be small and precautions should be taken, such as frequent hand-washing and wearing masks.
Three additional labs have entered contracts to participate in Virginia’s One Lab network created specifically for COVID-19 testing.
The network, which included public health labs in Northern Virginia and Richmond, will be joined by labs in Blacksburg, Va., Charlottesville, Va., and the Tidewater area.
One Lab will enable Virginia to conduct about 7,000 more COVID-19 tests per day by year’s end. Around 19,000 to 20,000 COVID-19 tests currently are done daily statewide.
An order of 200,000 rapid antigen tests is arriving and being distributed to nursing homes and other facilities. More than 52,000 rapid tests from the federal government also have been distributed.
COVID-19 tests are being sent to the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, institutions of higher education, and local health departments.
Virginia’s COVID-19 testing response has greatly improved since the beginning of the pandemic. When the state’s first COVID-19 case was identified March 7, it took one to two weeks to get test results.
Now results for COVID-19 tests are determined in one to three days, or as little as 15 to 20 minutes for the rapid test, Northam said.
As of Tuesday, there were 1,435 new cases of COVID-19 and 13 additional COVID-19-related deaths in Virginia, bringing the state’s COVID-19 totals to 194,912 cases and 3,726 deaths.
The COVID-19 test positivity rate has risen from less than 5% to 6.2%, and the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has risen.
Southwestern Virginia continues to be a region of concern, with more COVID-19 cases and fewer hospitals. Its COVID-19 positivity rate is 9%, Northam said.
He reminded listeners that Virginia has a mask mandate in effect in public places, indoors. Violators can be fined $500 – a civil, not criminal penalty, he noted.
The governor did not indicate he was planning what reporters called “new lockdowns,” even though the overall COVID-19 positivity rate has increased.
Northam’s focus remained on existing COVID-19 mitigation strategies, not additional restrictions.
He advocated for more testing and better communication “to be able to get the message out that this virus is still there. We can’t get complacent. This is not the time to give up. … We’ve got to continue the push until that vaccination is available.”