RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY/WRIC) — Gov. Ralph Northam talked vaccine distribution, plans for K-12 schools and more during a press conference Thursday, but balked at issuing any new coronavirus restrictions as metrics continue to break records in the commonwealth.
The briefing came as Virginia is reporting record coronavirus metrics, including a record 47 deaths reported per day on average. However the commonwealth’s vaccination rollout is improving somewhat after a slow start.
Here are a few of the highlights:
More people added to 1b vaccination group
Virginia is moving people 65 and up and those with co-morbid conditions into phase 1b for COVID-19 vaccinations, citing CDC guidance. You can be in either of those two groups.
Both groups had previously been in 1c. That means about half of Virginians are eligible for the vaccine, but the infrastructure to actually get those vaccines to people is still shaky.
Northam said the state is working on mass vaccination sites so that eventually, anyone who wants a vaccine can get one.
“This is probably one of the most massive logistical efforts that has ever taken place in Virginia,” Northam said.
BELOW: Watch the full briefing
Hampton Mayor Donnie Tuck told 10 On Your Side that the city offered its convention center as a mass vaccination site but is still awaiting word on if it might be used as one.
Virginia is only averaging 12,000 doses per day, and was at one point of the worst states as far as administering doses. Northam has blamed a lack of support from the federal government and hospitals withholding doses as part of the problem. He did say millions in needed federal aid was recently approved and on the way to help.
Northam says it will be a “massive undertaking” that could take months. Leaders in Norfolk and Virginia Beach shared frustrations this week with the lack of current information on COVID-19 vaccine distribution, after Chesapeake started 1b vaccinations with teachers this week.
Virginia has set goals of 25,000 and 50,000 in the short and long-term.
Dr. Danny Avula, who is now leading the state’s vaccination effort, says to achieve herd immunity in the commonwealth, the state needs to have 50,000 vaccinations a day. Right now it hasn’t breached 15,000.
The state is also asking for people to apply to volunteer to help administer the vaccines. Click here for information on qualifications and how to register.
“Eventually our goal is to get this staged by the National Guard and by contracted vaccinators who will be able to provide this service in large-scale,” Avula said.
Health officials are looking for locations and recruiting volunteers for mass vaccination sites.
Dr. Avula mentioned that there are some sites across the commonwealth already vaccinating in mass. “The Virginia Beach Convention Center did almost 1,000 doses in one day this past week,” he said.
10 On Your Side confirmed with a Virginia Beach City Spokesperson that the city has established the Convention Center as its primary mass vaccination site. Currently, it is being used to serve members of group 1A in the vaccine distribution phases.
“Hopefully by early to mid-summer, all Virginians who are willing to accept the vaccination will be vaccinated,” Northam said.
When pressed about whether he’ll add extra coronavirus restrictions to slow down record virus spread, Northam again says “all options are on the table.”
He says “stringent” measures are already in place, citing some limits on restaurants, a 10-person gathering limit, mask guidance, etc., but Virginia still allows indoor dining, gyms and worship.
Northam summed it up by saying “this pandemic is in the hands of Virginians.”
New school guidance
The Virginia Department of Education (VDE) released new coronavirus guidelines Thursday that encourage Virginia’s school districts to safely hold classes in-person.
“Schools need to be open and here are the ways to do that safely.” He pointed to studies that show reopening schools can be done safely, even though spread in the surrounding community is high.
The 14-page document is a stark departure from previous advice, as it makes a case for some face-to-face learning to continue on, even when virus transmission rates in the community are high.
Dr. James F. Lane with the Virginia Department of Education said “even in the context of moderate transmission in the community, we can still open schools safely” if safety protocols are in place. Lane also said staff vaccinations are not necessarily needed to reopen schools safely.
However, a recent study from AAP showed the transmission of COVID-19 was rare in North Carolina schools that reopened last fall and utilized face coverings, distancing and hand-washing.”
Though Dr. James Fedderman, the president of the Virginia Education Association, seemed to push back.
“Simply put schools are not the place to be while this virus surges.”
On Monday, Fedderman called on all public schools to move to all virtual instruction until staff members have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
“This virus, which has killed more than 360,000 Americans, is surging again and spreading to all corners of our Commonwealth,” said Fedderman.
Northam also said the state is strongly considering extending the school calendar into summer months to make up for lost in-person schooling.
Most K-12 schools have remained mostly virtual due to the high case numbers, and many having canceled winter sports, but some are planning to return to in-person learning for some students.