By Taylor Boyd
Virginia’s state of emergency status, in effect since March 12, 2020, ended June 30 due to a decline in COVID-19 cases.
While most of the state is on track with vaccination expectations, West Piedmont Health District (WPHD) public information officer Nancy Bell said the entirety of Southwest Virginia is struggling to vaccinate its residents.
“We don’t know if it’s due to them being rural, or transportation issues, or hesitation, or false information, or it may be a combination of things. It’s not because they haven’t been available. I think there needs to be some education about the facts versus the rumors,” Bell said.
To help with this, the agency received $1.5 million from the state to hire community health workers. “What they’re going to do is dig deeper into the communities and make sure everyone who wants a vaccine can get one and remove barriers like transportation and that sort of thing,” Bell said.
The workers will also go into communities to talk about the facts of COVID-19 and provide information about the vaccines. Bell said the agency hopes to hire six people for this role and encourages people in the area to apply.
She expects this to begin late August or early September to ensure the workers are sufficiently trained.
Bell said getting people vaccinated is important as there is a possibility of the virus flaring back up once the weather gets colder.
“Especially because the variants tend to be more contagious and more severe. So, people who are currently unvaccinated should not be waiting for it to go away because it’s not going to go away,” she said.
“I would encourage people to get them even if they’re uncertain because uncertainly can be deadly,” Bell said, adding questions can be answered by calling the WPHD. She added that vaccines are still free at local health departments and participating pharmacies.
According to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) website, Patrick County is one of the three counties in the state to have vaccinated less than 35 percent of its population receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine along with Carroll and Lee counties.
As of July 7, only 31 percent of the population, or 5,463 people, were fully vaccinated; 34.7 percent of the population had received at least one dose, with 36.9 percent of the adult population fully vaccinated.
In Henry County, 35.6 percent of the population, or 17,985 people, were fully vaccinated; 41.4 percent of the population received at least one dose, with 42.9 percent of the adult population being fully vaccinated.
The vaccine rates helped Virginia reach the milestone of having 70 percent of the adults receiving at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine a week before the state of emergency’s end, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“We knew Virginia could meet this challenge. Thanks to the millions of Virginians who have rolled up their sleeves to get vaccinated, the virus is in retreat, our economy is growing, and we are closer to putting this pandemic behind us,” Gov. Ralph Northam said.
Virginia’s Vaccination Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula said that Virginia’s progress is a testament to the commitment and coordinating efforts of local health districts, community-based organizations, faith leaders, and others.
“While there is still work to do in addressing vaccine hesitancy, I remain confident that we can keep this momentum going and defeat this virus,” he said.
Virginia is the 16th state to reach this milestone and achieved it two weeks ahead of Pres. Joe Biden’s nationwide July 4 target date.
Bell said the state of emergency’s end is “pretty much a return to normal life with some common-sense mixed in.”
While those who are vaccinated can return to life as normal, they should still be aware that there are variants that can have unknown impacts on vaccinated individuals, she said.
The WPHD is also encouraging people to continue to wear masks and practice social distancing, even if they are vaccinated, in settings with large groups of people, and particularly while indoors.
Bell said the mask mandate will continue in schools and on school buses because the child population has not been vaccinated yet.
“It falls upon the individual schools to create their own mask policy, and the school divisions are in charge of enforcing that,” she said.
For more tips on how to stay safe, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov or www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov.