Northam responds to criticism of Virginia’s vaccination campaign, extends COVID-19 restrictions

Virginia News

VIRGINIA (WRIC) — In a COVID-19 update on Wednesday, Gov. Ralph Northam responded to criticism surrounding Virginia’s mass vaccination campaign, explained efforts to improve the roll out and extended current coronavirus restrictions.

The safety measures that largely took effect last month were set to expire on Jan. 31 without further action. Now, Northam plans to keep them in place at least through the end of February.

  • A midnight to 5 a.m. curfew requiring people to stay at home unless they’re getting food/goods, seeking medical attention or traveling for work.
  • An expansion of the mask mandate for all Virginians ages five and older in indoor public settings and outdoor public spaces “within six feet of another person.” 
  • A reduced capacity limit on social gatherings like parties, private dining and fitness classes. The cap does not apply to religious services, places of employment, educational settings and commercial businesses
  • Dining establishments will still be prohibited from selling alcohol after 10 p.m. and all must be closed by midnight.

“We are ramping up vaccinations. This is no time to let down our guard,” Northam said.

While Virginia has routinely ranked towards the bottom of states for doses administered per 100,000 people, CDC data on Wednesday put the Commonwealth in 26th place. The latest numbers from the Virginia Department of Health showed more than 600,000 shots have been given out to date, with more than 26,000 administered per day on average.

The improvement on paper comes as frustration is growing on the ground, with some local leaders calling the state’s vaccination campaign ‘defective’ and ‘inconsistent.’

In a call with White House officials earlier this week, Northam said other governors echoed similar concerns. “Not enough supply, not enough transparency, lots of logistics and not enough time to plan,” he summarized.

Northam laid some of the blame at the feet of President Donald Trump’s Administration.

A little more than two weeks ago, the federal government instructed states to open up vaccine eligibility to those 65 and older, as well as people 16-64 with underlying health conditions. On top of a vast group of ‘frontline essential workers’ also being prioritized in ‘Phase 1b,’ this expansion meant that roughly half of Virginians would be eligible for the shot, according to Northam.

Shortly after states announced these new plans, reports emerged that a federal stockpile of vaccine supplies meant to support the expanded eligibility didn’t exist.

“That made a confusing situation even more confusing,” Northam said. “That led to a reality of too much supply in some places and not enough in others. That’s true in Virginia and around the country.”

President Joe Biden’s Administration is now committing to deliver 16% more doses to states in the coming weeks–effective immediately.

“It gives states the visibility they have lacked to know how many vaccines are coming in so they can make commitments to their partners,” Andy Slavitt, senior adviser to the White House COVID-19 Response Team, said in a press briefing on Wednesday.

In an effort to make the roll out more consistent, Northam further clarified state guidance for how local health districts should manage vaccine prioritization. He said about half of available shots should be given to people 65 and older. The other half should be given to frontline workers and other high-risk populations.

As widespread confusion emerges over how to get in line for a vaccine, Northam is also directing the Virginia Department of Health to set up a centralized system as soon as possible. To date, sign-ups have largely been managed at the local level.

“I know this has been a source of great frustration for a lot of Virginians,” Northam said. “That confusion is justified because the answer has not been clear but we’re going to have this fixed very soon. “

On the issue of equity, Northam is backing a bill to require the collection of racial and ethnic data on vaccinations moving forward.

To improve transparency, VDH launched a more detailed dashboard on Wednesday that allows the public to see exactly where doses are being distributed.

You can watch the full press conference here:

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