It can be difficult in this pandemic — when every day seems to bring new cause for frustration, stress and anxiety — to recognize the progress being made, especially when that progress may seem miniscule or insufficient to match the challenge before us.
But progress, sure and steady, is being made in Virginia and there were several things to cheer this week.
Begin with the case metrics, which are finally and thankfully declining. The commonwealth’s seven-day average number of new cases is the lowest it’s been since early December, though still too high for comfort. The number of deaths and hospitalizations are also in sharp decline since peaking in mid-January.
That’s due to the people of Virginia, who are adhering to safety guidelines and making smart decisions that respect public health. Some have accepted these without complaint, others grudgingly, but everyone who wears a mask, practices social distancing and follows the hygiene recommendations is playing an important role.
Of course, stopping the spread of COVID-19 is only one part of the equation. An effective vaccine program that protects people from infection remains the most promising arrow in our quiver defeat the coronavirus and restore our communities to good health.
Toward that end, the commonwealth this week introduced a statewide online pre-registration system for vaccine appointments. Gov. Ralph Northam said that about a quarter of a million Virginians had signed up by the time he spoke about the site during a Wednesday news conference.
At vaccinate.virginia.gov, commonwealth residents can check their vaccine priority, register their information for updates and check their status to confirm they’re ready when the time comes. Data is now shared between the Virginia Department of Health and local health districts, which should improve coordination and communication.
The governor also announced a phone line for registration, for those who’d rather speak to someone or who don’t have access to a computer. That number — 877-VAX-INVA, or 877-829-4682 — is staffed by 750 people, including Spanish speakers, who can help those seeking to get the vaccine.
Virginians were right to grumble that these systems should have been in place before now. The delays in having one site to visit online or one number to call have only added to residents’ frustration with Richmond.
Still, they are up and running now. And that progress is another sign of hope.
An integrated registration system only gets Virginia so far, though. The data has for weeks reflected the commonwealth’s trouble getting its vaccine allotment into the arms of those who need it. That has improved of late, and there are more than 1 million Virginians who have received their first dose, though that only represents a little more than 12% of the population.
Importantly, Virginia is now administering an average of more than 35,000 doses per day. The governor revised the target upward this week, to 50,000 doses per day, which seems attainable so long as Virginia continues to receive a steady supply of vaccine, which the Biden administration has promised.
To help accelerate the vaccination program, Northam this week signed a bill sponsored by Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, and Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico, that will allow more qualified individuals to administer doses.
That bill moved swiftly through the legislature — a welcome sight — and means any VDH-licensed health care worker can volunteer as a vaccinator. Information about volunteering or to serve in the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps is available at the VDH website.
All of this laudable progress doesn’t erase the stumbles in recent months, not is it likely to substantially ease the sense of desperation that permeates the commonwealth.
Our lives remain upended and a great many Virginians are suffering as businesses remain closed and the bills pile up. Schools are reopening, which may well increase cases among educators, staff and administrators, despite precautions. Pandemic fatigue gnaws at us all.
But it’s important to recognize that things are trending — at long last — in the right direction. That’s reason for cautious optimism.