By Stefanie Jackson – Gov. Ralph Northam visited Metompkin Elementary School in Parksley on Monday to observe COVID-19 mitigation measures in practice, which have allowed both Accomack and Northampton County schools to offer options for in-person learning since September.
“One of the reasons I wanted to come today was to say thank you, and first of all, thanks to the students. … The students and their families have really sacrificed since last year,” Northam said.
The first case of COVID-19 found in Virginia was announced March 7, 2020, and about a week later, Northam’s administration made the decision to close public schools due to “unknowns about the virus” and how it would effect children and families, Northam said. “We’ve learned a lot since then.”
Since schools closed, children have suffered from mental health issues, and test scores have fallen, he noted.
“I think we can all agree that we want our students to be back in the classrooms. That’s where they learn best,” Northam said.
He recommended that everyone visit the Vaccinate Virginia website, vaccinate.virginia.gov, to preregister for the COVID-19 vaccine and wait to receive a phone call or email alert when it’s time to schedule an appointment to be vaccinated.
“That’s the way we’re going to put this pandemic in the rearview mirror and get all our children back in school,” Northam said.
His goal is for all Virginia students to be back in the classroom this fall.
Clinical trials are ongoing for COVID-19 vaccines for children, Northam said.
The Pfizer vaccine is currently approved for ages 16 and above and the Moderna vaccine is approved for ages 18 and above.
The governor anticipates that clinical trial results will be available in August concerning a COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12 and up.
According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, COVID-19 vaccines for children may be approved by fall or winter, Northam said.
Vaccinating children for COVID-19 will play a role in achieving herd immunity.
About 70% of Virginia’s population must be vaccinated to reach that goal, Northam said.
Virginia’s total population is around 8.5 million, including about 2.5 million children.
Roughly 3 million COVID-19 vaccinations have been administered in Virginia to date, Northam said.
A person needs two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Virginia was receiving about 100,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine weekly at first, but it is currently receiving 400,000 doses weekly, enough to meet the goal of administering 50,000 shots daily, Northam said.
He expects the COVID-19 vaccine supply to improve further, with Virginia receiving 500,000 doses weekly by April and 600,000 doses weekly thereafter.
The governor also expects that by mid- to late May, all Virginians who want the COVID-19 vaccine will be able to get it.
Virginia’s COVID-19 test positivity rate peaked at about 20% and is currently near 5%. COVID-19 restrictions will be eased if the numbers continue trending down, Northam said.
Accomack school board member Ronnie Holden thanked the governor for including in the state budget funding for Accomack and Northampton counties to receive the Cost of Competing Adjustment, or COCA.
COCA funding helps school districts offer competitive salaries to teachers and originally was intended only for Northern Virginia counties near Washington, D.C.
But Accomack and Northampton also would benefit from COCA funding, with Accomack competing with lower Maryland counties for teachers and Northampton competing with Hampton Roads cities across the Chesapeake Bay.
“People have to make a living, and when they’re paying higher salaries just north of us, it’s not a fair process,” Northam remarked.
“I can assure you it’s going to stay in the budget,” he said. “I think we’ll make that happen.”