Gov. Northam takes questions on COVID-19 issues — including about when he thinks masks can come off

Coronavirus

HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — On Friday, 10 On Your Side met with Gov. Ralph Northam while he was at Fort Monroe in Hampton.

10 On Your Side’s Andy Fox asked Northam some of the pressing questions, including why it took so long to launch a statewide vaccination registration system, and why some health districts still don’t have directors during a pandemic.

And finally, the question that many Americans are also wondering: When can the masks come off?

Health directors pulling double duty

There are 10 health districts in Virginia where the director is forced to do double duty and manage multiple departments. That includes Dr. Demetria Lindsay, who is district health director for Virginia Beach and Norfolk.

There are nine other directors just like Lindsay. Hampton and Newport News share a district health director, as do Portsmouth and the Western Tidewater Health District, which covers 1,500 square miles.

“This pandemic is the likes we have never seen in decades, so we have been stretched thin,” the governor said when 10 On Your Side inquired about the shortage of directors.

Some critics argue everything appears thin, from vaccinations to leadership at the top of some health districts.  

We asked the governor why, during the worst global health crisis of our lifetime, do we have so many health districts without their own director? Does it look like we are not prepared?  

“Well, we’ve made a lot of modifications. We are in a very good place now compared to a year ago.  We still have a lot of work to do,” Northam acknowledged.

And why don’t health districts, especially larger urban ones, have their own leadership?   

The governor did not give a “why” when asked by 10 On Your Side.

Rough start with vaccine registration website, hotline

10 On Your Side also pressed Northam about the rocky start to the statewide pre-registration vaccination website that crashed the morning it was launched. People in droves complained to WAVY.com.

As the site crashed, those residents also couldn’t get their answers because Virginia launched a help hotline the day after they launched the pre-registration site. 

What about those issues?

“We have had over 300,000 who have successfully enrolled, and we have transferred information from those who have enrolled previously through the health department into the new system,” Northam said.

So, is there light at the end of the long, dark COVID-19 tunnel? 

“We have been at this a year. Numbers show we are moving in the right direction. Our positivity rates are going down, our number of vaccinations are going up,” he said.

Mask mandate

What about this question: When does he think the masks can come off? 

“Hopefully, by early or mid-summer, we will have folks vaccinated and get to the herd immunity that we need to put COVID-19 in the rear-view mirror,” he said.

But when will we be able to not wear masks anymore? 

As the Governor walked away to the next meeting, he declined to say.

“I’ll call you and let you know, Andy. In the meantime, keep it on.” he told Andy Fox.

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