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As Vaccine Rollout Continues, Northam Eases Some Restrictions

Man at podium
Gov. Ralph Northam updates members of the press about the state's vaccination efforts. (Screenshot from briefing)

Gov. Ralph Northam updated the public on Virginia’s vaccination efforts Wednesday, saying despite weather-related disruptions,  the state continues to accelerate inoculations as supply slowly increases.

Northam expressed optimism even as he cited recent weather events to account for a dip in the vaccination rate, from an average of 43,000 doses per day on Jan. 20 to around 31,000 per day as of Saturday.

“Vaccine shipments were delayed, and a number of vaccination clinics were postponed, ” he said. “Now, those shipments are coming in, and our health districts are working to get them in arms just as fast as possible.”

To justify that claim, the governor pointed to about 220 vaccination events scheduled for this week across Virginia. Further bolstering Northam’s optimism: news that the single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine is likely to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

He said the state is expecting to begin receiving about 50,000 doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine each week, starting as soon as next week.

“That will allow us to vaccinate more people and get closer to, as you all have heard us talk about before, herd immunity,” he said. “All [three] vaccines are shown to reduce serious illness and death from the virus.”

In addition to expanding vaccine supply, Northam also said the state is adding pharmacy chains to a federal partnership program. Currently, CVS is the only pharmacy administering vaccines in the state, but he said Walgreens, Walmart, Safeway, Food City and Giant pharmacies will soon join that list along with a network of independent pharmacies. . 

“Not all of the locations for each of these companies will be receiving vaccines,” Northam said, saying the state will target their efforts at vulnerable communities. “Walmart won’t be vaccinating in the stores at all, so please don’t go there looking for a shot.”

The governor also lauded the rollout of the state’s new, centralized online registration system and call center. He said that since the system launched last Tuesday, almost half a million Virginians have pre-registered for the vaccine, including over 100,000 who did so through the call center. 

COVID-19 has been on the decline in Virginian since early January, with cases having declined from a peak of nearly 6,000 cases per day to about 1,800 cases per day as of last Wednesday. The decline led Northam to announce the state will lighten some restrictions on gatherings. 

Starting March 1, the limit on outdoor gatherings will be increased to 25 people, up from the previous limit of 10, which still applies to indoor, private gatherings. The governor also said bars and restaurants in the state will be allowed to serve alcohol until midnight, two hours past the current 10 p.m. cut-off. The state will additionally walk back some restrictions on entertainment and recreational sports venues.

Despite easing restrictions, Northam said now is not the time to leave measures that help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the past, encouraging Virginians to “get outdoors” as the weather improves.

“We know that there’s less chance of spread when we’re outdoors. Continue to do the things that we have asked, the measures that we have talked about,” he said. “If we all continue to do the things that we need to do, we’ll finally be able to put this pandemic behind us.”

Since the start of the pandemic, at least 586,000 Virginians have been infected with COVID-19, with over 7,500 dying from it.