Avula: Virginia social restrictions could ease, even if new COVID cases continue to plateau


RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY/WRIC) — Virginia’s vaccine coordinator Dr. Danny Avula said social restrictions could ease, even if new COVID-19 cases don’t continue falling, because health officials are now focusing on the number of hospitalizations and deaths.

The seven-day moving average of new cases has remained firm throughout March, according to data from the Virginia Department of Health. The daily average of new COVID-19 cases in Virginia is currently 1,468, a huge drop from the winter months but still above last summer’s peaks.

He attributes an increase in cases to the younger, unvaccinated adult population.

During a teleconference on Friday afternoon, Avula highlighted that the number of cases and deaths are down significantly in long-term care facilities. Most residents there have been vaccinated since late January.

Avula explained if the state continues to see cases plateau over the upcoming weeks and months but no surge in hospitalizations and death, “that could lead us to a different set of [social] recommendations.”

“You know the vulnerable population has been vaccinated. We have protected against the outcomes we are most worried about and that is hospitalizations and deaths,” Avula said. “For young adults and young children who can’t get vaccinated yet. If they get COVID, it is exceedingly rare for there to be any serious consequence to that might just be our new normal moving forward.”

Just on Thursday, social restrictions were partially lifted across the state. With the newest changes in place, more people can now gather at entertainment venues, recreational sporting events, social gatherings and graduations.

These changes come as many Virginians are still waiting to be vaccinated.

This week alone, Virginia is preparing to receive a massive shipment of vaccine next week including over 200,000 Johnson & Johnson doses.

Avula said next week’s shipment will not be impacted by a reported mix-up of vaccine ingredients at a vaccine manufacturing plant in Baltimore, but the timeline for future J&J doses are “up in the air” as a result.

J&J said the incident will not impact their projected manufacturing of doses, but Avula said “we’ll just have to see,” saying Virginia’s weekly dose goals for the one-dose shot is around 125,000.

Virginia health districts are progressing into later vaccination phases with all at least in Phase 1b, and many moved into Phase 1c. Starting next week, at least two health districts will move into vaccination Phase 2.

The rest of the state is expected to reach Phase 2 by April 18.

Avula addressed concerns that some people travel out of town to try and get their vaccine in areas that move on faster. This could be an issue if people start doing things such as inserting a home address that isn’t theirs. He says because of these concerns, some health districts have considered requiring proof of residency for the vaccine.

These talks are still ongoing but Avula says the CDC does allow for health departments to require residency proof to achieve equitable access to the vaccines.

So far, Native Americans have the highest vaccination rate per 100,000 people in Virginia. The second highest is white people followed by Latino people and Black people. Currently, Asian people and Pacific Islanders have the lowest vaccination rate.

Avula says 18% of the state’s vaccinated population is Black and 8-9% are Latino.

While the vaccine czar is confident everyone preregistered for a vaccine will get at least one dose by the end of May, he said additional hurdles exist to reach a herd immunity goal of inoculating 75% of the state population.

Avula said the state can easily reach 60-65% of people, and he is “hopeful” 75% of Virginians will be vaccinated by the end of the summer.

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