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Richmond leaders warn against complacency as vaccine nears

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Posted at 6:03 PM, Dec 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-16 18:33:40-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Richmond City leaders are worried that a surge in coronavirus cases will follow when families and friends gather for holiday celebrations.

Mayor Levar Stoney warned about foregoing COVID-19 guidelines after the arrival of a new vaccine this week.

“We always knew the vaccine would be the ultimate weapon against this invisible enemy. However, we still have weapons at our disposal — wearing a mask, keeping your distance, and washing your hands,” Stoney explained.

Shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine began arriving to healthcare facilities across the nation over the weekend. On Wednesday, VCU Health live-streamed one employee receiving her vaccine.

Dr. Melissa Viray with the Richmond City Health District said the city continues to wait for their first supply of the vaccine.

“But, we are ready and ramping up our systems to get the vaccine in arms,” Viray stated.

Viray said the city recorded an increase of cases since the fall in addition to another upswing after the Thanksgiving holiday.

"We are very concerned the impact holiday gathering are going to have how many cases and how many infections we have and what that means for our community and hospitalization,” she said.

On average, 76 Richmonders are diagnosed with the coronavirus every day.

As of Wednesday, 36 city employees were in quarantine with 22 confirmed positive cases within the workforce.

Since the pandemic started, there have been 7,845 total positive cases and 86 Richmond citizens have died due to the virus.

Every year, religious ceremonies play a crucial part in holiday celebrations and traditions. But health experts said that must change for 2020.

“There are many ways to praise the lord. It doesn’t mean you have to actually be in the church pews,” Stoney advised. “I’ve heard from a number of Richmond residents who said they are not going to return to their houses or worship until there is a vaccine.”

Rev. Jeanne Pupke and the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Richmond on Bonner Street has held religious services exclusively online since the pandemic began.

“We are going to see the day until we gather again and we in particular are going to wait until everyone in our community has access to the vaccine before we gather,” Rev. Pupke said.

Rev. Pupke said she understands why some worshipers are adamant to hold services indoors, but advised that we must think about our neighbors.

“I understand that people love their churches. The smells and the bells are lovely to them. But, now we are talking about people’s lives, healthcare providers' lives, and patients' lives,” she explained.

Experts recommended that religious services are held virtually or outside like in the parking lot.

This month, Governor Ralph Northam announced additional restrictions on group sizes that are now limited to just 10 people - indoors and outdoors. But, he said religious facilities and houses of worship are exempt from the new restrictions.
Mask wearing is also strongly encouraged inside public places.