RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)– With just days left in 2020, The City of Richmond is experiencing a rise in COVID-19 cases as the city’s percent positivity rate jumps to 12.7 percent. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney addressed the public in his last COVID-19 briefing of the year, with the help of Richmond City Health District Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Melissa Viray.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been 9,046 positive Coronavirus cases within the city of Richmond. 94 Richmond residents have died due to COVID-19 complications. Dr. Viray told 8news, the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the city is cause for concern, as the holiday season continues with New Year’s Eve.
“Cases continue to be elevated. Our percent positivity continues to increase,” said Dr. Viray. “Our numbers and outbreaks are increasing so even before the end of the holiday season, we’ve already started to see increasing above and beyond what we were seeing after Thanksgiving.”
In addition, more Americans are traveling this time of year. Mayor Levar Stoney believes there will likely be a rise in Coronavirus case counts in the coming weeks.
“According to the TSA, airports, this past Sunday were busier than they have been since the beginning of March. This tells me that we have a lot of work to do in the coming weeks,” Stoney said. “That means a busy travel season and a busy holiday season. It means that in the coming weeks we will likely see a rise and a surge in case counts as well. We’re going to have to be on guard because of that.”
Mayor Stoney advises that Virginians avoid non-essential travel and urges residents to stay in contact with the people that they have made contact with over the last week.
He believes developing COVID-19 symptoms or being around another person that has developed symptoms, is a good indicator that one should get tested.
“We need you to keep in contact with those you spend time with in the past week, so you know their symptoms as well,” said Stoney.
He reiterated that New Year’s Eve in 2020 will look much different that past celebrations.
“This is not New Year’s Eve 2019, 2018, or 2017. This is not the time or the moment for a big blow out,” said Stoney.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s COVID-19 restrictions will still be enforced on New Year’s Eve. Restaurants and bars in Virginia must stop serving alcohol at 10 p.m. The capacity limit for all indoor and outdoor activities is 10 people. Dr. Viray advises residents to keep any potential gatherings to a small size and to still adhere to safety guidelines. There have been increases regionally in hospitalizations for COVID-19, Intensive Care Unit (ICU) bed utilizations for COVID-19 and breathing machine and ventilator use for COVID-19.
“I know that traditionally we like to party. We like to go out. We like to have fun on New Year’s, but not this year,” said Dr. Viray.
The Centers for Disease Control has released safety guidelines for celebrating New Year’s Eve this year. The center recommends staying home and celebrating with the people you live with. An alternative could be, celebrating virtually. The center recommends not attending large gatherings this year.
If you plan to host a celebration, you’re asked to limit the number of guests and keep celebrations outdoors, if possible. Hosts should clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and have guests bring their own food, drinks, plates, cups and utensils. If the celebration is indoors, open the windows and doors and use a window fan to blow air out.
According to the CDC, if you attend a celebration, you should avoid areas where food is prepared, such as the kitchen. Try to use single-use options, like condiment packets and bring your own disposable plates, cups and utensils.
The CDC recommends other alternative New Year’s Eve celebration activities such as: attending a virtual concert or performance, planning a virtual countdown or New Year’s party with your immediate household, or planning a neighborhood countdown to midnight.
In the meantime, thousands of Virginians are receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Dr. Viray referred to the phased COVID-19 vaccination approach in Virginia, as ‘the light at the end of our tunnel.’
The Richmond and Henrico Health District held its first vaccination clinics this past week. According to Dr. Viray, in the last two and a half weeks, 54,295 Virginians and 904 Richmond residents have been vaccinated with the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. There are ongoing shipments to accommodate vaccine needs. The district has started to partner with large health providers to prepare for further distribution.
In addition to the Tier 1A group, which includes healthcare providers and residents and employees at long-term care facilities, Dr. Viray told 8news, the goal is to see urgent care providers and private practice employees vaccinated by the end of the winter season. The vaccine is projected to be available to the general public by late Spring or early Summer.
For residents who are suffering financial setbacks due to COVID-19, the city of Richmond is offering relief for residents who have utility bills that have fallen behind. Residents can apply online by Sunday, January 17.