State, city leaders discuss next phase of COVID-19 vaccine rollout efforts

Plans for mass vaccination efforts for Phase 1B

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Per new federal guidelines, another group of adults will be included in Phase 1b vaccination efforts across the Commonwealth, Governor Ralph Northam announced Thursday.

In his weekly COVID-19 news conference, Northam announced anyone over the age of 65 will be able to receive a vaccine during the Phase 1b efforts. Additionally, anyone 64 years old and younger who has more than one medical condition may also be vaccinated.

However, an update on the VDH website phrases the latter as, “People aged 16 through 64 years with a high risk medical condition or disability that increases their risk of severe illness from COVID-19.”

“[The Department of Health and Human Services] HHS promised states to rapidly expand channels for vaccination and they said $3 billion in additional funding is on the way to help states make all of this happen,” Northam said.

Currently, 11 counties in Virginia are in Phase 1b of the vaccination efforts. Those counties can start immediately vaccinating the new group of individuals.

Meanwhile, areas of Central Virginia are expected to roll out “1b” vaccination efforts starting Jan. 18.

“What we recognize is if we’re going to get to 50,000 doses per day - which is what we need to do if we’re going to get to herd immunity in the Commonwealth - we really need to get to an infrastructure that can handle 50,000 doses per day, that we’re going to need to do more,” said Dr. Danny Avula, tasked with handling the state’s vaccination efforts.

Avula said that will come in the form of mass vaccination sites. Some areas in Northern Virginia are already undertaking this effort, but locally, it will be a sight similar to what many people have seen for COVID-19 testing at The Diamond.

“Places that will be 6-7 day a week operations that initially will be planned and partnered with health departments, Medical Reserve Corps, with health systems, but eventually our goal is to have this staffed by the National Guard and contracted vaccinators,” Avula said.

More information on mass vaccination sites could come as soon as next week.

On Jan. 6, Northam announced goals for the Commonwealth’s vaccination efforts which included an average of 14,000 vaccinations per day. The next goal would be 25,000 per day, but that would outpace the current supply. However, health officials are hopeful for increased shipments.

“We need people to get this vaccine,” Northam said. “It is our only way out of this pandemic.”

Northam announced the state is receiving roughly 110,000 vaccine doses each week, adding vaccinating is getting faster each day despite the VDH website reflecting low numbers due to delayed reporting.

As of Thursday, the seven-day average for vaccinations administered was roughly 12,000 per day.

“Only a handful of states have given more doses than Virginia and they’re bigger than we are; states like California, Texas and Florida,” he said. “In fact, as of right now Virginia has distributed 100% of the doses we received to 160 vaccination sites across our Commonwealth.”

Meanwhile, state leaders also provided new guidance for K-12 public schools and reopening plans.

“Our schools are safe,” Northam said Thursday. “We know that we can follow the mitigation measures, the children have been very good about wearing their masks, the teachers, staff with spacing of the children, cleansing. When you look at the data, schools are very safe, but it’s the communities that we worry about.”

“Since [March], data increasingly suggests that school re-opening are unlikely to contribute significantly to community transmission when rates of community transmission are low and schools have infection prevention measures in place,” said a letter by the Virginia Department of Education Superintendent and State Health Commissioner. “However, there appears to be a correlation between increased community transmission and the incidence of cases and outbreaks in schools. While we must remain vigilant regarding the prevention and spread of SARS CoV-2, we need to balance this important objective with the shared goal of providing in-person educational instruction to the children of Virginia.”

Here are the following key updates to the guidance:

  • Consideration of the “Level of School Impact’ for schools that previously have been open for in-person instruction. This includes a description of how school can assess the level of COVID-19 impact to a particular school.
  • A decision matrix to help decision makers understand how to consider multiple factors in decision making.
  • A step-by-step guide to thinking through school program decisions and the factors to consider.

For more information on the new school guidance, click here.

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