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Amidst Good News, Northam Urges Continued Caution

Man at lectern
Gov. Ralph Northam updated Virginians on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic Tuesday. (Screenshot from briefing)

Gov. Ralph Northam shared a message of optimism Wednesday at his weekly press briefing, saying COVID-19 infections are declining while more Virginians are receiving the vaccine.

As of Feb. 10, the state is reporting about 2,200 cases of the coronavirus each day, down from a high of nearly 6,000 on Jan. 9. Still, that level remains above the pre-November peak of roughly 1,200 cases per day.

Despite the good news, Northam cautioned Virginians to remember the pandemic is far from over, urging them to maintain precautions to help control the spread of the virus. 

“We’re not there yet. As you know, our positivity rate is around 10%. It’s coming down. The number of hospitalizations are coming down. All of this is good. Vaccinations are going up. But until we get to herd immunity, people will need to continue to follow these measures,” he said.

Northam also praised the state’s vaccination efforts and encouraged Virginians to get the vaccine if they are eligible. Currently, the state is vaccinating around 35,000 people each day, with 366,000 people having received both doses. 

The governor also touted the new, centralized pre-registration system which debuted on Tuesday. Since it came online, 240,000 people have registered through the site. He also said a phone bank will now be available for those who prefer to speak with a person to register.

“You can speak to someone in English or in Spanish. Or you can get a callback to speak to someone in 100 other languages,” Northam said. “We have hired 750 call center workers to staff those phone lines. Sixty nine, or about 10% of those are Spanish-speaking.”

The system’s rollout was not without flaws, however. On Tuesday, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported issues with the Spanish translation provided on the site. The company the state contracted to set up the site used Google Translate, causing some inaccuracies. 

This isn’t the first time the state’s vaccination efforts have been stalled by poor translation, but Dr. Norm Oliver, the Virginia State Health Commissioner, said they have contracted a new company, which will translate the site manually.

Virginia continues to struggle with a lack of vaccine supply. Over 80% of vaccines received by the state have been administered, with nearly all surplus doses being reserved as second doses. Dr. Danny Avula, who’s coordinating the state’s vaccination program, said the state is prepared to speed up administration once supply increases.

“We don’t have enough supply to feed large mass vaccination channels, but the capacity is there,” Avula said. “We started this campaign wanting to get to 50,000 doses a day. We’ve had multiple days where we’ve exceeded 50,000 doses a day.

The Biden administration promised to increase vaccine supply to states on Tuesday, bumping weekly national allotment by around 20%, a move Northam praised. 

Since the start of the pandemic, over 555,000 Virginians have been sick with COVID-19, with 7,075 dying of the disease.

Connor Scribner is a former VPM News assistant editor.
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