Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam held his first coronavirus briefing in nearly a month on Wednesday afternoon, naming a new head of the commonwealth’s vaccine effort, which has started off slowly. Northam did not announce any new coronavirus restrictions.
Virginia has been averaging nearly 5,000 new coronavirus cases per day and COVID-19 hospitalizations are at an all-time high.
Highlights from Northam’s press conference
Vaccine goals and timeframes
Virginia’s short-term goal for vaccinations is 25,000 a day, Gov. Northam says. Currently Virginia’s averaging thousands less per day (about 14,000).
Data shows Virginia is currently among the states that have vaccinated the fewest percentage of residents when factoring available doses, although officials expect the pace of vaccinations to pick up in the coming weeks.
BELOW: Watch the full press conference.
The longer term goal is 50,000 shots per day (Virginia has 8.5 million residents) and once Virginia gets more doses per day Northam says he’ll mobilize the National Guard to help.
The first vaccinations are going to health care workers and long-term care facilities (nursing homes, assisted living). Nursing homes got their first shots starting last week, and that effort is expected to take 3-4 weeks.
Northam says he anticipates it will take “well into the spring” before Virginia can start vaccinating the 3rd group of phase 1, 1C, which includes essential workers, people over 65 and those with high risk medical conditions. He says he hopes to have the general population vaccinated by the summer.
Hospitals blamed for slow rollout
Northam put some of the blame on the slow rollout so far on hospital systems, who he says are holding onto vaccines unnecessarily. “Empty those freezers,” Northam said. Northam also said the federal government could enact the Defense Production Act to help produce and distribute vaccines.
He adds that medical facilities will be required to put the vaccine they receive into arms as soon as possible, or risk having future vaccine allotments reduced.
Avula named head of vaccine effort
Dr. Danny TK Avula, the director of the Richmond City and Henrico County health departments, will lead Virginia’s vaccination efforts. He’ll coordinate with local health districts, the National Guard, hospitals and more.
“He will be our field general,” Northam says.
Teachers to get vaccines earlier, schooling could be year-round
Teachers are in phase 1B of vaccine distribution, so they should be able to get the vaccine around the start of February. Northam says having teachers vaccinated is key to being able to safely reopen schools. Northam also said there’s a possibility schooling could happen year-round to make up for lost in-person instruction. Currently, high case numbers have led to many school districts switching to all-virtual learning, though some such as Virginia Beach are working to get back to some in-person instruction.
As a reminder, Group B includes specified frontline essential workers, K-12 teachers and staff, childcare providers, adults age 75 and up, people living in correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and migrant labor camps.
Group C includes other essential workers, adults age 65 and up, and people age 16-64 with certain medical conditions or disabilities with increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
This is article will be updated.