COVID roundup: 1 year into pandemic, Va. makes headway with vaccinations
Nearly 1.5M Virginians have received at least one shot
A year after the first COVID-19 cases in Virginia were recorded, the state is making significant headway in vaccinating residents. As of Monday, March 8, 1.49 million Virginians — or 17.5% of the state’s population — have received at least one shot.
Meanwhile, the number of COVID-related deaths in Virginia was still higher than average last week due to delayed reporting of death certificates following the spike in cases during the holidays. The Virginia Department of Health reported 900 deaths last week, down from the previous week’s report of 1,297 fatalities. The state also confirmed its first virus-related fatality in a child under age 10, which occurred last week in the Central Virginia region. VDH did not share other details but noted that the child also had a chronic health condition.
According to a report Sunday in The Virginian-Pilot, the state chief medical examiner’s office decided not to conduct an autopsy on a woman from Gloucester County who died shortly after receiving a Pfizer Inc. vaccine shot in January. Drene Keyes, 58, died Jan. 30 and had difficulty breathing about 20 minutes after getting the shot, according to the article. In an email provided to the Pilot following a Freedom of Information Act request, State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver wrote to VDH public information officers Feb. 5 that “a full autopsy was not needed in order to ascertain whether the death was related to the vaccination.” Oliver said later in an interview with the newspaper that he meant that preliminary results did not indicate Keyes died from an allergic reaction to the vaccine.
VDH recorded 9,418 new COVID cases over the past week, falling below 10,000 for the first time in months. As of Monday, the state has recorded 586,592 total cases and 9,683 deaths attributed to the pandemic, and the state’s seven-day positivity rate was at 6.2%. According to the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association, 1,142 people are currently hospitalized with COVID or have test results pending, including 244 in intensive care units.
Last week, the state received its first allocation of Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses, 69,000 of which went to local health districts for distribution, along with 22,000 more sent to pharmacies. Over the past week, the state received 322,290 total vaccine doses, not including the approximately 74,000 doses sent by the federal government to pharmacies throughout Virginia. State vaccine coordinator Dr. Danny Avula said last week he anticipates the total weekly number to reach 500,000 doses later this month and 650,000 per week by April. He also expects that everyone in group 1b — including people ages 65 and older, essential workers and people under 65 with underlying health conditions — will be able to receive vaccinations by the end of April.
Some regions are now able to vaccinate more people, although the entire state is still in Phase 1b. Richmond and Henrico County’s health departments announced Monday that their region will start vaccinating restaurant workers, younger people with disabilities and people who live in areas that have higher risk of disease this week. More information about who is qualified is available here.
The state now ranks sixth-best in the nation for its percentage of vaccine doses administered, according to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed by Becker’s Hospital Review.
Last month, VDH launched a statewide vaccine registration website for all Virginia residents who want a vaccine, as well as a phone hotline staffed by 750 employees from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. All adult residents of Virginia can now register at vaccinate.virginia.gov or call (877) VAX-IN-VA, or (877) 829-4682.
With race and ethnicity information available for only 67.2% of people who have received shots in the state, the majority of shots have been received by white, non-Hispanic people — 71.0% as of Monday, according to VDH. Black Virginians have received 13.3% of shots, although they make up 19.9% of the state’s population, according to 2019 estimates by the U.S. Census; 5.5% of vaccines were given to Latino residents, who comprise about 9.8% of Virginians.
State health officials have focused attention on equitable vaccination, especially as Latino and Black residents are heavily represented among people who have been infected, hospitalized and died from the coronavirus. Among Virginia’s COVID deaths in which ethnicity and race are recorded, 24% were Black, and 6.8% were Latino.
As of March 4, the following health districts have positivity rates of 10% or higher:
- Hampton — 12.5%, down from 15% on Feb. 25
- Portsmouth — 11.7%, down from 12.4%
- Chesapeake — 11.5%, down from 13.1%
Globally, there are 116.9 million reported COVID-19 cases and 2,595,573 confirmed deaths, as of March 8. The United States, which has the most confirmed cases and deaths worldwide, has seen 29 million confirmed cases so far, with 525,136 deaths attributed to the coronavirus since February 2020.