By Stefanie Jackson – Gov. Ralph Northam has strongly urged Virginians to adhere to COVID-19 guidelines, considering the state’s COVID-19 positivity rate, which climbed from about 5% to 8.3% within the last few weeks.
“Virginia, you know the truth: If you don’t wear a mask, and you don’t social distance, and you think your right to ignore public health advice trumps your neighbor’s right to not get infected by you, these cases will just continue going up,” Northam said during a Dec. 2 press briefing.
“Rights are important – but we also need to emphasize responsibility,” he said.
Northam expects the COVID-19 numbers will climb even higher over the next week or so, due to potential exposure to COVID-19 over the recent Thanksgiving holiday.
Health experts believe the increased spread of COVID-19 has been caused not just by large gatherings but by small groups of people meeting after work or school and gathering indoors, “in places where they feel safe and they let their guard down,” Northam said.
Virginia added about 2,400 new cases of COVID-19 and 20 related deaths to its totals as of Dec. 2.
More than 4,000 people in Virginia have died from COVID-19, and nearly 15,000 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized across the commonwealth.
But Virginia is still faring well with COVID-19 compared to other states. Northam referred to a New York Times report that Virginia has a seven-day average of 28 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people, lower than the seven-day average of 45 other states.
The seven-day averages of COVID-19 cases in states that border Virginia are: North Carolina, 34 cases per 100,000 people; West Virginia, 54 cases per 100,000 people; Kentucky, 66 cases per 100,000 people; and Tennessee, 69 cases per 100,000 people.
Northam pointed out that Virginians who frequently cross state lines to work or shop are more at risk of exposure to COVID-19, particularly in states that don’t have mask mandates and other restrictions, like Tennessee.
He noted that companies Pfizer and Moderna have announced the development of COVID-19 vaccines that are 95% effective, and both companies have applied to the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, for emergency use authorization to distribute the vaccines.
“We have every reason to believe that these vaccinations are safe,” Northam said.
“The best science available worldwide has gone into developing and researching these vaccines. Thousands of scientists, governments, and research labs have worked around the clock all year to bring these vaccines into reality,” he said.
The Virginia Department of Health has a team conducting an independent review of the vaccine data, “so this will back up what we’re seeing at the national level,” Northam added.
The vaccines do not contain any live virus and cannot give the recipients COVID-19, he said. The vaccines cause the production of antibodies that fend off COVID-19.
Virginia will receive about 70,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer as early as mid-December, Northam said.
Each person must get two doses about three weeks apart for the vaccine to be effective.
The first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Virginia will be healthcare workers and residents of longterm care facilities. The vaccine will be distributed in three phases.
Next in line to get the vaccine will be other healthcare and essential workers, adults with high-risk medical conditions, and adults age 65 and older.
Northam expects everyone in Virginia will be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine by late spring or early summer.
The governor and his family will not hesitate to get the vaccine, and he encouraged all Virginians to do the same, he said.
“That is our only path to getting back to that new normal.”