<img class="aligncenter wp-image-54616 size-large" src="https:\/\/theenterprise.net\/wp-content\/uploads\/sites\/23\/2021\/07\/Vaccine1-1024x462.jpg" alt="" width="1024" height="462" \/> <img class="aligncenter wp-image-54617 size-large" src="https:\/\/theenterprise.net\/wp-content\/uploads\/sites\/23\/2021\/07\/Vaccine2-1024x869.jpg" alt="" width="1024" height="869" \/>By Taylor Boyd and Debbie Hall\r\n\r\nLess than a month after the state of emergency ended, the entirety of Southwest Virginia is struggling to vaccinate its residents, according to West Piedmont Health District (WPHD) public information officer Nancy Bell.\r\n\r\nVirginia\u2019s state of emergency status, in effect since March 2020, ended June 30 due to a decline in COVID-19 cases, Bell said.\r\n\r\nCurrently, about 62 percent of Patrick County\u2019s population remains unvaccinated, according to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) website. Data suggests that 38 percent of the county\u2019s population is fully vaccinated.\r\n\r\nVaccine rates also lag in other localities, Bell said of counties like Carroll and Lee, with nearly 37 percent and nearly 35 percent fully vaccinated, respectively.\r\n\r\nIn adjacent Henry County, 44 percent are fully vaccinated, and in Martinsville, slightly more than 57 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, data suggests.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe don\u2019t know if\u201d the lower vaccine rates are \u201cdue to them being rural, or transportation issues, or hesitation, or false information, or it may be a combination of things. It\u2019s not because they haven\u2019t been available. I think there needs to be some education about the facts versus the rumors,\u201d Bell said.\r\n\r\nBut getting vaccinated is more important than ever, \u201cespecially because the variants tend to be more contagious and more severe,\u201d and because the virus may flare up once the weather gets colder, she\r\n\r\nTo help with the effort in Virginia, the state health department received $1.5 million from the state to hire community health workers.\r\n\r\n\u201cWhat they\u2019re going to do is dig deeper into the communities and make sure everyone who wants a vaccine can get one and remove barriers like transportation and that sort of thing,\u201d Bell said.\r\n\r\nThe workers will also go into communities to talk about the facts of COVID-19 and provide information about the vaccines. Bell said the agency hopes to hire six people for this role and encourages people in the area to apply.\r\n\r\nShe expects this effort to begin late August or early September to ensure the workers are sufficiently trained.\r\n\r\nThe Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association (VHHA) on Monday said it supports efforts to make the COVID-19 vaccine a requirement for health care workers.\r\n\r\n\u201cMany hospitals and health systems across the country have begun implementing COVID-19 vaccine requirements. Hospitals and health systems currently require vaccines against a variety of other diseases and viruses,\u201d the release stated, and added, \u201cgiven this, VHHA supports hospitals and health systems amending their existing vaccine policies to require COVID-19 vaccines for their health care employees.\u201d\r\n\r\nFor the unvaccinated, \u201cI would encourage people to get them even if they\u2019re uncertain because uncertainty can be deadly,\u201d Bell said.\r\n\r\nWhile those who are vaccinated can return to life as normal, they should still be aware that there are variants that can have unknown impacts on vaccinated individuals, she said.\r\n\r\nThe WPHD is also encouraging people to continue to wear masks and practice social distancing, even if they are vaccinated, in settings with large groups of people, and particularly while indoors.\r\n\r\nBell said the mask mandate will continue in schools and on school buses because the child population has not been vaccinated yet.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt falls upon the individual schools to create their own mask policy, and the school divisions are in charge of enforcing that,\u201d she said.\r\n\r\nAlthough the end of the state of emergency signaled \u201cpretty much a return to normal life with some common-sense mixed in,\u201d Bell said, \u201cpeople who are currently unvaccinated should not be waiting for it to go away, because it\u2019s not going to go away.\u201d\r\n\r\nQuestions about the vaccine and the virus can be answered by calling the WPHD, Bell said, and added that vaccines are still free at local health departments and participating pharmacies\r\n\r\nFor tips on staying safe, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov or www.cdc.gov\/coronavirus\/2019-ncov.