RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Despite seeing lower rates of infection and believing Virginia is in a “great place” with its COVID-19 response, the state’s vaccine coordinator stressed the effort must continue and that he expects a highly contagious variant will lead to another surge in disease later this summer or in the fall.
Dr. Danny Avula, who was tapped by Gov. Ralph Northam in January to coordinate Virginia’s vaccine rollout, addressed concerns over the Delta variant Tuesday during Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s weekly coronavirus briefing.
The Delta variant spread rapidly in India, where it was first detected, and quickly became the predominant strain in the United Kingdom. It is taking over as the dominant strain of the disease in the United States as well, Avula noted.
In Virginia, 76% of the 48 confirmed cases of the Delta variant are not related to travel outside the state or country, Avula said Tuesday.
“So we are seeing the Delta variant here in Virginia and we are seeing it spread unrelated to travel. And we can fully expect that we will see the Delta variant continue to probably double every week and become more of a concern, especially in communities that have lower vaccination rates,” he said.
Avula added that expectations are for “another surge in disease” to come later this summer or in early fall due to spread of the Delta variant.
There is conflicting guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization on whether vaccinated people should wear masks to protect themselves from the contagious variant. WHO officials are urging vaccinated people to wear masks, while the CDC’s recommendations allow for vaccinated people to ditch the mask wherever they are not required.
Avula noted the WHO has a global scope whereas the CDC provides guidance in the U.S., arguing Tuesday that those differences could be the reason for the split between the organizations.
Citing the higher vaccination rates and lower infection numbers in the U.S., Avula said he would still adhere to the CDC guidelines on masks. He added that he could imagine a change if “breakthrough cases” of variants or “significant clusters” of infection were to emerge.
While asserting more research needs to be done on people’s antibody responses to the vaccines, Avula reiterated that he thinks booster shots for COVID-19 will likely be required down the line. He shared that his best guess would be sometime in 2022.
An update on Richmond’s coronavirus response
The City of Richmond will receive a $4 million federal grant to combat the pandemic’s impact on residents, the mayor announced Tuesday.
“Over the next two years, we will use these funds to work with community-based organizations to develop health literacy plans to increase the availability, acceptability and use of the COVID-19 health information and resources,” Stoney said. He added that the grant money would help address health disparities among the city’s at-risk communities.
Richmond City Health District Nurse Manager Amy Popovich joined Avula and Stoney Tuesday, discussing how the district has responded to the virus and ways it has tried to increase vaccinations. Popovich also announced a partnership with Richmond Public Schools, where health officials will be in a few middle and high schools, to provide people with opportunities to get the COVID-19 vaccine or vaccines needed for students.
While half of Virginia’s population is fully vaccinated, 40% of Richmond’s population is fully vaccinated and nearly 47% have had at least one dose, according to the state’s health department. Overall, there have been more than 17,000 COVID-19 cases reported in Richmond and 272 city residents have died.
Click here for a full list of walk-up COVID-19 vaccination events in Richmond. You can also call (804)-205-3501 to reach the Richmond City Health District’s call center.
Stay with 8News for a report at 6 p.m.