COVID-19 restrictions easing this month, more expected in April

By Taylor Boyd

Virginia started easing pandemic restrictions on March 1, with more expected in April, Gov. Ralph Northam said at a recent press conference.

The state can move towards a greater leniency because “now almost two months past Christmas and with thousands of Virginias vaccinated, we are finally seeing COVID numbers fall and vaccination numbers rise,” he said.

Sales of alcohol will be expanded to midnight rather than 10 p.m., and “the modified stay at home order will be lifted, so no more curfew from 12 a.m. to 5 a.m., but I would still encourage folks after midnight to please be at home,” he said.

Northam said outdoor social gatherings can expand up to 25 people, an increase from the current 10 allowed.

Additionally, “at outdoor entertainment and public amusement venues, the limit will move from 250 people to 30 percent, with a cap of 1,000 people. If the trends continue as they are, cases down and vaccinations up, I would expect that by April we could be able to continue the 30 percent measure, but remove the 1,000-person cap for outdoor venues,” he said, adding the state would be working with venues to strengthen their ability to implement safety measures.

Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell said, “As we prepare for our upcoming spring NASCAR weekend on April 8-10, we are encouraged by today’s announcement on the increase in limited fan capacity for entertainment venues across the Commonwealth of Virginia. We are grateful for Governor Ralph Northam and his administration’s leadership as we follow the state’s pathway to welcome limited fans back to Martinsville Speedway.

“We understand the importance of our role as venue operators, so we are working diligently to provide a safe race experience as we welcome back fans to our facility. We look forward to continuing to support our community as a mass vaccination site as we take another step forward in getting Henry County back to regular life in the future,” Campbell added.

Northam noted that March 1 will be just six days shy of a year since the first positive COVID case was identified in Virginia.

“We have come a long way since then through a very tough time. We do not want to risk our progress by easing restrictions too quickly. Not now, when more and more Virginians are getting the protection of vaccines, and not when variants that can infect more people more quickly are spreading,” he said.

“We hope that with trends continuing as they are, we can look at further steps in the coming months. But it’s critical that we do this slowly and thoughtfully. For now, everyone needs to continue doing the things that we know works- social distancing, wearing a mask, and washing your hands,” Northam said.

As of Feb. 24, the 1,708 daily new case average in Virginia is the lowest it’s been since before Thanksgiving, Northam said.

“We’ve administered almost 1.7 million doses overall. More than 1.1 million Virginians have received the first dose, that’s about 13.5 percent of the population,” he said.

Northam said daily vaccine numbers are down temporally due to winter storms, “but before that happened last week, we were averaging about 36,000 shots into arms a day.”

Vaccine numbers are expected to increase once shipments return to a normal schedule, and because “last week, President Biden’s administration announced a bump in vaccine allocation for states. Virginia has been a leader among states in getting people vaccinated, and we will keep that trend up,” Northam said, adding there are about 220 vaccination events scheduled around the state.

Since the launch of the new COVID-19 vaccine call center, Northam said about half-a-million Virginians have pre-registered.

“This is great news. The system is working, and it is meeting a much-needed effort,” he said, and added that is in addition to the 1.2 million Virginians who have previously signed up with local health departments.

“We have 1.7 million Virginians now pre-registered, and the call center has received more than 100,000 calls so far,” he said.

Northam said the Biden administration has also increased the number of vaccines going to pharmacies in the Federal Pharmacy Program, which “means more pharmacies are coming online this week to give shots through that federal partnership. CVS started vaccinating Virginians at certain locations a couple of weeks ago, and Walgreens will start later this week.”

He said pharmacies participating in the Federal Pharmacy Program will share a federal allotment of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

“Not all of the locations for each of these companies will be receiving vaccines. Locations are decided by the companies in consultation with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) to focus these efforts on high-risk and vulnerable communities,” Northam said.

Pharmacies will prioritize those 65 and older, and all vaccinations are by appointment only.

“I’m glad that these pharmacy chains are willing to work with us, and I’m grateful that this federal partnership puts an additional 52,000 vaccine doses per week into Virginia’s arms,” he said.

Additionally, “Walmart plans to hold vaccination clinics at off-site locations that our health department and the Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) helped to choose. Walmart won’t be vaccinating in its stores at all, so please don’t go there looking for a shot. They’ll be out at community sites,” he said, adding this will allow Walmart to vaccinate a few hundred people a day and choose different locations each week based on need.

“We’re also grateful this week to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, which is allocating $179 million to Virginia to help cover costs to identify and set up future mass-vaccination sites,” he said.

Northam said the state expects vaccine supplies to expand further due to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) preparing to approve the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.

“Just this morning, FDA staff confirmed that the vaccine is safe, and we could see doses come into states as soon as next week. That is great news because that will allow us to vaccinate more people and get closer to herd immunity,” he said.

Northam said all three vaccines are shown to reduce serious illness and death from the virus.

“People have asked me what is the best one to get. Well, I would sum that up by saying ‘the best vaccine is the one you get,’” he said.

As of Monday, Mar. 1 data from the Virginia Department of Health suggested there are 4,212 cases, with 287 hospitalizations, and 108 deaths in Henry County. In Patrick County, 1,200 cases with 92 hospitalized, and 36 dead from the COVID-19 virus were reported. In the City of Martinsville, 1,509 cases were reported with 128 hospitalized, and 59 dead.

The data also suggests there are 578,559 cases in the state, with 24,258 hospitalized, and 8,943 dead from the COVID-19 virus. Information from the CDC suggested there are 28,456,860 cases in the United States and 513,122 dead from coronavirus.

Data also suggests that as of Mar 1, 697,879 Virginians have been fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.

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