COVID roundup: AG says Va. public colleges can require vaccine
With state in phase 2, Northam lifts more restrictions
As more Virginians get vaccinated, the attorney general has issued an opinion concluding that the state’s public colleges and universities can require COVID-19 vaccinations for in-person attendance this fall — although it remains up to individual institutions.
“There is no question that the General Assembly could enact a statute requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for in-person school attendance,” Attorney Gen. Mark Herring wrote in the opinion released Monday. Also, the state’s health commissioner, Dr. Norman Oliver, has “the power of ‘requiring immediate immunization of all persons in case of an epidemic of any disease of public health importance for which a vaccine exists other than a person to whose health the administration of a vaccine would be detrimental as certified in writing by a physician licensed to practice medicine in this commonwealth.’”
Issued at the request of Del. Mark Keam, D-Fairfax County, the opinion says that colleges and universities that do require vaccines “should be prepared to provide reasonable accommodations for medical conditions and/or religious objections.” In recent weeks, some universities in the U.S. have announced a vaccine mandate, including Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown, American and George Washington universities, but so far no Virginia-based schools have followed suit.
As of Monday, 3.6 million Virginians have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, and 2.4 million are fully vaccinated, according to the Virginia Department of Health. And after a nearly two-week nationwide pause, state health care providers are now administering Johnson & Johnson vaccines again.
Gov. Ralph Northam announced last week that he plans to lift more restrictions beginning May 15, including allowing 250 people to gather at outdoor events and 100 people indoors, as well as higher attendance at entertainment venues and sporting events. Restaurants also will be able to sell and serve alcohol after midnight.
Also, many individual health districts are making efforts to simplify the process of making a vaccination appointment, now that the entire state is in phase 2, in which all Virginians age 16 and older are now eligible for the vaccine. There are outreach events, walk-in clinics and more information available in multiple languages.
On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration lifted their pause on the use of the J&J vaccine since April 12, when the federal agencies said they needed to further investigate a rare blood clot that affected six women days after they received the one-dose vaccine, including one Virginia woman who died.
Virginia vaccine coordinator Dr. Danny Avula said in a statement Friday that Virginia would begin allowing VDH administrators to resume using the vaccine and that other providers would be notified they can use the vaccine. “This extra scrutiny should instill confidence in the system that is in place to guarantee COVID-19 vaccine safety,” Avula said. “As with any vaccine, we encourage individuals to educate themselves on any potential side effects and to weigh that against the possibility of hospitalization or death from COVID-19.”
Vaccination in Va.
Statewide, 42.9% of the population — 3,664,745 people — have received at least one dose, while 2,445,766 people or 28.7% of the state’s population are fully vaccinated as of Monday, and the state is administering 74,315 doses per day.
Although there are exceptions in which communities are allowing walk-in vaccination, appointments are still required at most clinics. All adult residents of Virginia can now register to get vaccinated at vaccinate.virginia.gov or call (877) VAX-IN-VA, or (877) 829-4682.
Over the past week, the state recorded 7,818 new COVID-19 cases, a decrease from the previous week, which saw 10,249 cases, and 111 people died last week of virus-related causes, VDH reported. The previous week, there were 109 COVID fatalities. As of Monday, the state has reported 654,929 total cases and 10,706 deaths, and the current seven-day positivity rate is 5.4%, down 0.7% from last week.
The state now ranks 14th in the nation for percentage of vaccine doses administered, according to CDC data analyzed by Becker’s Hospital Review.
According to the University of Virginia’s COVID-19 model, the state continues to see cases climb, especially new viral variants, and Virginia may see cases peak again in early July if residents loosen prevention measures, researchers say. The model predicts a peak of 58,716 cases in the week ending July 11.
As of April 21, Lord Fairfax Health District, in the northwestern part of the state, is seeing a surge in cases, defined as “sustained rapid growth and exceeds recent inflection points.” Districts experiencing slow growth include: Alleghany, Central Shenandoah, Mount Rogers, New River, Rappahannock, Virginia Beach and Western Tidewater.
As of April 22, Mount Rogers has a seven-day positivity rate of 10%, down from 10.1% on April 15. The rest of the state’s health districts now have rates below 10%.
With race and ethnicity information available for only 58.8% of people who have received shots in the state, the majority of shots have been received by white, non-Hispanic people — 63.2% as of Monday, according to VDH. Black Virginians have received 14.0% of shots, although they make up 19.9% of the state’s population, according to 2019 estimates by the U.S. Census; 10.7% of vaccines were given to Latino residents, who comprise about 9.8% of Virginians.
State health officials have focused attention on equitable administration of vaccinations, especially as Latino and Black residents are heavily represented among people who have been infected, hospitalized and died from the coronavirus. Among Virginia’s COVID deaths for which ethnicity and race were recorded, 24.8% were Black, and 6.3% were Latino.
National and global news
Globally, there are 147.3 million reported COVID-19 cases and 3,112,019 confirmed deaths, as of April 26. The United States, which has the most confirmed cases and deaths worldwide, has seen 32 million confirmed cases so far, with 572,201 deaths attributed to the coronavirus since February 2020. According to the CDC, 139.9 million U.S. residents have received at least one vaccine dose, or 42.2% of the nation’s population, and 94.7 million people, or 28.5% of the U.S. population, are fully vaccinated.
Although a billion shots have been given worldwide, some countries — most notably India — are currently experiencing surges in new cases. According to The New York Times’ COVID tracker, the seven-day global daily average hit 774,404 on Sunday, a 34,000 increase from the last worldwide surge in January. The United States has lifted a ban on the export of raw materials for vaccine production, and the Biden administration said it will supply India with test kits, therapeutics, ventilators and protective gear.