RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — 8News Reporter Sierra Fox sat down with Richmond and Henrico’s Health District Director, Dr. Danny Avula Monday, to discuss where the region stands concerning the coronavirus pandemic.

With the summer months drawing to a close, fall is around the corner. Thus the need to prepare for another severe illness: the flu.

Question: “When Virginia saw its first COVID-19 case back on March 7, did you think we’d end up where are now?”

Dr. Danny Avula: “I don’t think anyone could have anticipated what the last six months would look like. I certainly had no idea what to expect.”

Question: “Looking back, is there anything you would’ve done different at the start of this pandemic?”

Dr. Danny Avula: “I think there’s so many things that in retrospect we would’ve done differently. And I say we at the local level certainly, but it really filters up to what we as a nation would have done differently. I think we have now recognized that without having consistent national leadership surrounding the testing strategy, around creating the supply line for PPE, around making sure we had availability to rapid testing, I think there’s so many things that required a more coordinated approach from the national level.”

Question: “Why did the CDC guidelines change in regards to wearing a face mask?”

Dr. Danny Avula: “I don’t think we knew or understood the degree to which COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets. Therefore, collectively, I think the public health expertise, we made a wrong recommendation early on. We didn’t recognize how important wearing face coverings would be. We didn’t recognize how important block those respiratory droplets would be in stemming transmission.”

Question: “How will COVID-19 impact flu season?”

Dr. Danny Avula: “We will likely see more COVID cases, the double impact of COVID and flu and other circulating respiratory viruses so I think it will be a pretty complicated and challenging winter that we’re heading into. The major concern is if healthcare systems are overwhelmed because of the double impact of the flu and COVID.”

Question: “What do you think about the Virginia Health Commissioner wanting to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine?”

Dr. Danny Avula: “I am absolutely supportive of vaccination. I’m a pediatrician. In my career, we have seen the impact of vaccines of preventing diseases and we’ve seen some of those diseases start to come back as people have opted not to get vaccinated. Our approach should be vaccinating as many people as possible because that’s what’s going to help us get beyond this pandemic. Our goal needs to be to make the vaccine as available as possible to make sure that finances or healthcare access aren’t barriers to people being able to get vaccines.”

Question: “What are your thoughts on travel and people trying to gain a sense of normalcy again?”

Dr. Danny Avula: “Be as cautious as possible. I think all of us want to get back to normal life, all of us want to do the things we used to do, but I do think that us making decisions to not do those things until this pandemic dissipates ultimately we’ll look back and be glad we didn’t contribute to a really poor outcome for somebody else.”

Question: “Is it safe to hang out in groups outdoors?”

Dr. Danny Avula: “When people are in outdoor spaces, if they’re able to keep that six foot distance, particles would have a really hard time concentrating in a way that may infect somebody else. My encouragement to everybody is try to do as much social gathering as you’re going to do, do it outside. As we follow the pandemic, one of the things we’ve really come to understand is the risk outdoors is significantly lower than the risk indoors.”

Question: “COVID-19 has affected almost all of us to some degree, what’s your message to the community?”

Dr. Danny Avula: “This has shaped all of our lives. It has been really challenging from people who are really worried about getting sick themselves from parents who have had to figure out what to do with their children with virtual learning or day program. There are many people who have been really severely impacted by this and we need to consider the experiences of people across the age spectrum and across different races or demographics. The take-home message would be let’s have grace for each other in the midst of this and let’s support each other because we’re a long way from the end of COVID-19.”