RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – Governor Ralph Northam gave an update on the COVID-19 vaccination efforts in Virginia and announced schools needed to offer in-person learning options by March 15.
Northam opened with that January was a hard month and had a record number of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths. However, he said the state is now trending downward.
Northam also mentioned that the state has seen several cases of the UK variant of the COVID-19 virus, and yesterday a private lab detected a case of the South African variant. He said these strains are more contagious.
Because of this, he said it’s more important than ever that we take precautionary measures, like washing hands and wearing a mask, seriously.
According to the latest data from the Virginia Department of Health, just over 9 percent of Virginia’s population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. More than 920,000 total doses have been administered.
Northam said the state is expected to administer more than 1 million doses of the vaccine by the end of this weekend. He added the state received 23 percent more doses of the vaccine this week, compared to last.
He also noted while the state is getting more vaccines people have had some issues receiving them. To help people sign up and disperse more information, Northam said starting tomorrow the state will begin training 700 employees to work in call centers — both in English and Spanish.
The governor said it is time for the state to seek an path to in-person learning now that data shows schools aren’t a source of rapid spread of the virus. Last month, Northam said his administration provided guidance on how to safely reopen schools.
“Virginia’s students and their learning have been dramatically impacted due to school building closures over the last year,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane in a statement from the governor’s office. “By providing more in-person instructional opportunities, while implementing strong and consistent health mitigation measures, we can successfully support students’ academic growth and social emotional well-being.”
Northam said schools need to offer in-person learning options available by Mar. 15.
“In-person won’t look the same for every school division, but we have to make a start. We can do this and we will do this,” Northam said.
“For those who choose to return to in-person instruction, we know that school will not look the same as students remember it from past years,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni in a statement from the governor’s office. “However, implementing evidence-based public health strategies will provide students who need it most the opportunity to have an in-person environment to learn and develop academically, socially, and emotionally.”
Anthony Swann, Virginia’s teacher of the year, voiced his support of this decision. He said he is having to play catch up with students when they return from virtual learning rather than moving forward with their education.
Swann said it’s more than just about virtual-learning’s impact on education. When he had a student come back to the classroom for the first time they were very excited to see their classmates again.
“He said ‘Mr. Swan I know COVID is here but I’m just so excited to see my friends!'” Swann said.
The governor also announced his support for extending the school year into the summer to help students catch up while learning from home. However, he said this isn’t mandatory.
“It’s important to have options this summer to allow students to catch up,” Northam said.
The governor sent this letter out to School Boards and superintendents across the state:
Northam said the state has made teachers a top priority for vaccinations, even though it is not a requirement for them to return to the classroom. He’s seen teachers at various vaccinations events and that they all seem excited to get back to in-person learning.
Northam warned if numbers trend in the wrong direction he could change this decision.
“Nothing is written in stone,” he said.
However, with vaccination efforts he is confident numbers will continue to trend down.