Virginia Department of Health

Statement from State Vaccination Coordinator Christy Gray on CDC Endorsement of Strengthened Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Booster Dose Recommendations for 12–17 Year Olds, All Pfizer Boosters After Five Months and Third Doses for Immunocompromised 5–11 Year O

(RICHMOND, Va.) — The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) is immediately adopting the following recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • that individuals ages 12–17 years should get a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine booster dose five months after finishing their two-dose primary series;
  • that all individuals ages 18 years and older should get any COVID-19 Vaccine booster dose five months, rather than six months, after finishing their two-dose primary series of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine; and
  • that 5–11-year-old vaccine recipients who are moderately or severely immunocompromised be eligible to receive a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine 28 days after the second dose.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only vaccine that has been authorized for use in children and adolescents, ages 5 years and older, and the only vaccine with a booster interval of five months after completion of the initial two-dose series. Moderna and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen are authorized only for persons 18 years of age and older; the booster dose interval for Moderna remains unchanged at six months after the completion of the initial two-dose series while J&J remains unchanged at two months after completion of the initial one-dose series.

The following is a statement from State Vaccination Coordinator Christy Gray, M.P.H., director of the Division of Immunization in the VDH Office of Epidemiology:

“Once again, the CDC and VDH are following the science. Research shows that boosters for the population ages 12 and older are safe and effective and provide additional protection against severe illness, hospitalization and death, especially as the Omicron variant spreads rapidly. Research also shows immunocompromised 5–11-year-old children benefit from a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine, and that the Pfizer vaccine’s effectiveness increases if a booster is received after five months. While COVID-19 illness in children and adolescents is usually milder than in adults, children can and do become seriously ill. Vaccination is our best way to halt the spread of the virus, and we urge parents to take advantage of these opportunities to vaccinate their children and to protect them and the greater community from COVID-19.”

VIRGINIA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH COMMUNITY VACCINATION CENTERS TO BE CLOSED TUESDAY DUE TO SNOW AND EXPECTED FREEZING TEMPERATURES

(RICHMOND, Va.)—  The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) will again close all of its Community Vaccination Centers (CVCs) on Tuesday, January 4, 2022, as some areas of the state deal with several inches of snow and expected freezing temperatures overnight.  Individuals with appointments will be notified of the cancellation and can visit vase.vdh.virginia.gov to reschedule.

On Monday, VDH made the decision to close all of the CVCs, including the Military Circle Mall location in Norfolk, out of an abundance of caution for patients and staff. VDH will decide Tuesday afternoon whether to open the CVC sites on Wednesday.  Please check VDH’s website and social media accounts for this information.

Individuals are advised to reschedule missed vaccine appointments as soon as possible. Second doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines can be safely extended up to 42 days after the first dose is given. Thus those who had scheduled a return date of 21 or 28 days after their first dose still have some time to receive a timely vaccine. Those who miss the opportunity to get a second dose within 42 days should still proceed with a second dose and will be considered fully vaccinated, though per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention there is limited information on the effectiveness of receiving a second dose beyond 42 days.

Community Vaccination Centers offer first and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccines along with booster doses. More than 250,000 vaccine doses have been administered at the CVCs since they opened in October 2021.

To find a vaccine or an appointment at a CVC or another location near you, visit vaccinate.virginia.gov or call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users call 7-1-1). Assistance is available in English, Spanish, and more than 100 other languages. Walk-ins are welcome at the CVCs, but appointments are strongly encouraged to avoid extended wait times.

Ahead of Holiday Gatherings, VDH Urges Virginians to Get Vaccinated and Boosted and to Practice Mitigation Steps as Omicron Variant Spreads

(RICHMOND, Va.) — With Virginians expected to gather with family and friends over the holidays, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) reminds everyone to take steps to protect themselves, their friends and family, and the community from COVID-19 as the Omicron variant spreads.

“We may be through with COVID-19, but COVID-19 is not through with us,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A. “Unlike a year ago, however, we have tools to protect ourselves. The vaccines we have now are expected to protect against severe illness, hospitalization, and death due to infection with the Omicron variant, especially among those who have received their booster dose. If you’re not vaccinated or have not gotten your booster dose, now is the time to do so.”

Virginia recorded 4,437 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday. On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that based on latest projections, they believe the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is now the dominant variant in the United States.

CDC surveillance data indicates that the Omicron variant represents about 73% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. for the week ending Dec. 18, an increase from the week ending Dec. 11. In the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Region 3, which includes Virginia, CDC data indicates Omicron represents 75.8% of cases.

More than 87% of adults in Virginia have had at least one vaccine dose, and 77.7% of adults are fully vaccinated. Of the total population, 67.1% are fully vaccinated.

Overall, 6.5 million Virginians have had at least one dose, while 1.8 million have had the booster shot. Health experts strongly urge people to get vaccinated if they are not, and if they are, to get the booster shot for greater protection.

Because breakthrough cases are possible, in addition to getting vaccinated it’s important to take additional precautions, such as wearing a mask in public indoor spaces.

Layered strategies that have proved effective in mitigating past surges are still effective against Omicron. To repeat, those strategies include:

  • Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 now.
  • Getting your booster dose now.
  • Wearing a mask in public indoor spaces, regardless of vaccination status.
  • During the holiday season, consider taking a COVID-19 test prior to gathering with others, especially if you plan to visit with people who are vulnerable or at high risk for severe illness if they develop COVID-19.

VDH continues to offer community testing events and is distributing antigen test kits through a collaboration with public libraries. VDH also has a partnership with Walgreens pharmacies to offer free COVID-19 antigen tests, using Abbott BinaxNOW tests, at many stores across the state. Please visit the VDH testing locatorlocal health department websites, or pharmacy websites to find available tests and appointments.

Vaccines are available at pharmacies, doctors’ offices and many other convenient locations. To find free vaccines at a Community Vaccination Center or another location near you, visit vaccinate.virginia.gov or call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users call 7-1-1). Assistance is available in English, Spanish, and more than 100 other languages. At Community Vaccination Centers, appointments are encouraged to ensure you get the vaccine you want and to avoid extended wait times, but walk-ins are welcome.

Researchers around the world continue to study Omicron.  More data are needed to know if Omicron infections, and especially reinfections and breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated, cause more severe illness or death than infection with other variants. Those who are unvaccinated remain at the highest risk of severe illness and hospitalization due to COVID-19. This population remains VDH’s top priority.  Everyone 5 years or older is eligible to be vaccinated.

Virginia Department of Health Urges Virginians to Get the Flu Vaccine

State Sees First Influenza Cases of the Season

RICHMOND, Va. –With the 2021-22 flu season officially underway, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) encourages all people in Virginia six months and older to receive their annual influenza (flu) vaccine.

Although flu activity remains low nationally, Virginia has started to see sporadic reports of the influenza virus detected in recent weeks.

December is not too late to get your flu vaccine! While the flu season may vary from year to year, cases often peak in January or February and continue through May.

“I make it a priority to get a flu shot every year,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A. “If you’ve ever had the flu, you know it can make you sick with symptoms such as chills, cough, fatigue, sore throat and aches all over. Getting a flu shot is a simple and effective way to reduce your risk of getting sidelined by the flu.”

A flu vaccine is needed every season for two reasons. First, the body’s immune response from vaccination declines over time, so an annual vaccine is needed for optimal protection. Second, because flu viruses are constantly changing, the formulation of the flu vaccine is reviewed each year and updated to keep up with changing flu viruses.

The 2020-21 flu season was unusually mild. “Public health recommendations such as social distancing, wearing a mask indoors, staying home when sick, avoiding crowds, and hand washing all likely contributed to the mild 2020-2021 season,” said Respiratory Disease Coordinator Lisa Sollot, MPH. “How well these recommendations are followed this season will likely have an impact on transmission of influenza.”

“Additionally, some experts have suggested that because there was little flu virus activity last year, natural immunity may be lower than in an average flu season,” Sollot said. “This development makes getting the influenza vaccine this season even more important.”

Visit www.vaccines.gov/find-vaccines/ to find a location near you to get the flu vaccine. It is safe to get both the flu and COVID-19 vaccine at the same time.

To minimize your risk of contracting or transmitting the flu, follow these simple steps:

  • Get vaccinated;
  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, for at least 20 seconds;
  • Cover your cough, either by using a disposable tissue or coughing into your sleeve, not your hand; and
  • Stay at home when you are sick.

If you feel sick, VDH urges you to stay home and to contact your healthcare provider for evaluation, treatment and possible testing. Not sure if it’s COVID-19 or the flu? This handy chart outlines the differences in the symptoms.

For more information on the flu, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/epidemiology/influenza-flu-in-virginia/.

Virginia Health Officials Report Measles Cases in Central and Northern Health Regions

Most U.S. residents receive measles vaccinations during childhood

(RICHMOND, Va.) — The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has identified five individuals diagnosed with measles and is reaching out to people in the Central Health Region and the Northern Health Region who may have been exposed to those individuals. The people confirmed to have measles recently traveled from Afghanistan as part of the United States government’s emergency evacuation efforts.

The Richmond and Henrico Health Districts (RHHD) have worked with a Richmond area hospital to identify and notify individuals potentially exposed at the hospital on September 10. In addition, the Piedmont Health District is working with federal partners to identify exposures at Fort Pickett in Nottoway County. On Friday, health departments in Northern Virginia announced that they were working together to identify people who may have been exposed at Dulles International Airport and other locations. 

When there is an ongoing concern that there may be people unaware of potential exposure to an individual diagnosed with measles, VDH is identifying locations to alert the public of the possible risk. When potential exposures were limited and persons who were potentially exposed have been identified VDH contacts those individuals directly.

Most Americans are vaccinated against measles as children, which confers lifetime immunity. Measles is a highly contagious illness that is spread through coughing, sneezing, and contact with droplets from the nose, mouth or throat of an infected individual. 

Maintaining a high level of vaccination reduces risk to our communities when measles is imported from other parts of the world. Parents are urged to make sure children are up to date on their childhood vaccinations. Measles is easily preventable through a safe and effective vaccine given as part of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine series. Two doses are recommended for most individuals, with the first dose given at age 12 to 15 months and the second prior to kindergarten entry, at age 4 to 6 years.

Measles is common in many parts of the world, including popular tourist destinations. All persons who will be traveling internationally should be evaluated for measles immunity and vaccinated as needed. Infants too young to be vaccinated should avoid travel to areas with measles until they can be vaccinated. Clinicians should keep measles as a possible diagnosis when evaluating individuals who have recently entered or returned to the United States.

Residents with additional questions about this measles investigation should contact their local health district; find contact information, here: www.vdh.virginia.gov/local-health-districts. For more information on measles, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/epidemiology/epidemiology-fact-sheets/measles-rubeola/.

Virginia Department of Health Awarded National Accreditation by the Public Health Accreditation Board

Accreditation through PHAB Demonstrates Virginia Department of Health’s Commitment to Excellence in Serving the Community

Richmond, Virginia – The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has been awarded national accreditation through the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB). Established in 2007, PHAB is the nonprofit organization that administers the national accreditation program, which aims to advance and transform public health practice by championing performance improvement, strong infrastructure, and innovation.

“Accreditation by PHAB means that VDH meets the standards for a high-performing public health department and that we are committed to continuous learning and quality improvement in our operations and programs,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A. “The application process was rigorous and thorough, and helped us identify best practices, which are already being incorporated.

“We hope this announcement, coming as it does in the midst of our ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, will reassure our community, our partner organizations, our funders and our elected officials that the services we provide are as responsive as possible to the needs of our community. By continuing to improve our services and performance, we can be sure we are meeting the public health needs of those we serve as effectively as possible.”

The voluntary national accreditation program, which receives support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, sets standards against which the nation’s governmental public health departments can continuously improve the quality of their services and performance.

“The value of becoming nationally accredited through PHAB extends far beyond the interior walls of the health department,” said PHAB President and CEO Paul Kuehnert, DNP, RN, FAAN. “People living and working in communities served by these health departments can be assured that their health department is strong and has the capacity to protect and promote their health. Just going through the accreditation process itself helps health departments pinpoint the areas that are critical to improving the work they do for their communities.” 

VDH began pursuing accreditation in 2016. The accreditation is for five years, and after that time, VDH must apply for re-accreditation. VDH is committed to accountability, transparency, quality improvement, performance management, and the capacity to deliver the Ten Essential Public Health Services

Public health departments are on the front lines of communities’ efforts to protect and promote health and prevent disease and injury. Across the nation, health departments provide services aimed at promoting healthy behaviors; preventing diseases and injuries; ensuring access to safe food, water, clean air, and life-saving immunizations; and preparing for and responding to public health emergencies.                          

McEachin Announces More Than $10 Million in HHS Grants for Virginia Department of Health

Washington, D.C. – Today, Congressman A. Donald McEachin (VA-04) announced the Virginia Department of Health will receive two grants from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) totaling $10,840,522. A grant for $3,127,953 will support preventive health services, and one for $7,712,569 will help bolster childhood immunizations in Virginia.

“Preventive health services are essential to achieving better health outcomes. Unfortunately, too many Virginians cannot afford these crucial services and are forced to delay doctor visits for too long. These funds will help ensure those Virginians receive the preventive care they need, hopefully leading more successful outcomes,” said Rep. McEachin (VA-04). “In addition, childhood immunizations have saved millions of lives. Thanks to advances in modern medicine, we have vaccines to protect our youth from deadly diseases such as polio, measles, mumps, and rubella. These funds will help ensure that all Virginian children receive every needed vaccine, which will help save lives and keep our children healthy.”

Virginia Department of Health Confirms Age 0-9 Fatality with COVID-19

A Child in the Northern Region has Passed Away 

(RICHMOND, Va.)  — Today, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announced that a child in the Northern Region with COVID-19 has died. VDH will disclose no further information about the child to protect privacy and out of respect for the patient’s family. This is the first reported death of a child in the Northern Region with COVID-19 in Virginia.

“Our hearts go out to the family and friends of this child for their tragic loss,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A. “Across the country, COVID-19 continues to cause illness and death. The Delta variant is now the most predominant strain across the country, and it spreads more easily from one person to another. We urge everyone to take precautions to protect themselves and those around them. Everyone aged 12 and older who is eligible to get vaccinated is encouraged to do so as soon as possible.”

To lower the risk of spreading respiratory infections, including COVID-19, VDH encourages everyone to:

  • Get a COVID-19 vaccine when it is available to you or your children. To locate a free vaccine near you, visit vaccinate.virginia.gov/.
  • Wear a mask in indoor public settings, even if you are fully vaccinated. Virginia is currently experiencing high levels of COVID-19 spread.
  • Practice physical distancing. Maintain at least 6 feet of space between yourself and others.
  • Avoid large gatherings, crowds, and indoor spaces with poor ventilation (airflow).
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after you have been in public spaces; use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Stay home when you are sick. If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, get tested.
  • Avoid contact with sick people.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

For more information on COVID-19 in Virginia, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus and www.cdc.gov/coronavirus.

Statement from Virginia State Vaccination Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula On Booster Dose of mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines for the General Population, Third Dose for Immunocompromised Persons

(Richmond, Va.) – The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) is monitoring discussion at the federal level and the possibility of mRNA vaccine booster doses (Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna), following approval last week of third doses for immunocompromised persons.

“In Virginia, we are monitoring the situation and planning through all of the logistical considerations,” said State Vaccine Coordinator Danny Avula, MD, MPH, “If booster vaccine doses are recommended for the general population, the rollout of those boosters will likely take place over several months, as the expected recommendation is that a booster dose should be given within a defined time frame after your second dose. VDH and local health departments now have experience in planning and carrying out the logistics of a large-scale vaccination effort, and rebooting that for booster doses will not be an issue. The infrastructure for administering the booster doses is already in place.”

Should boosters be recommended by the federal government — the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) — VDH will proceed accordingly with providers to administer the vaccines to the general public.

For more information on COVID-19 in Virginia, visit vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus. Anyone age 12 or older can find free vaccination opportunities near them by visiting vaccinate.virginia.gov or calling 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users call 7-1-1).

Virginia Department of Health Urges Caution In Advance of Severe Wet Weather

(Richmond, Va.)— Tropical Storm Fred may impact areas of the state this week. This storm, in addition to the storm events across Virginia this week, could create dangerous recreational water conditions in creeks, rivers, and the areas along the coast. The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) reminds people to take precautions to be prepared for severe weather and once the sun comes out, be aware of potential health risks before you participate in recreational water activities.

Heavy rains can increase the risk of animal waste and the potential release of inadequately treated wastewater from sewage treatment plants. Bacteria, debris, and other pollutants in rainwater runoff end up in rivers, lakes and streams, which can pose risks to human health and safety. Rain events also cause flooding and fast-moving waters, especially in low-lying areas.

The most common illnesses from contaminated water are gastrointestinal illnesses. This may cause vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain or fever. These illnesses result from swallowing water contaminated by disease-causing microbiological organisms. Additionally, contact with contaminated water has the potential to cause upper respiratory (ear, nose, throat) and skin infections.

VDH recommends the following safety tips for people planning to swim, wade, kayak, canoe or go rafting in Virginia natural waters after heavy rain:

  • Avoid getting water in your mouth. Never swallow water from an untreated water source.
  • Don’t swim if you have broken skin. Bacteria, viruses and other organisms can infect wounds causing more serious illness.
  • Shower with soap and water after recreating in natural waters.
  • Don’t swim when you are ill.
  • Avoid swimming if dead fish are present.
  • Use extreme caution and avoid unnecessary risks if you encounter covered roads or fast-moving waters. The water may be deeper and moving faster than you think.

Residents or facilities that provide water to the public, including campgrounds, restaurants, summer camps, or daycares with private wells or septic systems should also take extra precautions in heavy rain and flooding, in case wells or septic systems are submerged by flood waters. Visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/environmental-health/responding-to-an-emergency-affecting-your-private-well/ for information and safety tips.

To find the location of local sewer treatment facilities, contact your local public works department.

For more information regarding recreation water safety tips, including the Virginia Department of Health’s “Safely Enjoy Virginia’s Natural Waters” brochure, visit: www.SwimHealthyVA.com.

Virginia Will Provide Third Doses of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 Vaccines for Immunocompromised People

(Richmond, Va.) — Today the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announced that Virginia will make third doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines available for moderately and severely immunocompromised Virginians, starting as early as August 14. This move comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its vaccination guidelines to recommend third mRNA doses for people who have significantly compromised immune systems. Vaccines are readily available throughout Virginia, and vaccine providers are expected to make third doses available over the next several days as they adapt their processes.

“This is important additional protection for people who have impaired immune systems,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A. “As COVID-19 cases rise across Virginia and the country, everyone who is eligible should get appropriately vaccinated as soon as they can.”

The CDC’s move is the final step in the authorization process for third doses of the mRNA vaccines for some eligible populations. Studies have shown that people with a compromised immune system can have a weak response to the standard vaccine regimen, and that a third dose is needed to strengthen immunity in these persons and protect them from serious COVID-19 complications. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) evaluated those studies and recommended the change to the CDC on Thursday.

Only Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are mRNA vaccines, and therefore the FDA has not recommended additional doses of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine. Additionally, the FDA has not recommended booster vaccines for the general public. Those immunocompromised who have already received two doses of either Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech should wait at least 28 days after their second dose before receiving their third dose.  The third dose should be the same manufacturer as the previous two doses when possible, but this is not required.

This EUA expansion is estimated to  include approximately 3% of people in the United States. Immunocompromised persons are those whose immune mechanisms are deficient because of certain immunologic disorders or immunosuppressive therapy.  As of today, approximately 4,144,080 Virginians have received two doses of an mRNA vaccine and approximately 124,322, or 3% of these Virginians, may be immunocompromised and therefore be eligible to receive a third dose. Individuals with questions about whether they are significantly immunocompromised should consult their healthcare providers.

While available evidence shows that a third dose provides a modest benefit to improving the immune response to mRNA vaccination, it is important to remember that immunocompromised persons might still not have a strong level of protection against COVID-19, even after receiving a third dose of vaccine. Additional COVID-19 precautions remain important for this population. These include wearing a mask, maintaining physical distance from others outside of the home, and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces until advised otherwise by their healthcare provider.

Persons who are significantly immunocompromised should also discuss the possibility of monoclonal antibody treatment options with their healthcare provider in case they get infected with or are exposed to COVID-19. Household members and other close contacts of significantly immunocompromised persons should get fully vaccinated to provide increased protection to their loved ones.

VDH, physicians and healthcare workers, and vaccine providers across the Commonwealth stand ready to assist this vulnerable population to obtain the added protection a third vaccine dose will provide against COVID-19.  Just like previous EUA authorizations and CDC ACIP approvals, additional clinical considerations have been published that provide more detailed guidance. These clinical considerations will provide necessary guidance to assist COVID-19 providers in implementing these new  recommendations. In Virginia, providers may begin administration of third mRNA doses for this vulnerable population across the Commonwealth in accordance with these clinical considerations.

For more information on COVID-19 in Virginia, visit vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus. Anyone age 12 or older can find free vaccination clinics near them by visiting vaccinate.virginia.gov or calling 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users call 7-1-1).

Virginia Departments of Health and Education Release Updated Guidance for PreK-12 Schools

PreK-12 schools will make locally-informed decisions on masking and prevention measures, as informed by CDC recommendations

RICHMOND — The Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Education today released new guidance for PreK-12 schools for the upcoming 2021-2022 school year. The Interim Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in Virginia PreK-12 Schools reinforces the importance of in-person learning and supports school divisions in making decisions on masking and other prevention measures, as informed by local data and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Virginia has followed the science throughout this pandemic, and that’s what we continue to do,” said Governor Ralph Northam. “This guidance takes into consideration recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics, and will provide necessary flexibility for school divisions while ensuring a safe, healthy, and world-class learning environment for Virginia’s students. Again, I strongly urge every eligible Virginian to get vaccinated. Getting your shot will protect you, your family, and your community—and it is the only way we can beat this pandemic once and for all.”

The State Health Commissioner’s Public Health Order is in effect until July 25, 2021 and will not be extended, giving school divisions the ability to implement local mask policies based on community level conditions and public health recommendations. As informed by recent recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Virginia guidance strongly recommends divisions adopt the following for the 2021-2022 school year:

  • Elementary schools should implement a requirement that students, teachers, and staff wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, until vaccination is available for children under 12 years old and there has been sufficient time to allow for children younger than 12 years old to be fully vaccinated.
  • At a minimum, middle and high schools should implement a requirement that students, teachers and staff who are not fully vaccinated wear masks indoors. While school divisions regularly confirm school-required immunization records of their students, they should consult with their counsel in determining if and how to confirm student and staff COVID-19 vaccinations.
  • All schools may want to consider universal masking for specific reasons as outlined in certain circumstances by the CDC.
  • All schools should be prepared to adjust local mask policies as local public health conditions evolve throughout the year.

The CDC federal order requiring masks be worn on public transportation remains in effect, and applies to buses operated by Virginia public schools.

“The science is clear that vaccinations and masks help keep our communities safe from COVID-19,” said Secretary of Health and Human Resources Daniel Carey, MD, MHCM. “Due to the dedication, expertise, and close partnership of the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Education, the Commonwealth’s children and the individuals that help them learn will be protected by proven strategies, without a one-size-fits-all approach.”

“Schools occupy a special place in the life of our communities, and we need to do everything we can to keep everyone in them safe. This guidance is aimed at protecting students, educators, and staff while also providing localities with flexibility,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A. “We continue to urge eligible Virginians to get vaccinated to protect themselves, their families and their communities.”

All schools in Virginia are required to make in-person instruction available to all students in the 2021-2022 school year, pursuant to Senate Bill 1303 which was passed during Virginia’s 2021 legislative session. According to the updated guidance, physical distancing of at least 3 feet should be maximized to the greatest extent possible but schools should not reduce in-person learning to keep a minimum distance requirement.

“We know that students learn best in school buildings, and this guidance ensures that divisions have the flexibility and support they need to provide access to in-person learning 5 days a week,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “I’m grateful to all of the school administrators, educators, and staff who have gone above and beyond to provide high quality instruction and support to students during this challenging time.”

Prevention strategies are most effective when layered together, and will continue to be necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools. The guidance recommends that divisions work with local health departments to implement mitigation strategies based on information about the levels of community transmission, local vaccine coverage, the occurrence of cases and outbreaks in schools, and the use of screening testing data to detect cases in schools.

Vaccination remains the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Vaccinating teachers, staff, and eligible students is a critical layer of prevention and protection for all.

“As schools prepare to welcome students back for the 2021-2022 school year, our priority is safely providing in-person instruction so that each and every child can learn and thrive in the classroom,” said Dr. James Lane, Superintendent of Public Instruction. “With this latest guidance and ample federal pandemic relief funds available to school divisions, our local school leaders are equipped to implement appropriate mitigation strategies and ensure student and staff safety within the schools in their communities.”

In 2020, Governor Northam directed $492 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to public schools and PreK-12 state-level education initiatives. This year, Virginia received approximately $939 million in ESSER II funds under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act of 2021. Ninety percent of the funding was distributed to school divisions in January, with the other 10 percent set aside for targeted state-level initiatives to address the impact of the pandemic on students and schools. Additionally, the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) III funds directly allocate $1.9 billion to school divisions, with an additional state set aside of $211 million.

This spring, Governor Northam announced $62.7 million in Virginia LEARNS Education Recovery grants to help school divisions expand and implement targeted initiatives to support Virginia students as they continue to recover from the impacts of the pandemic.

Interim Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in Virginia PreK-12 Schools is available here

Virginia Department of Health Reminds Residents to Be Aware of the Risks of Heat-related Illness

(Richmond, Va.)—Many Virginians will celebrate the July Fourth holiday with trips to beaches and parks and backyard cookouts. The Virginia Department of Health reminds residents enjoying time with family and friends to be aware of the signs of heat-related illness, particularly in those more vulnerable to extreme temperatures.

Hot temperatures, high heat indexes and hot, sunny conditions can cause ill health effects. During the most recent heat wave, from June 28 through July 1, a total of 206 visits were made to emergency departments or urgent care centers in Virginia as a result of heat-related illnesses.

“We encourage all residents to take the necessary precautions to protect against heat-related illness,” said Chief Deputy Commissioner of Community Health Services Dr. Parham Jaberi. “And remember to consider the special needs of children, the elderly and those without air conditioning in the hot weather.”

Extreme heat can be deadly. According to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, between 2018 and 2020 there were 28 heat-related deaths in Virginia.

One of the most important precautions people should take is to schedule or reschedule activities and outdoor work until the coolest parts of the day.  In the summer, sunlight exposure and heat are greatest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. 

Signs of severe heat-related illness include high body temperature, fast pulse, dizziness, nausea, confusion, headache, passing out, and hot, red, dry or damp skin. 

Here are additional steps you can take to protect yourself against heat-related illnesses: 

  • On extremely hot days, stay indoors in an air-conditioned area or find a cooling center in your area if your home is not cool. Spending at least two hours per day in air conditioning significantly reduces the risk of heat-related illnesses. When temperatures reach the upper 90s or above, a fan may not prevent heat-related illness.
  • Drink plenty of fluids (2-4 glasses of cool fluids) each hour. To replace salt and minerals lost from sweating, drink fruit juice or a sports beverage during exercise or when you have to work outside. However, talk to your doctor first if you are on a fluid-restricted diet or medications, or on a low-salt diet.
  • If you must be outdoors, wear lighter weight and light-colored clothing and wide-brimmed hats to reflect the sun’s rays.  Apply sunscreen to exposed skin to avoid sunburn.  Sunburn limits your body’s ability to keep itself cool and causes loss of body fluids.  Use sunscreen with a SPF of 15 or greater, and apply it at least 20 minutes before going outside.  
  • Extreme heat can be stressful on your body.  Limit physical activity until your body adjusts to the heat. 
  • Never leave children or pets in cars. Temperatures inside a car can reach higher than 150 degrees quickly, resulting in heat stroke and death.
  • Use the “buddy system” if you are working outside. If you suffer a heat-related illness, you could become confused or could lose consciousness. Therefore, make sure someone else knows of your plans.
  • Be sure to check on the elderly and neighbors without air conditioning.  

For more information about heat-related illnesses, visit the Virginia Department of Health’s website at https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/news/public-relations-contacts/severe-weather-preparedness/extreme-heat-and-heat-related-illnesses/.

VDH Announces Nearly 150 Pharmacies Will Expand Hours for COVID-19 Vaccination as part of the National Vaccine Month of Action

(Richmond, Va.) — The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announced today that five pharmacy partners will expand their hours on certain days through July 4 to provide COVID-19 vaccination as part of the National Vaccine Month of Action, a collaborative effort led by the White House that includes businesses, national organizations and community-based partners working together to promote vaccination.

“Pharmacies have been critical to helping us vaccinate our community,” said Dr. Stephanie Wheawhill, Director of the Division of Pharmacy Services. “They are Virginia’s trusted messengers who assist people in making informed decisions about COVID-19 vaccinations.”

Currently, at least 70 percent of adults in Virginia have been vaccinated with at least one dose. The extended pharmacy hours will provide approximately 2,235 additional hours of vaccination availability, especially on Friday evenings, for those who may have difficulty getting vaccinated during normal pharmacy hours. Over 147 pharmacy locations across the state will extend their hours on certain days through July 4. Participating pharmacy partners include Albertsons, CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens and independent pharmacies.

Anyone age 12 or older can find vaccination clinics near them by visiting vaccinate.virginia.gov or calling 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users call 7-1-1). Pharmacies are included through the link to Vaccines.gov.

Virginia Department of Health Launches COVIDWISE Express as Additional Tool to Boost Exposure Notifications

New additional platform informs iPhone users of potential exposure to COVID-19 without having to download an app. 

(Richmond, Va.) — Virginia is making it even easier for people to be notified of potential exposures to COVID-19. Last week, the Virginia Department of Health launched COVIDWISE Express, a new app-less exposure notifications technology for iPhone users in Virginia who do not already have the COVIDWISE app installed.  Anonymously sending and receiving exposure notifications has never been easier. Since launching, COVIDWISE Express already has more than 504,000 users in Virginia.

COVIDWISE Express, which is available in both English and Spanish, will work solely on iPhones that have not installed COVIDWISE. When an iPhone user enables Exposure Logging on their smartphone, their device will automatically use the app-less experience, if the user hasn’t already downloaded COVIDWISE.  The Express version of COVIDWISE works by communicating with a test verification server and the national key server at specific times, all while protecting the user’s privacy and location data. Android users, and iPhone users who already have the app, will continue to use COVIDWISE. 

“COVIDWISE Express provides an additional option to help Virginia expand its existing exposure notifications and contact tracing operations without compromising user privacy or security,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA. “This technology will notify you if you’ve likely been exposed to another smartphone user who anonymously shared a positive COVID-19 test result. Knowing your exposure history allows you to self-quarantine effectively, seek timely medical attention, and reduce risk of exposing others.”

COVIDWISE launched on August 5, 2020 and has surpassed 994,000 downloads, making it one of the two most downloaded exposure notification apps in the United States. The free app, which is available through the App Store and the Google Play Store, alerts users if they have been in close contact with an individual who anonymously reported their positive COVID-19 test result. 

On December 10, COVIDWISE began using the Association of Public Health Laboratories’ National Key Server, which allows COVIDWISE to work across D.C. and 19 states that have similar exposure notifications systems.  This helps to ensure users receive exposure notifications, if exposed to persons from a participating jurisdiction. 

VDH remains steadfastly committed to COVIDWISE privacy protections and continued adoption and widespread use of exposure notifications as a tool to support the public’s health and reduce the spread of the virus.

To learn more about COVIDWISE options, or to download the app, visit www.covidwise.org.

For more information on COVID-19 in Virginia, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus and www.cdc.gov/coronavirus.

First Case of B.1.1.7 COVID-19 Variant Identified in Virginia

(RICHMOND, VA) — The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the Department of General Services Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS) today announced that the first case of the SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.7 has been identified in a sample from an adult resident of Northern Virginia with no reported recent travel history. The B.1.1.7 variant, which first emerged in the United Kingdom in late 2020, is associated with increased person-to-person transmission of COVID-19.

DCLS confirmed the case using next-generation sequencing that provides a genetic blueprint of the virus that causes COVID-19. DCLS has informed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the case.

“Viruses change all the time, and we expect to see new strains as disease spreads,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA. “We know this variant strain spreads more quickly between people than other strains currently circulating in our communities, but we still have more to learn about whether it causes more severe illness. As our state public health officials closely monitor the emergence of the B.1.1.7 variant in our Commonwealth, it is important that all Virginians continue following mitigation measures.”

In the United States, nearly 200 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant have been detected in 23 states as of January 22, 2021. While scientists are working to better understand its impact on vaccine efficacy, early data suggests currently authorized vaccines are effective against the new variant. VDH continues to work with communities across Virginia to slow the spread of all strains of COVID-19 through widespread adherence to preventive measures, supporting testing and vaccination efforts, and conducting investigations of cases and outbreaks.

As a virus spreads from one person to another, it makes copies of itself and sometimes makes small genetic changes called mutations. Because of these mutations, new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time. According to the CDC, multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been documented in the United States and around the world. The B.1.1.7 variant contains an unusually large number of mutations.

DCLS began sequencing positive COVID-19 samples in March 2020, becoming one of the first public health labs in the nation to use this technology to examine the genetic makeup of the virus and track how it is changing and being transmitted in the Commonwealth. To date, DCLS has sequenced more than 10 percent of positive samples tested by the state lab, and is working with other labs in Virginia to solicit additional positive samples to sequence so public health officials can get a representation of variants circulating throughout Virginia.

“Sequencing is one of many tools we have available at the state’s public health laboratory to enable medical and public health officials to quickly identify and respond to threats such as emerging COVID-19 variants,” said Dr. Denise Toney, Director of DCLS. “We share this information not only within the Commonwealth, but with our federal and international partners to gain a better understanding of emerging genetic changes to SARS-CoV-2.”

For more information about COVID-19 variants, visit the VDH COVID-19 Testing website and the CDC New COVID-19 Variants website. For more information on DCLS and its use of next-generation sequencing, visit dgs.virginia.gov/dcls.

VDH Medical Reserve Corps Volunteers to Help Local Officials Encourage Safe Voting Practices on Election Day

(RICHMOND, VA) – Hundreds of Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) volunteers throughout the Commonwealth have volunteered with the state to help provide Election Day support for in-person voting during Virginia’s COVID-19 public health emergency. MRC volunteers will help local election officials safely conduct in-person voting in their communities by encouraging appropriate COVID-19 precautions.

“We are very proud of Virginia’s residents who have volunteered with the Medical Reserve Corps during the COVID-19 pandemic response. These trained and dedicated professionals have helped care for residents of nursing homes, tested people for COVID-19, worked countless hours at call centers and served in many other ways,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A. “We recognize the importance of voting, and the MRC will be there to help protect the health of our residents exercising that important right at polling places.”

Virginia Department of Health (VDH) State Volunteer Coordinator Jennifer Freeland and MRC staff have been making plans for Election Day efforts since the spring. “The Governor’s Office activated the Virginia MRC to ensure that voters could vote safely during the elections in May.  Since then, MRC volunteers have eagerly stepped up to serve for early and in-person voting.  Our teams are prepared and ready to make the November Election Infection Prevention deployment a safe experience for voters and poll workers,” said Freeland.

Statewide, 50 localities have asked for MRC assistance at more than 1,000 polling locations for Election Day, November 3. The Medical Reserve Corps expects to provide nearly 900 trained volunteers across the state to assist with the general election. Training has jointly been provided by the Virginia Department of Elections and VDH.

MRC volunteers will staff local polling places to encourage voters to use masks and hand sanitizer and to help staff and voters remember to maintain at least six feet of physical distance. They are also trained to spot opportunities to reduce transmission of germs, such as keeping doors propped open where possible to minimize the number of surfaces voters may touch, increase area ventilation and to safely enter and exit the building. Tips for Voting During the COVID-19 Pandemic:

  1. Make a plan. Visit the Virginia Department of Elections website for more information on options for voting in Virginia.
  2. Wear a cloth face covering/mask, if you are able, at all times while voting.
  3. Exercise proper social distancing by maintaining at least 6 feet of separation from other voters and poll workers. Consider staying more than 6 feet away from people who are not wearing cloth face coverings.
  4. Practice good hygiene.
    1. Do not use physical greetings, such as handshaking.
    2. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water before and after voting. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer to clean your hands.
    3. Avoid touching your face and face covering.

For more information, see the Vote Safely section of this web page.

VIRGINIA CELEBRATES FARM TO CACFP WEEK

Activities Encourage Increased Awareness of Virginia Agriculture

(Richmond, VA) – Food is a foundation of living well, which is more important now than ever. This year, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) will recognize Virginia Farm to Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) Week October 18 through 24, with virtual activities throughout the Commonwealth. Farm to CACFP connects participants to nutrition education, Virginia grown foods, and gardening opportunities. Through these activities, CACFP participants will learn about Virginia agriculture while building knowledge of and interest in healthy foods.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created a critical need for the provision of nutritious meals and snacks in the Commonwealth. Farm to CACFP is an innovative approach to prioritizing access to healthy food and nutrition education, while also supporting Virginia agriculture,” said Director of the Division of Community Nutrition Paula Garrett. CACFP provides reimbursement for meals served to children, older adults and chronically impaired or disabled persons enrolled at participating care centers.

In recognition of the week, VDH encourages day care facilities and families at home to conduct activities that bring awareness to Virginia agriculture and seasonal food. “We are hoping day care centers, and families learning at home, take advantage of this free opportunity to celebrate Virginia agriculture and healthy, seasonal food. Our website provides a virtual toolkit filled with activity ideas, printable posters, and links to register for some fun, free virtual events for all ages,” said Garrett.

Virtual events include cooking classes, informational webinars, and educational videos. For more information on the week and to register for a free virtual activity toolkit, visit VirginiaCACFP.com/FarmtoCACFP. VDH also encourages everyone to promote activities and share your participation on social media using #VAFarmtoCACFP.

For information about these activities, contact Taya Jarman at 804-864-7299 or email taya.jarman@vdh.virginia.gov.

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