Avula: Virginia social restrictions could ease, even if new COVID cases continue to plateau

Coronavirus

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia’s vaccine coordinator Dr. Danny Avula said social restrictions could ease even if new COVID-19 cases plateau, contingent on no surges of hospitalizations and deaths.

The seven-day moving average of new cases has remained firm throughout March, according to data from the Virginia Department of Health. The daily average of COVID-19 cases in Virginia is currently 1,468, a huge drop from the winter months, but even with vaccinations, case rates remain above last summer’s peaks.

During a teleconference on Friday afternoon, Avula said cases and deaths are down significantly in long term care facilities. He attributes an increase in cases to the young adult population.

Avula explained if the state continues to see cases plateau over the upcoming weeks and months but no surge in hospitalizations and death, “that could lead us to a different set of [social] recommendations.”

He says a rollback of measures would be contingent on steady case rates, and no increases to severe symptomatic reactions to the virus — including death — over the coming weeks and months.

Just yesterday, social restrictions were partially lifted across the state. With the newest changes in place more people can now gather at entertainment venues, recreational sporting events, social gatherings and graduations.

These changes come as many Virginians are on their way to being vaccinated.

This week alone, Virginia is preparing to receive a massive shipment of vaccine next week including over 200,000 Johnson & Johnson doses.

Avula said next week’s shipment will not be impacted by a reported mix-up of vaccine ingredients at a vaccine manufacturing plant in Baltimore, but the timeline for future J&J doses are “up in the air” as a result.

J&J said the incident will not impact their projected manufacturing of doses, but Avula said “we’ll just have to see,” saying Virginia’s weekly dose goals for the one-dose shot is around 125,000.

Virginia health districts are progressing into later vaccinations phases with all at least in Phase 1b, and many moved into Phase 1c. Starting next week, at least two health districts will move into vaccination Phase 2.

The Pittsylvania/Danville and Southside Health Districts will begin vaccinating people eligible for Phase 2 on Monday, April 5. This means that all residents in those areas over the age of 16 will be eligible for the vaccine.

The rest of the state is expected to reach Phase 2 by April 18.

Avula addressed concerns that some people travel out of town to try and get their vaccine in areas that move on faster. This could be an issue if people start doing things such as inserting a home address that isn’t theirs. He says because of these concerns, some health districts have considered requiring proof of residency for the vaccine.

These talks are still ongoing but Avula says the CDC does allow for health departments to require residency proof to achieve equitable access to the vaccines.

So far, Native Americans have the highest vaccination rate per 100,000 people in Virginia. The second highest is white people followed by Latino people and Black people. Currently Asian people and Pacific Islanders have the lowest vaccination rate.

Avula says 18% of the state’s vaccinated population is black and 8-9% are Latino.

While the vaccine czar is confident everyone preregistered for a vaccine will get at least one dose by the end of May, he said additional hurdles exist to reach a herd immunity goal of inoculating 75% of the state population.

Avula said the state can easily reach 60-65% of people, and he is “hopeful” 75% of Virginians will be vaccinated by the end of the summer.

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