Gov. Ralph Northam gave a hopeful update on the state of the commonwealth’s battle with COVID-19 at a press conference Thursday morning, including COVID-19 precautions such as occupancy and gathering limits possibly ending on June 15, and the state of emergency which has existed since last March possibly ending June 30.
Northam noted the dropping COVID-19 case counts, positivity rates, hospitalizations and deaths, as vaccination becomes more easily accessible.
“The vaccines are working. They’re helping reduce the spread of this disease,” Northam said. “Fewer people are getting sick, fewer people are going into the hospital, and fewer people are dying. More people are now spending time together. More people are hugging the people that they love, more people are getting to do things that they enjoy once again. Vaccines make all of this possible.”
He noted Virginia’s progress along the path to herd immunity, with almost 60% of people having received at least the first dose of a vaccine.
“We’d love to get everybody that can vaccinated, but we certainly want to get to 70% to 75% of the population,” Northam said. “That’s where herd immunity occurs, and that’s frankly where we can put this COVID-19 definitely and permanently in the rearview mirror.”
With every adult eligible for a vaccine dose now, Northam said he expects the federal government to approve the Pzifer vaccine for use in children aged 12 and up soon, possibly as early as next week. State health officials also are meeting with school divisions to coordinate on safe reopenings.
And if the metrics continue trending positively, he said, on June 15 he expects to relax COVID-19 mitigation measures. Depending on CDC guidance, he said, that could also mean ending the mask mandate.
The state government will have to work out a contradiction in its own policy if Northam’s declaration of a state of emergency is allowed to end without renewal as scheduled on June 30. Currently, outside of the state of emergency, it is illegal in Virginia to wear a mask in public. State law chapter 18.2-422 prohibits people over 16 years old from wearing face coverings “with the intent to conceal his identity.”
“Over the past 14 months we’ve learned a lot about COVID, and one thing is that it is an unpredictable disease. It can put anyone in the hospital, including young people. It can cause long-lasting debilitating side effects,” Northm said. “As you all know, I had COVID myself last October, and seven months later, I still can’t smell or taste anything. Many long-lasting side effects are much worse. If you haven’t gotten the vaccine, remember this: COVID can make you truly sick for months. The variants that are now circulating raised the risk of getting sick, so please protect yourself from going through that, and protect the people around you, too.”
And, he noted, having had both COVID and the vaccine—“it’s an easy choice. I’ll take the vaccine any day.”
Vaccine appointments can be found at vaccinate.virginia.gov.