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VIRGINIA — As coronavirus vaccine candidates from Pfizer and Moderna prepare to seek emergency use authorizations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Virginia could expect to receive the first supplies as early as mid-December. The focus for the first distribution will be on workers in critical industries.
In a Wednesday news conference, Gov. Ralph Northam expressed optimism about Pfizer and Moderna's announcements that their vaccine candidates achieved effectiveness close to 95 percent or more during trials. The governor anticipates the vaccines could be ready to roll out at the end of the year, but said distribution will take time and residents should continue to take precautions.
But he is optimistic that from a few months from now "we will be past the worst of this."
"We have been planning for vaccine distribution for months, and we will be ready. This is wonderful news. It gives all of us hope. It means a light is at the end of this tunnel," said Northam. "As a doctor, I have to caution everyone that light is a few months away still. These vaccines will take time to distribute. Until then, we need to keep taking precautions."
State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver said the state has been preparing for distribution and is working on logistics with the federal government's Operation Warp Speed team. Officials have identified 14 sites for ultra-cold storage required for Pfizer's vaccine. Moderna's vaccine will require a more standard level of cold storage.
Virginia expects initial quantities will be limited and geared toward the health care workforce and first responders. By the turn of the new year, Oliver expects Virginia production will increase so Virginia can complete this first phase of vaccinating health care workers, first responders and others in critical industries.
As production ramps up in the early months of 2021, the next phase of mass vaccination can proceed. In addition to Pfizer and Moderna, Oliver estimated six or seven vaccine candidates are close.
Oliver said any vaccine receiving an emergency use authorization from the FDA will be assured to be safe.
Coronavirus Trends in Virginia and Governor's Coronavirus Measures
The governor's new measures aimed at preventing the pandemic from getting worse in Virginia took effect on Nov. 15. These restrictions include a placing a 25-person limit on social gatherings; ending alcohol sales, consumption and possession of alcohol after 10 p.m.; altering spectator limits at recreational sporting events, entertainment venues and racetracks; expanding the mask mandate to cover residents ages 5 and up; and enforcing guidelines that were previously considered best practices for essential businesses.
"I do not intend to wait for things to get worse before taking action," said Northam. "That is why we have put new mitigation measures in place to help slow the spread of this virus. These mitigation measures apply statewide because we need them in every region. We don't want to wait until we're seeing overwhelmed hospitals and double-digit positivity rates in every region."
On lowering the age for the face mask mandate from 10 to 5, Northam has observed children wearing masks.
"Children are very impressionable, and they can follow guidelines well," said Northam. "I’ve actually visited some of the K-12 schools and even early childhood, and I’ve seen the children with their cute little masks on. They want to be part of the solutions. To protect them and their families, we chose to change to age 5. We think they will accommodate that quite well."
Before making the decision to implement additional restrictions last week, Northam said he was personally affected by reports of hospitals in other states using mobile morgues due to a lack of room for deceased individuals.
"We don't need to happen in Virginia," he said.
Among U.S. states, Virginia is in better shape than other states. According to New York Times analysis of cases in U.S. states, Virginia is near the bottom for daily case averages per 100,000 people.
"This is good news for Virginia, because as you have probably seen on the national news, the covid pandemic is surging across our nation," said Northam. "Case counts, hospitalizations and deaths are rising dramatically. We do not want to see the situation here in Virginia get worse. So while we're doing well compared to other states, we are also seeing greater spread of this virus."
Statewide, Northam said hospitalizations are up, and there has been a record of daily cases reported this week. On Wednesday, 2,071 additional coronavirus cases were reported by the Virginia Department of Health, and the latest seven-day average of daily cases is 1,761 daily cases. This is the third consecutive day with over 2,000 cases, although Monday's 2,677 cases included a backlog from the weekend. The trend of cases by date of symptom onset reached a peak higher than previous May and July peaks.
Upon reporting the latest coronavirus numbers, Oliver noted that the case incidence rate had been 9 per 100,000 a month ago and is now approaching 20 cases per 100,000.
The region with the greatest concern of the virus spread is the southwest region, but Northam said all regions are seeing increases. New cases by region include 609 in the southwest region, 595 in the northern region, 359 in the northwest region, 259 in the eastern region and 249 in the central region.
The seven-day average of percent positivity of tests is 7.1 percent as of Nov. 14, down 0.1 percent from the previous day. To date, 2,983,430 PCR tests have been completed. Oliver said the state is averaging 20,000 tests reported per day with the latest daily report being 20,273 tests.
There were 25 new deaths reported Wednesday. Deaths do not reflect the date of death, but the Virginia Department of Health tracks this data separately. Data by date on death certificates may be incomplete for recent weeks, but the peak seven-day average so far was 40.1 on May 5.
Current COVID-19 hospitalizations are at 1,469 statewide with the latest seven-day average being 1,343.3. The peak average had been 1,573.3 on May 12. Hospital patients by region include 368 in the northern region, 339 in the southwest region, 291 in the central region, 242 in the northwest region, and 229 in the eastern region.
According to the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association, the 1,392 current COVID-19 patients include 126 on ventilators and 318 in the intensive care units. Ventilator use among all hospital patients is at 27 percent, and ICU occupancy is at 74 percent. There are no hospitals reporting difficulty obtaining personal protective equipment or other medical supplies in the next 72 hours.
Precautions urged for Thanksgiving celebrations
Northam did not discourage residents from celebrating Thanksgiving but urged them to consider the risk to themselves, and their loved ones.
"We all want to be together to have our traditions to celebrate something with people we deeply care about. I know there have been few enough celebrations this year. We think of Thanksgiving as a time of family and of love and maybe some football. But this year staying home is an act of love too."
The governor went on to give suggestions for safe Thanksgiving celebrations.
"Eat outside if you can, have a smaller gathering, hold a virtual Thanksgiving..." said Northam. "Do your Black Friday shopping online. College students need to be very careful and
thoughtful about how and whether to go home for the holiday...Be kind please to the retail workers, the grocery workers, the essential staff and especially our health care workers. If you feel sick, please stay home. If you think you need a test, get a test and stay home while you wait for the results. And do what we all know works — please wash your hands, wear a mask, avoid large gatherings and download COVIDWISE, our health department's app that will notify you if you've been potentially exposed to someone who tested positive. So let’s all act together to make sure that next year, everybody that we love is at that Thanksgiving table."
Below are the latest coronavirus data updates for our coverage area from Tuesday to Wednesday.
Alexandria: 4,768 cases, 344 hospitalizations, 76 deaths; increase of 42 cases and one hospitalization
Arlington County: 5,512 cases, 563 hospitalizations, 156 deaths; increase of 58 cases and two hospitalizations, one death removed
Fairfax County: 27,270 cases, 2,432 hospitalizations, 611 deaths; increase of 249 cases, 15 hospitalizations and one death
Fairfax City: 190 cases, 16 hospitalizations, eight deaths; increase of three cases
Falls Church: 85 cases, 14 hospitalizations, seven deaths; increase of two cases
Loudoun County: 9,020 cases, 527 hospitalizations, 136 deaths; increase of 66 cases and seven hospitalizations
Manassas: 2,171 cases, 134 hospitalizations, 28 deaths; increase of nine cases and one hospitalization
Manassas Park: 686 cases, 59 hospitalizations, eight deaths; increase of six cases
Prince William County: 16,283 cases, 1,059 hospitalizations, 230 deaths; increase of 160 cases, seven hospitalizations and one death
Fredericksburg: 640 cases, 55 hospitalizations, six deaths; increase of one case
Spotsylvania County: 2,807 cases, 171 hospitalizations, 56 deaths; increase of 16 cases and one hospitalization
Stafford County: 2,851 cases, 182 hospitalizations, 22 deaths; increase of 53 cases and one hospitalization
Patch editor Payton Potter contributed to this report.