Gov. Ralph Northam is backing a push by Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park to locally administer health services.
Northam submitted an amendment to Senate Bill 1221 to the General Assembly on Wednesday that would grant the localities authority to run health services locally rather than rely on the state.
The original legislation, which unanimously passed both houses of the General Assembly this year, allows Loudoun County to enter into a contract with the Virginia Department of Health to locally provide public health services.
The legislature will consider his amendment to the bill during its reconvened session April 7.
Across most of Virginia, health services are the job of state-run health districts. The Prince William Health District includes the county and both cities. Arlington and Fairfax counties are the only localities in the state with locally-run health departments.
Local officials have made the push amid the coronavirus pandemic as they have grown increasingly frustrated with the health district. They’ve said a local health department would have been able to more quickly address equity concerns with the response to the pandemic.
The health district has partnered with local organizations to run vaccine clinics targeting underserved communities.
Northam visited Prince William County Thursday to tour two such clinics – one at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Dumfries and another at Todos Supermarket in Woodbridge.
Northam said the state faced trust issues early in the pandemic, but has been working hard with community organizations on the vaccine rollout.
“We want to do it expeditiously if we can, the more shots we can get in arms the better. But we also want to do it equitably. We want to reach out to all of the communities across Virginia,” he said. “There are a lot of individuals that want to get the vaccination and our job is to get into these communities and make sure we deliver them.”
Northam’s visit came as he announced that all Virginians age 16 and older will be eligible for the vaccine starting April 18.
More than 3.7 million doses have been administered so far in Virginia, according to the Virginia Department of Health. The Prince William Health District had administered 179,780 doses as of Thursday.
Although more people are getting shots, Northam cautioned that residents should still follow safety guidelines.
“We can’t just flip a switch overnight and get rid of all of these measures,” he said.
Asked about his views on the state’s rollout of vaccines, Northam said “I’ll never be satisfied until all Virginians have access to the vaccination and I’ll never be satisfied until this pandemic is behind us.”