Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the U.S., told Virginia community leaders on Friday that it’ll be “open season” for vaccinations in April, meaning anyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get it.
“If we get that overwhelming majority of people vaccinated, I think we could start approaching a reasonable degree of normality toward the mid-fall of 2021,” he continued.
He spoke as Friday marked the third day in a row that Virginia reported more than 5,000 additional cases.
Fauci joined a conference call that the VCU Massey Center director, Dr. Robert Winn, has held with Black faith leaders every Friday since March to dismantle misinformation about COVID-19, share how to stay safe as cases surge and address the deep-rooted mistrust in the health care system perpetuated by ongoing discrimination in medical care that’s made Black communities hesitant to receive the vaccine.
Thousands, including Gov. Ralph Northam and the state health commissioner, Dr. Norman Oliver, were virtually in attendance Friday to hear what the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases had to say about what comes next.
The chat was flooded with people from across Virginia saying “Amen!” as he discussed the pivotal role of Black churches in the rollout of vaccines and sending Fauci prayers as the U.S. heads into a record number of deaths and cases following heavy holiday travel.
“You need a couple of prayers?” asked Winn.
“Well I tell you, I need a lot of prayers,” Fauci joked. “So if you’ve got some to spare, send them on my behalf, please.”
Fauci discussed the development of the vaccine, how Operation Warp Speed came together to organize vaccination protocol and the efficacy rates of both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which are more than 90%. He broke down his experience with the vaccine and the minor side effects — “I felt a little ache in my arm” — and counseled patience with the staggered vaccine rollout and the kinks left to be worked out.
He hasn’t taken a vacation since before January of last year.
“We have so much at stake,” he said. “Until we get this really under control, then I’m not going to rest. I promise you that.”
Since New Year’s Eve, roughly one person in Virginia has died from COVID-19 every hour. By April 1, that could increase to about five deaths per hour, according to projections from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
Both agencies correctly predicted the state would surpass 5,000 deaths on the last day of 2020.
Nationally, the U.S. shattered daily records on Friday, reporting more than 4,000 deaths for the first time. That’s a person dying every 20 seconds.
Virginia’s current death toll is at 5,312 people. Health officials say even this is an undercount due to delays in reporting and the verification of death certificates.
The first week of 2021 in Virginia has also seen the top-five highest COVID-19 case numbers ever recorded in the state.
At 5,238 new infections, Friday saw the third-highest single-day increase in Virginia. The state is now averaging 4,736 new cases each day in the past week.
On Friday, COVID-19 hospitalizations in Virginia dropped by nine patients, according to the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association’s online dashboard. Nearly 32,600 total COVID-19 patients have been hospitalized and discharged, though hospitalizations continue to trend upward.
The number of COVID-19 tests is also on the rise following steep drops after the holidays. The state exceeded 4.5 million total tests administered on Friday and the percentage of people testing positive has decreased slightly to 16.7%.
This is still closer to the highest positivity rate recorded — 20.2% in April — than the lowest of 3.7%. Last week, it was 14.3%.
Virginia has fully vaccinated 6,848 people as of Friday’s report, meaning they’ve received a second dose. Data provided by the Virginia Department of Health, which currently doesn’t include long-term care facilities, indicates the state has had 30% of available doses administered. The site notes administered vaccines could take up to three days to report.
Gov. Ralph Northam set a goal Wednesday of 14,000 shots given per day. The closest the state has gotten to that was on Dec. 29 with 13,611.
Currently, health care workers and long-term care residents and staff are regarded as the priority for vaccination. Next in line are front-line essential workers who are not health care personnel and people over the age of 75.
On Wednesday, Richmond and the counties of Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico saw increases of 585 COVID-19 cases, 13 hospitalizations and six deaths from Wednesday.
The area now has a total of 44,483 cases, 2,184 hospitalizations and 696 deaths.
Richmond surpassed 10,000 total cases on Friday with 10,134. The city has had 583 hospitalizations and 101 deaths.
The Chesterfield Health District, which consists of Chesterfield, Powhatan County and Colonial Heights, has had 15,961 cases, 702 hospitalizations and 217 deaths. Chesterfield’s positivity rate exceeds the state with 17.6%. Henrico has had 13,983 cases, 697 hospitalizations and 299 deaths. Hanover has had 4,405 cases, 202 hospitalizations and 79 deaths.