Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has a message for Virginians who have registered to receive the COVID-19 vaccine: Answer your phone.
Northam said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon that health department employees calling Virginians to schedule vaccination appointments are reporting not being able to reach many people.
He said he understands why people don't answer calls from unknown numbers, but added, "Until we get everyone vaccinated, please answer your phone."
As the state passes the one-year anniversary of its first reported COVID-19 case, Northam said the news is generally good: cases are down and vaccinations are up. On Monday, the state reported fewer than 1,000 cases for the first time since Oct. 26, and vaccinations are now averaging more than 50,000 a day, a goal Northam set in early January.
“The vaccines are a light at the end of a long tunnel, and that light gets brighter every day," Northam added.
Over 2.3 million doses of vaccines have been administered to Virginians, with 1.5 million having received at least one dose, and 850,000 being fully vaccinated. The latter number represents about 10% of Virginia's population of about 8.6 million.
Northam announced that state is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to establish large-scale community vaccination clinics starting next week. The first such clinics will be in Danville, Petersburg and Portsmouth. Each will be able to vaccinate several hundred to several thousand people a day, using the list of Virginians who have registered.
The state expects to add more sites over the next few weeks and have 13 eventually statewide.
Deaths related to COVID-19 have soared since Jan. 1, with another 107 reported on Tuesday, bringing the state's total to 9,790. Northam noted that the state's first death was reported March 14, a week after the first case.
“None of us knew what was coming,” Northam said. “It has been a hard year for everyone.”
Northam also noted that every public school system in the state has now submitted plans to begin some level of in-person learning, as he requested in early February. At that time, over 30 school systems were not offering any in-person learning, he said.
However, in Prince William County, for example, fewer than 30% of high school students have returned to hybrid in-person classes. Northam used the news conference to assure parents that schools are safe.
“We know there are ways for schools to hold in-person classes safely,” he said. “We know this is important to our children’s education and also their well-being.... That is where they need to be.”
Asked whether he expects more school districts to have full in-person learning by the end of the school year, Northam reiterated his intent for individual districts to make their own decisions and said he understands why in-person learning is not practical for all families.
During the news conference, Northam did not announce any additional easing of COVID-19 restrictions. In late February, he eased some restrictions on gatherings, recreation facilities and restaurants and said he would review the situation again in late March.