Gov. Northam: COVID-19 Cases Down, Vaccines Up

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Gov. Ralph Northam speaks during a February press briefing.

By Stefanie Jackson – Gov. Ralph Northam today noted one year has passed since the first case of COVID-19 was identified in Virginia, but the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine is well underway and residents are looking forward to the end of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It has been a tough year for everyone, but we are now in what we hope is the final phase of this pandemic, and the future really does look hopeful,” Northam said.

March 7 marked one year since Virginia’s first case of COVID-19 was identified, and March 14 will mark one year since the first COVID-19-related death was reported.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, there have been more than 588,000 cases of COVID-19 and nearly 9,800 related deaths in the state as of March 9.

The COVID-19 test positivity rate was 5.8% as of March 9.

“Our cases are going down, and our vaccinations are going up,” Northam said.

Virginia is meeting or exceeding its goal of administering 50,000 COVID-19 vaccines per day, with as many as 60,000 or 70,000 COVID-19 shots given in one day, Northam said.

Virginia ranks 11 out of 50 states for the number of COVID-19 vaccines received and is sixth for the number of doses of the vaccine given.

At least 18% of Virginians have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

A person needs two doses of either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

People who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 do not need to social distance or wear a face mask indoors when visiting other fully vaccinated people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Northam said.

Virginia has received $179 million in funding from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to establish 13 COVID-19 vaccination sites in key locations, the first three of which will be Danville, Petersburg, and Portsmouth.

The 13 sites will be used to administer COVID-19 vaccinations by appointment only; there will be no drive-up service, noted Virginia’s State Coordinator of Emergency Management Curtis Brown.

Virginia will provide additional vaccination sites staffed by members of the state’s Medical Reserve Corps and National Guard.

Virginians are encouraged to visit vaccinate.virginia.gov to preregister to receive the COVID-19 vaccine or to update or check the status of a preregistration.

Northam urged Virginians to make sure they answer their phones when they are called to schedule their vaccination appointments.

All persons who have preregistered but cannot find their records on the Vaccinate Virginia website should call 877-VAX-IN-VA or 877-829-4682.

Dr. Danny Avula, Virginia’s vaccine coordinator, said next week the state expects to receive about 188,000 first doses and up to 170,000 second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, referring to doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

Virginia will not receive a significant amount of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine until the week of March 29, when about 100,000 doses are expected, he said.

That boost in supply of the vaccine should get Virginia through Phase 1b of its COVID-19 response by the second or third week of April, Avula said.

That means providing COVID-19 vaccinations to people age 65 and older, people ages 16 to 64 with underlying medical conditions, people living in correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and migrant camps, and essential workers including firefighters, police and correctional officers, and school teachers and staff.

Northam said about two-thirds of Virginia’s K-12 school teachers and staff members have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and nearly 40% are fully vaccinated.

He noted that only the Pfizer vaccine was approved for persons as young as 16, and the Moderna vaccine was approved for adults age 18 and older. There is no COVID-19 vaccine approved for children under age 16.

Clinical trials continue for a COVID-19 vaccine that could be approved for children, and those trials are not expected to be completed until fall or winter, Northam said.

“The message here is it’s going to take awhile to reach herd immunity, in order to get both our adults and children vaccinated, which is what our ultimate goal is,” he said.

“Our message is: get vaccinated when you can – that’s very important – and also continue to follow the guidelines.

“The combination of the vaccinations and following our guidelines – the social distancing, the hand-washing, and the wearing of facial protection is the way that we’ll put this pandemic behind us, but it is going to take some time, so be patient and we’ll get there.”

This story has been updated.

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