By Carol Vaughn —
Gov. Ralph Northam during a press conference Wednesday announced some restrictions will be eased as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to fall and the number of Virginians vaccinated rises.
“It is critical that we do this slowly and thoughtfully. We do not want to risk our progress by easing restrictions too quickly,” Northam said.
Starting Monday, March 1, the limit on individuals permitted at outdoor social gatherings will increase from 10 to 25. The 10-person limit remains for indoor gatherings.
A midnight to 5 a.m. curfew also will be lifted March 1 — a date Northam noted is six days short of the one-year anniversary of the first COVID-19 case being documented in Virginia.
Outdoor entertainment venues will be able to operate at 30% capacity or up to 1,000 people, whichever is lower. Indoor venues still must operate at 30% capacity or no more than 250 people.
Alcohol sales at restaurants and other establishments will be able to happen until midnight, up from the previous cutoff of 10 p.m.
Additionally, the amended Executive Order 72 includes a provision that overnight summer camps will be able to open as of May 1 “with strict mitigation measures in place.” Camps may begin registration now.
Northam last week amended the order to increase the number of spectators allowed at outdoor youth athletic events to 250.
Current guidelines for retail businesses, fitness facilities, large amusement venues, and personal grooming businesses remain unchanged.
The new guidelines will be in effect for at least one month. Measures could be eased further after that if numbers continue to improve.
Northam encouraged Virginians to engage in outdoor activities as opposed to indoor when possible.
The complete text of the amended executive order can be viewed at www.governor.virginia.gov/media/governorvirginiagov/executive-actions/EO-72-THIRD-AMENDED-and-Order-of-Public-Health-Emergency-Nine-Easing-of-Commonsense-Surge-Restrictions-Due-to-Novel-Coronavirus-%28COVID-19%29.pdf
“We are at a very dangerous but hopeful moment,” Northam said, noting the coming of virus variants to Virginia, but also increasing vaccination numbers.
Nearly 1.7 million vaccine doses have been administered in Virginia and 1.1 million Virginians, around 13.5%s of the population, have received a first dose.
After bad weather caused shipment delays and event cancellations, 220 vaccination events were scheduled to take place this week, Northam said.
Additionally, the Federal Drug Administration is expected to authorize a third vaccine, from Johnson & Johnson, soon. That vaccine requires just one dose.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine could add another 50,000 doses per week to Virginia’s allocation.
“We could see doses coming to states as soon as next week,” Northam said.
Northam said when asked which vaccine is best, he says, “The best vaccine is the one you get.”
A statewide preregistration system and call center launched last week resulted in almost 500,000 Virginians being preregistered for vaccination, in addition to 1.2 million who previously preregistered with local health departments.
Preregistration puts people in line to get an appointment, according to Dr. Danny Avula, Virginia’s vaccine coordinator.
A federal pharmacy partnership program means another 52,000 vaccine doses will come to Virginia this week, in addition to the state’s allocation of around 160,000.
The shots are going to people age 65 and over.
So far, no Eastern Shore pharmacies have begun offering vaccines.
“Part of our selection of pharmacy chains is their accessibility to hard-to-reach parts of the state,” Avula said in a briefing last Friday.
Work going on at the state level surrounding the pharmacy vaccination program “will absolutely prioritize getting pharmacies into places like the Eastern Shore that are more geographically isolated,” he said, adding, “…When we finalize the locations, we will make sure that everybody knows where those are.”
CVS began giving shots earlier in February. Now the state is working with eight different pharmacies that will receive vaccine through the federal partnership. Vaccines will be distributed to around 140 Virginia pharmacies.
Walgreens will start administering vaccinations at some stores this week and Walmart plans to hold off-site clinics in various areas rather than giving shots at stores.
Other businesses that will offer vaccinations in Virginia include Safeway, Kroger, Food Lion, Giant Food, Food City, and independent pharmacies. Vaccinations are by appointment.
The state call center is making outbound calls to preregistered individuals about pharmacy vaccination appointments for Walmart and Giant events. Northam encouraged preregistered people to answer their phone and check their email.
Other pharmacies agreed to use preregistered individuals to schedule their own appointments.
To preregister, visit vaccinate.virginia.gov or call 877-VAX-IN-VA (TTY users dial 7-1-1). To register for an appointment at a CVS pharmacy, visit https://www.cvs.com/immunizations/covid-19-vaccine.