RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Tuesday he hopes the state has reached the final stage of the coronavirus pandemic as the vaccination rate grows and the number of new COVID cases goes down.
The Democratic governor said Virginia has already reached a goal of administering an average of 50,000 vaccine shots a day. And he said 1.5 million residents - or 18% of Virginians - have received at least one dose.
The state also reported more than 1,500 new COVID cases Monday. That number is far below the nearly 10,000 new cases that were reported in mid-January as cases surged following the holidays.
But Northam, who is a physician, cautioned that a return to normal won’t happen until the state has reached “herd immunity.”
That is when the virus can longer find the human hosts it needs to survive and mutate.
“The vaccines are a light at the end of a long tunnel, and that light gets brighter, every day,” Northam said at a news conference. “For now, we need to keep doing the things that we know work. Wash your hands. Wear your mask. Keep your distance. But there is every reason to be hopeful that things are getting better for all.”
Northam urged people to answer their phones to make sure they receive calls from health officials who are scheduling vaccine appointments.
Virginia also plans to hold large vaccination sites that could possibly inoculate several thousand people in a day, Northam said. The effort will begin in the cities of Danville, Petersburg and Portsmouth - and will still require people to register for appointments.
Curtis Brown, Virginia's state coordinator for emergency management, said at the same news conference that those cities were chosen following an “equity analysis" that found “vulnerable populations” nearby.
Dr. Danny Avula, who is leading Virginia's vaccination efforts, added that the state still has many people who are hesitant to get vaccinated.
“We know, just looking at our data, that we’re not reaching Black and Latino residents to the degree that we want to and need to,” Avula said. “And so the more that we do community facing events ... the more that we’re gonna be able to educate and support and ultimately provide opportunities for vaccination to address some of that hesitancy that might exist.”
But Avula noted that, nationally at least, hesitancy among Black Americans has dropped in recent months.
“Where we see the most (hesitancy) is actually in white Republicans living in rural areas,” Avula said. “And so we are going to have to continually shift our education, our messaging and our strategies to get the vaccine into those hesitant communities.”