RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond officials and health leaders are warning people that although it might feel like it, the pandemic is not over. This comes as the Delta variant is popping up in Virginia and spreading across the state.
During Tuesday’s weekly COVID-19 briefing with Mayor Levar Stoney, State Vaccination Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula, and City Health District Nurse Manager Amy Popovich; all agree that a lot of progress has been made over the last year, but the work is far from over. According to state health officials Virginians can expect cases to climb by the end of the summer into early fall because of the contagious Delta variant.
“We are seeing the Delta variant here in Virginia,” said Dr. Avula. “We are seeing it unrelated to travel and we can fully expect that we will see the Delta variant continue to probably double every week.”
Dr. Avula confirmed there are now 48 cases throughout the state and that number is expected to grow. Avula says of those 48 cases 76% are unrelated to travel, meaning folks were infected through community transmission.
Mayor Stoney is urging folks to stay vigilant and get vaccinated. Since the start of the pandemic Richmond has seen over 17,000 cases and 272 deaths.
“We still have a lot of work to do to get shots in arms. Getting the COVID-19 vaccine is safe, it’s effective,” said Stoney. “Folks it is free–it is absolutely free.”
To get ahead of an expected variant surge, city leaders are ramping up vaccination efforts in underserved communities. Stoney said he has went door-to-door himself in the Church Hill neighborhood, more clinics are popping up in various neighborhoods and the City Health District has entered a new partnership with Richmond Public Schools. Together, they will provide COVID-19 and other vaccinations to middle and high school students in summer school.
On Tuesday, Stoney also announced a big win in the city’s fight against the virus. Richmond has received a $4 million dollar federal grant from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services. The city is one of 73 localities to earn the grant. The money will be used over the next two years to improve health literacy. vaccination efforts, and health disparities in Black and Latino communities.
For months, there have been growing concerns over the COVID-19 vaccine’s possible link to Myocarditis, a heart condition.
“There have been increasing reports of a rare and mild heart inflammation that was happening particularly in younger adults and in males,” said Avula.
On Tuesday, Dr.Avula said an advisory panel concluded that there is an increased risk for men ages 13 to 30 to develop the condition after recieving the second dose of Moderna or Pfizer. He added the FDA will now carry a warning with the mRNA vaccines. Avula says to put that in perspective it is very rare and less risky than being hospitalized with the virus.
Another big topic discussed, the question of ‘will I need another vaccine down the road’. Avula says there is a chance.
“I do think that boosters are in the future,” said Avula. “If I had to guess I would say we’d be looking at 2022.”
Virginia’s Vaccination Coordinator says the data around immunity is strong and right now researchers are not seeing higher rates of breakthrough infections, but they will continue to study the data- -especially with variants spreading.
Although COVID cases are the lowest seen in months, Dr. Avula says on a global level variants are the most concerning aspect of COVID-19 right now. He says new guidance from the World Health Organization suggests that people who are vaccinated still wear a mask for protection.