As more pharmacies across the state receive vaccine doses from the federal government and the number of COVID-19 cases declines, Gov. Ralph Northam said Wednesday he will roll back certain restrictions beginning Monday.
Starting March 1, alcohol sales will be allowed in restaurants up to midnight instead of 10 p.m. Curfews will end, and outdoor social gatherings — previously limited to 10 people — will go up to 25 people, Northam said during his COVID update. Public venues, now limited to no more than 250 people outside, will also see restrictions loosened. At outdoor venues, 1,000 people or 30% capacity can gather; indoor venues cap attendance at 250 people or 30% capacity.
Meanwhile, the Virginia Department of Health has been working furiously to figure out logistics of delivering shots at pharmacies through the federal government’s partnership. This week, the number of doses Virginia pharmacies receive has doubled to 52,000 weekly, and more locations and retail chains will be involved soon, Northam said. About 220 vaccination events are scheduled across the state this week, and 1.1 million people in Virginia have gotten at least their first doses.
In Virginia, Walgreens, Walmart, Safeway, Food City, Food Lion, Giant and community-based pharmacies will all start offering shots for people aged 65 and older in coming days, in addition to 36 CVS locations, which have been administering shots for the past two weeks. Most of the partners, with the exception of CVS, are using the state’s waiting list, which has about 1.7 million people registered, to set up appointments.
The 52,000 doses received weekly will go to approximately 140 locations across Virginia, with a focus on geographical need, as well as communities at higher risk of getting sick. These doses are in addition to about 160,000 doses received weekly by local health districts.
People who are younger than 65 but are still in high priority populations, including essential employees and people with underlying health conditions, are not on the pharmacies’ priority lists currently, as the state is earmarking those doses for older people. They are eligible to receive vaccinations through health districts.
Employees at the state’s vaccine registration hotline will be calling some people on VDH’s waiting lists, as will local health district employees and some pharmacies, to set up appointments for vaccination at pharmacies. Also, Northam said, Walmart will hold vaccination clinics off-site in rotating locations through the state and will not be administering any shots at stores. Everyone must have an appointment to receive a vaccination, he added.
The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) has allocated $179 million to the state to cover costs of setting up mass vaccination sites in Virginia as more doses are received. Northam said that Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine appears to be nearing approval by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, and doses could be coming to states as soon as next week. “That is great news,” he said, noting that the approval would make three vaccines available in the United States.
Northam anticipates that about half of Virginia’s 8.5 million population will be vaccinated by April, and he expects to be able to roll back other restrictions in coming weeks. On Wednesday, 1,708 new cases were recorded, the lowest daily number since Thanksgiving, Northam said. Combined with more vaccine doses and the prospect of a third vaccine soon, Virginia is seeing brighter days ahead, he added.
Last week, VDH launched a statewide vaccine registration website for all Virginia residents who want a vaccine, as well as a phone hotline staffed by 750 employees from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Anyone who previously registered with their local health district can call the hotline if their information does not show up on the website, vaccinate.virginia.gov. The number is (877) VAX-IN-VA, or (877) 829-4682. So far, the state has received more than 100,000 phone calls on the line, Northam said.