South African COVID-19 variant case reported in Va., governor says
State now ranked in top 10 for vaccine administration, CDC reports
UPDATED 4 P.M. FEB. 5
Gov. Ralph Northam said Friday the highly contagious South African variant of COVID-19 has shown up in a case in Virginia, identified by private laboratory Labcorp on Thursday.
The sample came from an adult in Eastern Virginia, according to the Virginia Department of Health, which said it was “investigating this case and assessing the person’s travel history.” While the South African variant is associated with increased person-to-person transmission, there is no evidence that it causes more severe disease, VDH said in a news release issued Friday.
In recent studies, available vaccines have been shown to be less effective against the South African variant, which has spread quickly across South Africa and other nations, although the U.S. has seen only a few cases so far, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the CDC’s most recent update Thursday, there are only five cases reported in the U.S, in Maryland and South Carolina.
Virginia also has identified four cases of the United Kingdom strain of the coronavirus, which is more contagious than the original virus, too. Northam said during his COVID-19 news conference that “now is not the time to relax” and cautioned Virginians to continue wearing masks and maintaining physical distance.
As expected, the governor also rolled out his plan for in-person K-12 education, noting that students and teachers have had a tough academic year and that disadvantaged students are falling behind academically.
“It needs to start by March 15,” Northam said, adding that he expects all school systems to comply with state guidelines for in-person education by that date, offering families the option to send their students back to school. He said also that school systems must also provide opportunities for in-person learning in summer school, although it will not be mandatory for students, and that teachers will be compensated for extra time spent working. Northam noted that schools will not simply “throw open the doors” on March 15 — only that students will have the option to return to class or continue remote learning at home.
Northam also delivered good news about declining numbers of new cases in recent weeks after seeing spikes after the holidays, as well as progress in vaccinating Virginians more quickly.
Virginia’s rate of administered COVID vaccine doses has improved dramatically in the past two weeks, and the state was ranked 10th in the nation as of Friday, according to data from the CDC analyzed by Becker’s Hospital Review. According to Virginia Department of Health data, which is about a day ahead of the CDC’s information, 67% of all 1.4 million vaccine doses received by the state have been administered.
More than 806,000 people in Virginia — 9.4% of the state’s population — have received at least one dose as of Friday, and 157,507 people are fully vaccinated, VDH reported. Northam said Friday that Virginia is ninth in the nation in percentage of its population vaccinated.
The state reached an average of 40,415 vaccinations per day on Jan. 30, an improvement of more than 10,000 a week earlier. Dr. Danny Avula, the state’s vaccine coordinator, said in an interview with PBS NewsHour this week that the state must administer about 60,000 shots per day to reach herd immunity by early summer, but that the federal government needs to send Virginia more vaccine doses weekly than it currently does.
“We still have a long way to go. I don’t want to sugarcoat that,” Northam said during his Friday update. “I know that everyone – everyone – is feeling impatient. Every state wants more vaccine from the federal government. We can’t make it ourselves.”
This week, the state received 122,750 doses, an uptick of about 18,000 from previous weeks, when the federal government provided an average of 105,000 doses. Nevertheless, demand continues to outstrip supply, Northam said. Avula said he expects the shortfall to continue to at least March, when increased production of approved vaccines and approval of new vaccines by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will begin to make a difference in the commonwealth. At that point, the state will be able to offer more mass vaccination events.
Northam said that next week, the state will open a call center to handle calls about vaccines and for residents to preregister for shots, in addition to online registration.
The federal government also will start shipping more vaccine doses to CVS stores, Northam said, which will be sent to 36 locations across the state, in addition to other vaccination sites as the second phase of the federal pharmacy rollout. Partnerships with Walmart, Walgreens and Kroger pharmacies in Virginia are in the works for the near future, the governor added.