Virginia is approaching nearly a million COVID-19 vaccines distributed, making it one of the top states in the country when it comes to number of available doses. But it’s also 46th among states for the percentage of total shots given, ranking lower than it did last week at 38, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Of the 10 states with the highest number of shots distributed, all but Virginia, California and Georgia were at or above the national average of 34%. Virginia is at 24%.
This comes as the state is widening eligibility for the next phase of front-line essential workers and people ages 75 and over, which could triple the number of people who qualify.
Richmond and the surrounding Chesterfield, Henrico and Chickahominy Health Districts will begin the next phase on Monday, but prioritize the first three categories in the second phase outlined by the Virginia Department of Health: police, fire and hazmat; corrections and homeless shelter workers; and child care and pre-K through 12th-grade teachers and staff.
The priority rules limit the influx of people able to sign up and strain resources. The localities will host three large-scale vaccination events next week.
“We know that the burden of this disease and the underlying social vulnerabilities that put these essential workers at risk do not end at the boundaries of our city and counties,” said Dr. Melissa Viray, acting director for the Richmond and Henrico health districts. “It makes the most sense to coordinate our vaccination efforts and make sure all of our communities have access to the best tool we have to end the pandemic.”
Viray said in a media briefing Wednesday that it could be a few more weeks before vaccinations are available for other front-line workers who are part of the upcoming phase, such as grocery store clerks, bus drivers, mail carriers, and food and farm industry workers.
On Tuesday, Dr. Danny Avula, who was recently tapped to lead statewide vaccination efforts, said the Richmond area has vaccinated about 35,000 people. Roughly 60,000 qualify for the first phase, which includes health care workers and long-term care residents.
Dr. Tom Franck, director of the Chickahominy Health District, called the vaccine a “beacon of hope” for essential workers in a media release Wednesday.
Chickahominy, which includes Hanover County, has had teachers and staff conducting in-person instruction for the majority of the pandemic, Franck added. Only one school in the district moved to remote learning after 27 COVID-19 cases caused staffing constraints. That was Dec. 11. It resumes face-to-face instruction this semester.
Chesterfield elementary schoolers are heading back to school Feb. 1 for a full five days two weeks after local health districts begin efforts in the second phase of vaccinations to include teachers. But with a second dose being three weeks out from the initial, none will be fully vaccinated by then.
Health districts will reach out to public school systems to coordinate staff registration, and a COVID-19 interest form for the first and second phases is at vax.rchd.com.
Hospitals and local health departments have administered about 74% of vaccines in the state, according to VDH data on Wednesday. About 16% of vaccines were given through medical practices, community health providers and pharmacies — three avenues that the second phase of front-line essential workers and people 75 and over will rely on.
“VDH is continuing to work with pharmacies, hospital systems and medical practices to establish the infrastructure to more quickly and effectively distribute available resources and vaccinate others who are part of [Phase] 1b and beyond,” said Dr. Alex Samuel, director of the Chesterfield Health District.
Virginia continues to average more than 5,000 new COVID-19 cases per day, but the state hasn’t seen more than 4,500 new cases since Saturday, when it shattered records with almost 5,800 additional infections.
The state recorded 75 new COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, the third-highest figure reported during the pandemic. Tuesday was the second. A lag in the VDH’s reporting in September resulted in a one-day toll of 96.
Currently, the state is averaging almost 47 daily deaths. Of the state’s 5,552 deaths, 520 have been reported since Jan. 1.
The state’s total caseload is at 407,947. Half of these were reported in the past two months.
On Wednesday, COVID-19 hospitalizations in Virginia were at 3,209 patients, according to the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association’s online dashboard, which is the most accurate representation of hospitalizations. Almost 33,800 total COVID-19 patients have been hospitalized and discharged, though hospitalizations continue to trend upward.
The percentage of people testing positive has decreased slightly to 15.9%. On Tuesday, it was 16.4%. This is still closer to the highest positivity rate recorded — 20.2% in April — than the lowest rate of 3.7%.
Since Friday, Richmond and the counties of Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico saw increases of 548 COVID-19 cases, eight hospitalizations and 16 deaths.
The area now has a total of 47,308 cases, 2,222 hospitalizations and 731 deaths.
Richmond has had a total of 10,698 total cases, 595 hospitalizations and 116 deaths.
The Chesterfield Health District, which consists of Chesterfield, Powhatan County and Colonial Heights, has had 16,847 cases, 709 hospitalizations and 222 deaths.
Henrico has had 14,900 cases, 714 hospitalizations and 311 deaths. Hanover has had 4,863 cases, 204 hospitalizations and 82 deaths.
Staff writer C. Suarez Rojas contributed to this report.