RICHMOND, Va. -- City leaders in Richmond have detailed their plans and expectations for a major roll out of an eventual COVID-19 vaccination.
Richmond-Henrico Health District (RCHD) Director Dr. Danny Avula addressed the city’s plans during a virtual press conference on Thursday morning.
“We are very actively planing for the potential for vaccines to be on the ground the week of December 14,” Avula stated.
Gov. Ralph Northam said Wednesday that Virginia is expected to get about 70,000 doses from Pfizer in the first wave. The governor said states expected more vaccines to become available as Moderna and other vaccine makers go through the FDA process.
The Centers for Disease Control have determined positions considered Tier 1 would receive their vaccinations before the rest of the general population. Those jobs include healthcare workers tasked with caring for the sickest individuals in addition to staff members and residents at long-term care facilities.
Other jobs that would later receive high priority include law enforcement, fire services, and manufacturers of the vaccine, followed by pregnant women, infants and toddlers.
Dr. Avula estimates that 50,000 to 60,000 people living in Henrico and Richmond would be considered Tier 1. It’s unclear exactly how many of the initial 70,000 doses would make it to Central Virginia.
“I think that we will be really focused on those high-risk individuals for the next two months through December and January,” Avula said.
Avula said those doses would most likely be given to hospital systems first, followed by health departments and pharmacies. Richmond Health District has ordered new freezers that can reach -90 degrees Fahrenheit in order to house the Pfizer vaccines.
Testing events like the operation staged at the Diamond baseball stadium on Arthur Ashe Boulevard on Thursday has also played a part in the city’s preparation.
“Everything we’ve done in terms of COVID testing and mass flu vaccinations have been learning opportunities how we are going to roll out mass COVID vaccinations,” Avula explained.
Vaccinations efforts are expected to continue well into Summer 2020.
As of Thursday, 40 city employees were in quarantine and 23 city workers were confirmed positive with COVID-19. There are 6,840 total coronavirus cases since the pandemic began and 82 Richmonders have died due to the virus, according to Richmond Mayor LeVar Stoney.
Currently, five Greater Richmond Transit Company (GRTC) employees have contracted the virus, according to Director of Communications Carrie Rose Pace.
“We have been very fortunate at least compared to peer transit companies across the country and not have outbreaks,” Pace stated. “That’s a testament to the safety precautions that we have at GRTC facilities and on board our vehicles.”
One GRTC employee is hospitalized with the virus, but Pace said their condition is improving. Four others are recovering at home.
“If you are experiencing symptoms, we ask you get tested, get tested, get tested,” Stoney reiterated.
Richmond’s percent positivity has remained relatively low around four-percent positive, according to Avula.
“We are still at the highest case rate per day that we’ve seen at any point during this pandemic. We peaked last week at 55 new cases per day our 7-day rolling average,” he stated.
Virginia’s statewide percent positivity is nearly 9-percent, according to data from the Virginia Department of Health.
Avula said the city is conducting more rapid antigen testing as opposed to the common PCR testing, which could explain the discrepancies in percent positivity rates across the state.
“Some indicators we have been using are less reliable and we really need to continue to monitor the number of cases and the amount of spread that is happening,” Avula stated.
But Mayor Stoney warned we must continue to do our part to stop the virus.
“This will require the same sort of self-sacrifice and diligence and responsibility you exhibited during the Thanksgiving holiday,” Stoney said.
Another COVID-19 testing event is scheduled for Friday, December 4 at the Eastern Henrico Health Department located at 1400 N Laburnum Avenue from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m.
Residents are encouraged to visit the RCHD website or call their hotline at 804-205-3501 for the most up-to-date information.
Most patients with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms. However, in a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can lead to more severe illness, including death, particularly among those who are older or those who have chronic medical conditions.
COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.
Virginia health officials urged the following precautions:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Avoid contact with sick people.
- Avoid non-essential travel.