Governor addresses COVID-19

Published 9:43 pm Monday, September 27, 2021

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Gov. Ralph Northam continued to urge state residents to get vaccinated, even as he acknowledged there was likely nothing he or anyone else could say to change the minds of those who won’t.

During a Sept. 27 COVID-19 briefing, he asked residents to consider how they wanted their obituaries to read, and described what it was like for COVID-19-positive patients in hospitals who have to be put on ventilators.

Northam said those who choose not to get vaccinated are making a selfish decision and “are absolutely hurting other people.”

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“You are costing everyone a lot of money,” Northam said, about $5.7 billion from June to August 2021, citing a recent Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Department of Health and Human Services Protect Public Data information. The report cites a rough average cost of about $20,000 for the average hospitalization cost for someone due to COVID-19.

He addressed staffing concerns and bed availability at hospitals with the recent influx of patients. Three hospitals in the region — Sentara Obici Hospital, Bon Secours Southampton Memorial Hospital and Chesapeake General Hospital — have intensive care unit capacities of 81% or higher as of the week ending Sept. 23, with a combined 105 people in the ICU. Hospital officials caution moment-in-time capacities and patient levels are just a snapshot and can fluctuate daily, or even hourly.
“People are losing their patience, they’re getting tired, they’re exhausted, they’re seeing people die in front of them every day, people that can’t be with their families,” Northam said. “They’re the last ones that hold their hands, these providers, and it’s getting to the point where they need our help. Statewide, 67.5% of all residents, and more than 80% of all adults 18 and up, have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 60.1% of residents, and 71.5% of all adults, have been fully vaccinated.

In Western Tidewater Health District localities of Suffolk, Franklin, Isle of Wight County and Southampton County, and in Surry County of the Crater Health District, vaccination rates continue to fall below state levels.

In Suffolk, 54.2% of residents, and 65.2% of adults have received at least one dose, while 47.7% of residents and 58.1% of adults have been fully vaccinated.

While pleased with declining case counts and hospitalizations, he said unvaccinated people make up the vast majority of those who are hospitalized with COVID-19.

“Delta will go, but there’ll be another one,” Northam said. “And that one will go, and I can show you that graph again where we’re going to have peaks and troughs.”

Children’s vaccinations

Northam also noted the expected availability of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 within the next few weeks, and expects schools to be key sites to vaccinate them.

School divisions and local health departments are working with state officials to set up vaccine clinics for younger students. Suffolk Public Schools has held vaccination clinics for both staff and students.

“I can’t yet tell you the specifics because the plans are still in formation,” Northam said, “and nothing will happen before the FDA approval comes, hopefully in about six weeks, but maybe even a bit longer, but planning is under way. When the time comes, we’ll be ready, because we want to make sure that this is as easy on parents and children as possible.”

For ages 12 to 17 in the Western Tidewater Health District, as well as Surry, full vaccination rates range from 29.4% in Southampton County to 45.8% in Isle of Wight County. For Suffolk, it’s 43.1%.

Northam said that while he has mandated vaccinations for state employees, he’s not ready to implement one for children, though the option is on the table. He called on legislators, along with faith and other community leaders, to hold vaccination clinics in their communities and come up with a plan to get people to get vaccinated.

“I think we need a lot of other people to buy into that concept,” Northam said.

At his briefing, Northam appeared with school division superintendents from three different areas of the state — Arlington, Richmond and Roanoke. They said mitigation strategies are working, with most student COVID-19 cases originating from outside school.

“What that tells us is the mitigation strategies are working, and I would venture the safest place for children in Richmond and I would say all across the Commonwealth is inside school,” said Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras.

Northam acknowledged staffing challenges in hospitals, businesses and schools.

“The answer to those challenges,” he said, “is to get vaccinated.”

State Superintendent Dr. James Lane noted that the General Assembly set aside $11.5 million for bonuses for staff who are hired to ensure a teacher in every classroom.

“We’ve been monitoring a lot of the local situation, and bus driver shortages, specifically,” Lane said. “And we’ve been proud to see our school divisions step up and increase salaries, especially for bus drivers. Ultimately, for us to have the staffing that we need in schools, we’re going to have to pay a salary that incentivizes people to come to our schools, and so we’ll continue to work, not only in future General Assembly sessions, but beyond to make sure that we have the staffing that we need, and I was proud that the governor signed a budget that had a 5% increase for staff this year.”


Vaccination rates


One dose, all residents: 54.2%

One dose, adults 18+: 65.2%

One dose ages 12-17: 52.1%

Fully vaccinated, all residents: 47.7%

Fully vaccinated, adults 18+: 58.1%

Fully vaccinated, ages 12-17: 43.1%


Isle of Wight County:

One dose, all residents: 60.0%

One dose, adults 18+: 70.7%

One dose, ages 12-17: 54.0%

Fully vaccinated, all residents: 53.0%

Fully vaccinated, adults 18+: 62.7%

Fully vaccinated, ages 12-17: 45.8%


Surry County

One dose, all residents: 57.0%

One dose adults 18+: 64.8%

One dose, ages 12-17: 48.9%

Fully vaccinated, all residents: 51.6%

Fully vaccinated, adults 18+: 58.9%

Fully vaccinated, ages 12-17: 41.8%


Southampton County

One dose, all residents: 51.1%

One dose adults 18+: 59.6%

One dose, ages 12-17: 36.0%

Fully vaccinated, all residents: 43.3%

Fully vaccinated, adults 18+: 50.7%

Fully vaccinated, ages 12-17: 29.4%



One dose, all residents: 59.1%

One dose adults 18+: 74.9%

One dose, ages 12-17: 44.2%

Fully vaccinated, all residents: 50.7%

Fully vaccinated, adults 18+: 64.6%

Fully vaccinated, ages 12-17: 34.5%