RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — With Thanksgiving and Hanukkah just days away, Richmond and Henrico Health Districts (RHHD) are warning local residents that this is a key time to make decisions about how to best protect the health of friends and family.
With the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines over the past year, RHHD Nurse Manager Amy Popovich said that this holiday season is expected to look different than in 2020, with fewer anticipated hospitalizations due to the virus. However, she still had a warning for those planning to gather with loved ones.
“We have vaccines that continue to be the best source of protection,” Popovich said. “For Thanksgiving this year, it’s a great time this weekend to really think about what are the events you’re going to, who’s at high risk when you’re there, and if folks have been vaccinated or not.”
Even in situations where most individuals present have been vaccinated, Popovich recommended getting tested.
“We have seen a decrease in some of the testing demand here in this last month or so,” she said. “But we are ramping up our own teams, our community teams, and then, also, there’s an increase in availability of at-home test kits, as well.”
At a Thursday RHHD press conference, Popovich reaffirmed the success of COVID-19 vaccines. She said that of the 5 million Virginians who have been immunized against the virus, only 1% have gotten sick, and even fewer have had to be hospitalized.
“As public health, we are here to give guidance and make sure people understand the best recommendations,” she said. “The best recommendations are to get vaccinated; to wear a mask; if you’ve been exposed at all and you’re notified that you’re exposed, to, unfortunately, stay home this year; to get tested a few days ahead of time.”
Local health officials said that getting a COVID-19 test could serve as an extra layer of protection ahead of the holidays, especially for those planning to gather with young children, individuals over the age of 65 or the immunocompromised.
“Kids younger than 5 can get tested,” Popovich said. “COVID side effects for little kids are the same as the rest of us, in some regard. It certainly can make them really sick and, in rare instances, that’s hospitalization; also, that they can spread the virus to other folks, other people who are more vulnerable or those who have not gotten vaccinated.”
The vaccine rollout for Virginians in the 5-to-11 age range began earlier this month. Since then, Popovich said that approximately 15% of that population has received the shot.
But children younger than 5 are not yet eligible for COVID-19 immunizations.
“Vaccines for kids younger than 5, they are currently in clinical trials, for Moderna and for Pfizer. None of those companies have yet submitted their data. So, as we’ve seen with every new vaccine, emergency use authorization, there’s usually data that’s submitted first that gives the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] and the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] some kind of inclination on how it’s going,” Popovich said. “It’ll likely be a few months before this happens — early spring at the earliest, maybe mid-spring.”
According to the CDC, the transmission rate of COVID-19 remains substantial in Henrico County, and high in the City of Richmond. In the county, Popovich said that 68.8% of the population has been vaccinated, while that number is 56.8% in the city.
She also said that unvaccinated individuals contract COVID-19 at 4.8 times the rate of an individual who is vaccinated.
“Those of us who can get vaccinated, this is the right time to get vaccinated, before we have the holiday season, before we have winter coming up upon us, in order to protect those younger kids, in order to protect those who aren’t able to get vaccinated,” Popovich said. “The more of us who can get vaccinated, the better.”