Governor Ralph Northam announced Thursday that starting September 1, state employees must disclose their vaccination status and unvaccinated individuals must undergo weekly testing. This new mandate, following the federal mandate President Joe Biden set last week, would affect 122,000 Virginians.
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With the Delta variant now accounting for over 70% of COVID cases in the Commonwealth, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) is predicting a surge in cases in the fall that may potentially exceed last January’s peak. As of July, the Commonwealth averaged eight COVID cases per 100,000, according to a VDH model. The model predicts that number will jump to 103 cases per 100,000 in September if the Delta variant continues to spread.
Gov. Northam said:
“The only way to end this pandemic is for everyone to get vaccinated against COVID-19. As head of state government, we have a responsibility to lead by example and ensure the safety of our employees and the people they serve. The three vaccines are safe, effective, free, and widely available, and I strongly urge every eligible Virginian to get their shot. The time for waiting is over.”
An individual with the Delta variant can potentially spread the virus to six or seven others, compared to infecting two to three people with the Alpha strain, according to UVA Health ICU director Dr. Taison Bell. Bell also said people with the Delta variant have a higher amount of virus in their bodies:
“There’s a study showing that there’s 1000 times more virus that sits in your respiratory tract compared to earlier strains of the virus…that peak in the virus in your respiratory tract happens earlier than in the earlier forms of the coronavirus….and it looks like it actually lasts longer than before in your respiratory tract. So it’s really the perfect setup to spread much more aggressively through the community.”
VDH estimates over 97% of hospitalizations from COVID were between May 22 and June 22 were among unvaccinated individuals.
Bell stressed that people should get vaccinated as soon as possible, since it will take another five to six weeks after receiving the first dose for the vaccine to become the most effective.
“Vaccination needs to happen, but when you’re in the midst of a surge, the timeline to get that protection is too long. And we see that people who are infected with COVID-19, are still able to transmit regardless of whether they’re vaccinated or not. And so that makes it that much more important to have mitigation measures in place, so that we can play offense and defense at the same time. So when we talk about coming back to the office, when fall comes around, getting children back in schools, I think it’s much better to be proactive, rather than reactive.”
Currently, 72.8% of adults in the Commonwealth have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine. Virginians looking to receive the vaccine can visit vaccinate.virginia.gov or call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users call 7-1-1) to find a nearby vaccination clinic.