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Richmond Continues To Reach New Peaks Of COVID-19 Transmission

Avula speaking
Dr. Danny Avula, who was tapped by Gov. Ralph Northam to lead the state's vaccination efforts Wednesday, speaking at the city's weekly COVID-19 briefing. (Screenshot from briefing)

An average of 120 Richmonders are testing positive for COVID-19 each day.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, that’s more than double the new daily case rate the city saw during the previous peak last summer. The percentage of tests in Richmond coming back positive - 12.3% - has also doubled since early December. 

While many of the new cases can be attributed to people traveling or gathering with family during the holidays, Richmond CIty Health District head Dr. Danny Avula says he expects the numbers will continue to climb in the coming days.

“This is probably the point in this pandemic where we have felt the weight of this on our essential services heavier than any other time,” Avula said. “We are seeing clusters and outbreaks in hospitals, in our core governmental services that are really starting to create operational concerns.” 

Currently, around 3,000 people statewide are hospitalized with a confirmed case of COVID-19 or pending test result. Data from the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association shows 57% of regular and surge capacity ICU beds in use. So far, the association hasn’t raised alert levels for any region in Virginia, though individual hospitals may be struggling with overcrowding. 

Julian Walker, vice president of communications for the association, said, even with unused capacity, Virginia hospitals are being hit like never before.

“I don’t want to downplay this, and I also don’t want to create alarm,” he said. “There are individual hospitals that are seeing elevated numbers and statewide, we are at the highest number of COVID hospitalizations that we’ve ever been at at any point in this pandemic.” 

The association also released a new report showing more than 102,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered to hospital employees. Avula said health officials estimate 40-50% of frontline healthcare workers initially refused the vaccine, similar to the level of hesitancy among the general public.

During Richmond's weekly COVID-19 update on Thursday, Mayor Levar Stoney said he is hesitant to issue new restrictions with less support for workers and businesses coming from the federal government. 

“My job is multifold: I’ve got to protect public health, but also ensure that children and families can eat at night,” he said.

If the numbers continue to rise, Stoney said the city may look for more ways to enforce statewide restrictions.