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Optimistic Northam Praises State on COVID-19 Progress

Man at podium
Gov. Ralph Northam updates Virginia on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Screenshot from briefing)

Gov. Ralph Northam trumpeted a message of hope Tuesday during his COVID-19 briefing, praising the state’s efforts to vaccinate the population and get students back into the classroom. 

Following a rocky start to the vaccine rollout and weather delays in February, vaccine distribution has picked up with the state surpassing Northam’s goal of 50,000 doses administered per day last week.

As of Tuesday, 18% of Virginians have received at least one vaccine dose, and just over 850,000, or roughly 10%, have been fully inoculated against the virus. 

“We’re going to keep getting those numbers up,” Northam said. “Some of our health districts have done so well at vaccinating a majority of those 65 and older, that they’re able to increase for other groups eligible under category 1b.”

The rollout has struggled to reach certain people. Statewide, white Virginians have been vaccinated at nearly twice the rate of Black Virginians, and the disparity is even wider for both Latino and Asian Virginians. That pattern persists within the city of Richmond. 

Dr. Danny Avula, who leads the state’s vaccine distribution, said the state will upscale its outreach efforts as  vaccine supply continues to expand.

“Our focus needs to simultaneously be on vaccine hesitancy, and there’s a couple of strategies that we’ll continue to employ to get there,” he said. “We know, just looking at our data, that we’re not reaching Black and Latino residents to the degree that we want to and need to.”

The governor continued to highlight Virginia’s new, centralized pre-registration system and asked Virginians to make sure they’re ready when their turn to make an appointment comes.

“I know that everybody, including myself, is tired of spam calls,” he said with a chuckle. “But right now, until we get everybody vaccinated, please answer your phone. It’s about getting you vaccinated.”

The pre-registration system has not been without fault, however, as the state has experienced issues with the appointment links sent out by the system. Avula said the state has been hard at work to correct those errors.

In February, the governor set a March 15 deadline for local school districts to offer some in-person instruction five days per week. While many districts, including Richmond Public Schools, look set to miss that deadline, Northam said the state has made great progress in expanding in-person learning.

“Pam and I have visited several schools over the past couple of weeks, and we’ve seen the difference this is making,” he said.

Even in districts offering in-person instruction, many parents are opting to keep their kids learning virtual. In Chesterfield County, which welcomed secondary students back to the classroom on Tuesday, less than half of all students will attend school in person. At some schools, as few as one in four students will return to the classroom.

Since COVID-19 first arrived in the commonwealth last year, over 585,000 Virginans have been infected by the virus, leading to the deaths of 9,790 people.