First Cases of P.1 COVID-19 Variant Identified in Virginia

(RICHMOND, VA) – The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) today announced that the first cases of the SARS-CoV-2 variant P.1 have been identified in two samples from Virginia residents. One case was identified in an adult resident of the Northwest Region who had a history of domestic travel during the exposure period and the second case was identified in an adult resident of the Eastern Region with no history of travel. Neither case had a record of COVID-19 vaccination prior to illness onset. The P.1 variant, which was first identified in travelers from Brazil in late 2020, is associated with increased person-to-person transmission of COVID-19. At this time, there is no evidence that infections with this variant cause more severe disease. To date, the P.1 variant has been identified in at least 22 other U.S. states.

In each case, the P.1 variant was initially identified by laboratories using next-generation sequencing to help expand Virginia’s genomic surveillance efforts for genetic changes to the virus that causes COVID-19. Of the 674 variants of concern reported to VDH to date, the majority have been identified as B.1.1.7 (78.5%), followed by B.1.351 (9.5%), B.1.427 (8.0%) and B.1.429 (3.7%). It is very likely that these variants are more common in our communities than the number of reported cases suggest. This is because not all COVID-19 positive samples are tested to see what variant type they are.

Viruses change all the time, and VDH expects to see new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus as disease spreads. As our public health officials closely monitor the emergence of these SARS-CoV-2 variants in our Commonwealth, it is critical that all Virginians comply now with mitigation measures.  Public health recommendations for stopping the spread of COVID-19 will work for all COVID-19 variants. This means wearing masks correctly, staying at least six feet from others, avoiding crowds, washing hands often, getting vaccinated for COVID-19 when it is your turn, and staying home if you are infected with COVID-19 or if you have had close contact with someone with COVID-19. Answer the call if contacted by VDH as part of our case investigation and contact tracing efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.

As of April 16, 2021, Virginia has administered 5,105,585 COVID-19 vaccine doses. More than 3.3 million Virginians, representing 38.7% of Virginia’s total population, have received at least one dose. Of those, 2 million Virginians, or 23.5% of the Commonwealth’s population, are fully vaccinated.

Another April 16 milestone shows more than 2 million Virginians have joined the fight against COVID-19 using their mobile devices. This includes 1,082,068 COVIDWISE users – the nation’s first app using the Google/Apple framework and one of the most downloaded exposure notifications apps in the United States. Approximately 951,000 additional iPhone users have also turned on COVIDWISE Express, an exposure notifications option specifically for iPhone users.

For more information about COVID-19 variants, visit VDH’s Variants of the Virus that Causes COVID-19 website and CDC’s About the Variants website.

Statement from Virginia State Vaccination Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula on Virginia Death Connected to Johnson & Johnson Investigation

(Richmond, Va.) — This afternoon, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) confirmed to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) that it is examining the March death of a Virginia woman as part of its investigation into possible adverse side effects from the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.

The Virginia death was reported to the CDC’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) and a report can be found by searching the system for VAERS ID 1114806-1. No additional details will be provided during the investigation.

Earlier Tuesday, the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) called for a pause on the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after six recipients in the United States developed a rare disorder involving blood clots within about two weeks of vaccination. This pause was recommended out of an abundance of caution, as these adverse events appear to be extremely rare. To date, more than 6.8 million people in the United States have received Johnson & Johnson vaccines and six recipients are known to have developed a type of blood clot called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) in combination with low levels of blood platelets (thrombocytopenia). All six cases occurred among women between the ages of 18 and 48, and symptoms occurred 6 to 13 days after vaccination.

CDC will convene a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) on Wednesday, April 14, to further review these cases and assess their potential significance. FDA will review that analysis as it also investigates these cases.

Virginia will stop using the Johnson & Johnson vaccines until this investigation is complete. This pause is reassuring in that it demonstrates that the systems that are in place to monitor vaccine safety are working. Virginia’s vaccine rollout will continue with the other two authorized vaccines, developed by Pfizer and Moderna.

People who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine who develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination should contact their health care provider, or call 911 if it is a medical emergency.

Statement from Virginia State Vaccination Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula On Pause in Administration of Johnson and Johnson Vaccine

(Richmond, Va.) — We are closely monitoring the actions by the federal government to pause all Johnson & Johnson vaccinations while it investigates an extremely rare possible side effect. In Virginia, we will cease all Johnson & Johnson vaccines until this investigation is complete. If you have an upcoming appointment for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you will be contacted to reschedule that appointment.

This pause is reassuring in that it demonstrates that the systems that are in place to monitor vaccine safety are working. We look forward to a thorough review by federal health officials. Meantime, we will continue Virginia’s vaccine rollout at this time with the other two authorized vaccines, developed by Pfizer and Moderna.

People who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine who develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination should contact their health care provider or call 911 if it is a medical emergency.

Virginia Department of Health Announces ASL Capabilities for Vaccine Call Center – Videophone 1-877-VAX-IN-VA or “ASL Now” at vaccinate.virginia.gov

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announces a new service for Deaf and hard of hearing Virginians who use American Sign Language (ASL). VDH partnered with Connect Direct, a subsidiary of not-for-profit Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD), to provide support in ASL for the Vaccinate Virginia Call Center during standard operational hours, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week. ASL users have two ways to connect to this service, by videophone at 1-877-VAX-IN-VA (1-877-829-4682) or by clicking the “ASL Now” button at vaccinate.virginia.gov.

Virginia is the first state to provide real-time ASL support for COVID-19 and vaccine information. Callers can connect directly with ASL-fluent representatives via videophone or webcam and ask questions to get clarification on an array of issues and concerns related to COVID-19 vaccine, all in their primary language. This is important, because ASL is not English “on the hands;” it has its own grammar, syntax, vocabulary, and cultural context different from, and uninfluenced by, English conventions. The service uses Deaf employees, including several recently-hired Deaf Virginians, who are fluent in ASL and trained to provide important information about coronavirus. This service, therefore, not only ensures communication access but is creating jobs for a historically under-employed community; research shows that compared to the nationwide average of 20%, over 40% of people with hearing loss are not in the labor force.

“Deaf people using video interpreters may not always have effective communication when making phone calls through the Video Relay Service,” said Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing director Eric Raff. “I am pleased that VDDHH was able to work with VDH to ensure Deaf people can directly call Vaccinate Virginia and get crucial and accurate information to protect their health during this pandemic.”

Vaccine Call Center for American Sign Language Support:
Vaccine Call Center can be reached 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week, by videophone at 1-877-VAX-IN-VA (1-877-829-4682) or click the “ASL Now” button at vaccinate.virginia.gov.

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Endorsement Quotes 

“Virginia is a trailblazer, leading the way for other states to follow suit,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, M.A. “Introducing the ability for the Vaccinate Virginia call center to communicate with Virginians using ASL is an extremely important step toward vaccinating the population against COVID-19.”

“Connect Direct applauds Virginia for its dedication to its ASL-using residents,” said Craig Radford, Vice President of Strategy and Business Development at CSD. “Many state services, including health services, are often inaccessible to Deaf ASL users. We encourage more state governments to follow Virginia’s lead.”

“I am proud that Virginia continues to be a national leader in health equity and is now offering ASL as an option on the statewide vaccination call center,” said Secretary of Health and Human Resources Daniel Carey, M.D.

National Public Health Week 2021

April 5-11, 2021 marks National Public Health Week (NPHW). During this time, we recognize the contributions of public health and highlight issues that need improvement. Governor Ralph Northam has issued a proclamation to observe NPHW in Virginia. 

This year’s NPHW theme is “Building Bridges to Better Health.” Making communities safe and healthy is public health’s top priority. COVID-19 has made that even more important. Even though we won’t gather in person, social media and virtual platforms make it easier than ever for us to connect, create and take action.

We have been working to move forward by providing more than four million vaccines. Virginia’s vaccination efforts are well underway as we #VaccinateVirginia. For more information, visit: https://vaccinate.virginia.gov/

There is a NPHW toolkit available and it includes social media posts and images, as well as fliers, posters and banners. Learn more about NPHW at: http://www.nphw.org/. NPHW shareables: http://www.nphw.org/Tools-and-Tips/Shareables.

Daily Themes

Monday, April 5: Rebuilding and Elevating the Essential Health Workforce

After a year of unprecedented times and hardship, Virginia is resilient and building connections and listening to community leaders who prioritize health for everyone. This week gives us a chance to show the progress we have made and to start building the necessary connections. Elevating the essential and health workforce is crucial to public health. Worker protections equal better health outcomes. Frontline workers deserve adequate pay, supplies and support. 

Tuesday, April 6: Advancing Racial Equity

Advancing racial equity involves dismantling policies and practices that uphold racism and support inequities. We must make racial equity central to health equity. At VDH, our office of Health Equity works tirelessly to engage front-line response efforts surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. #RacismOrHealth 

For more information, visit: www.vdh.virginia.gov/health-equity/

Wednesday, April 7: Strengthening Community and Uplifting Mental Health and Wellness

Strengthening community improves public health in the places where we live, work, play, and learn. Let’s work toward clean, well-designed, connected communities for all. At VDH, there are several programs that work consistently to reach this goal. For more information, visit:  www.vdh.virginia.gov/vdhlivewell/healthy-living/.   

COVID-19 and racism have been the dual epidemics harming mental health in our country. Uplift mental health and wellness as key parts of public health. We understand how this is affecting people. 

Anyone experiencing anxiety or stress related to COVID-19 may call or text VA COPES, a free and confidential COVID-19 response warmline, at: 877-349-6428. This line is available: Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. & Sat.–Sun. 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Spanish speakers are available.

Thursday, April 8: Galvanizing Climate Justice

Galvanizing climate justice to address social inequities and improve our health must be part of ongoing efforts to prepare for and respond to climate change. We know that building strong communities make them more resilient, so they have better health outcomes after disasters. In Virginia, our Climate Change Committee (C-3) has been working to address the health impacts of climate change. For more information, visit: www.vdh.virginia.gov/commissioner/administration/climate-and-health/

Friday, April 9: Constructing COVID-19 Resilience 

Building COVID-19 resilience is key to moving forward. It’s important to invest in public health, promote sound practices and act based on science. The data is clear: when we act backed by public health science, health outcomes improve. Non-medical mask-wearing by 75% of the population reduced infections, hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19 by 37.7%. States and local counties that enforced stay-at-home orders saw significantly decreased COVID-19 incidence and death rates.

Join us for the “Constructing COVID-19 Public Health Resilience” webinar, Friday, April 9, 12:30-1:15 p.m. Featuring State Health Commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver, MD, MA; Stan McChrystal and Chris Fussell from the McChrystal Group. Join the conversation at the webinar link.

2021 County Health Rankings Show How Virginia Is Improving – Report ranks localities in Virginia by health outcomes and health factors

Arlington County ranks healthiest in Virginia, according to the annual County Health Rankings, released today by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The rankings are available at www.countyhealthrankings.org.

“We at the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) are extremely proud that Arlington and the rest of the Northern Virginia region enjoy such good health, as recognized by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA. “We know many factors affect public health, and the Commonwealth has made great strides in recent years, but we also know there are healthcare gaps that Virginia and its leaders must address going forward as we navigate our way out of the COVID-19 pandemic. We will not let up in our efforts to create healthy communities and improve healthy outcomes for all people in Virginia.”

According to the 2021 rankings, the five healthiest counties in Virginia, starting with the most healthy, are Arlington, Loudoun, Falls Church City, Fairfax and Alexandria City. The five counties with the poorest health, starting with least healthy, are the cities of Petersburg, Galax, Covington, Martinsville and Hopewell.

“Arlington and areas like Northern Virginia have much to celebrate, being highly ranked in many areas contributing to excellent health, including employment and education,” said Reuben K. Varghese, MD, MPH, director, Arlington Health District. “And yet, in areas with such wonderful overall health outcomes, there are significant disparities even within a 26-square-mile jurisdiction where there is a decade of difference in life expectancy between census tracts.”

Even within Virginia’s healthiest counties, health disparities and inequities still exist within their borders, similar to what is seen at the statewide level. By looking beyond aggregate data and drilling down into results by different ethnic, racial and other often marginalized groups, we can see that health disparities exist among groups in the Commonwealth.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted these disparities in health. VDH has a continued commitment to making all people in Virginia aware of these inequities, and encourages its local health departments to focus their communities’ attention on these issues and work with all populations to create the conditions that are needed for optimal health and well-being.

The data used to calculate the 2021 rankings are from 2019 and earlier and do not yet reflect the impact of the pandemic or programs health districts have implemented in the last year to improve health in their communities. The 2021 rankings highlight the differences in health and opportunity by place as well as the health barriers disproportionately impacting communities of color and families with lower incomes. The impact of the pandemic will begin to emerge in the 2022 County Health Rankings data.

The Crater Health District, which includes Petersburg, is promoting healthy eating and physical activity through collaboration with the Petersburg Healthy Options Partnership. Together they are working toward a healthier Petersburg by providing residents with equitable options for a healthier lifestyle.

“The Crater Health District is working with locality leaders, organizations and community members to improve health outcomes for all people in our district,” said Alton Hart, Jr., MD, MPH, director, Crater Health District. “Many factors beyond medical care influence health. We look forward to using this year’s County Health Rankings data to focus on the unique needs of our area and build strategies towards meaningful change.”

For more information on the 2021 County Health Rankings, visit www.countyhealthrankings.org. For more information on health resources throughout Virginia, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/local-health-districts.

First Cases of B.1.427 and B.1.429 COVID-19 Variants Reported in Virginia

(RICHMOND, VA) – The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) today announced the first cases of the SARS-CoV-2 variants B.1.427 and B.1.429 in samples that were collected between December 2020 and February 2021 from Virginia residents. The B.1.427 and B.1.429 variants, which first emerged in California in the summer of 2020, are associated with increased person-to-person transmission of COVID-19. At this time, there is no evidence that infections with these variants cause more severe disease. These two variants were only recently added to CDC’s Variant of Concern list.

The Department of General Services Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS) confirmed the cases using next-generation sequencing analysis, which provides a genetic blueprint of the virus that causes COVID-19. With the identification of these new variant cases, Virginia now has identified a total of 14 cases of the B.1.427 variant, nine cases of the B.1.429 variant, 26 cases of the B.1.351 variant (first identified in South Africa) and 127 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant (first identified in the United Kingdom). With the combined state and national surveillance efforts, it is likely that additional cases with SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern will be identified.

Viruses change all the time, and VDH expects to see new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus as disease spreads. As our public health officials closely monitor the emergence of these SARS-CoV-2 variants in our Commonwealth, it is critical that all Virginians comply now with mitigation measures.  Public health recommendations for stopping the spread of COVID-19 will work for all COVID-19 variants. This means wearing masks correctly, staying at least six feet from others, avoiding crowds, washing hands often, getting vaccinated for COVID-19 when it is your turn, and staying home if you are infected with COVID-19 or if you have had close contact with someone with COVID-19.

For more information about COVID-19 variants, visit the VDH Variants website and the CDC COVID-19 Variants website.

VDEM and VDH Urge Individuals to Not Travel to Community Vaccination Centers Without an Official Appointment or Invitation

(RICHMOND, VA) — The Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announced that only those individuals who receive an appointment or invitation to attend a Community Vaccination Center (CVC) event will be permitted inside to be vaccinated. CVCs currently are intended for people eligible to be vaccinated in Phase 1 in Virginia, who are at higher risk for exposure to or severe illness from COVID-19.

VDEM and VDH will continue to closely monitor demand for Phase 1 vaccinations in the areas where CVCs are operating, so that doses can be shifted as needed while continuing to vaccinate anyone in the area who is eligible in Phase 1. Fluctuating registration numbers in the initial stages of site operations have allowed for walk-ins in some isolated instances, but this is no longer the case. Each clinic in Virginia has a plan for how to administer any unused doses at the end of the day, so that eligible individuals are prioritized.

Everyone who lives or works in Virginia should pre-register for a COVID-19 vaccine by visiting vaccinate.virginia.gov or calling 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682). Additional languages are available, and TTY users should call 7-1-1.

Individuals who have been invited to a CVC should keep in mind the following guidelines:

  • Please plan to arrive no earlier than 20 minutes prior to your appointment time. You will not be allowed in early to receive your vaccine.
  • No walk-ins will be accepted at this time. Please pre-register to be contacted for an appointment.
  • Bring a copy of your invitation (email, text, barcode) or other proof of your name when you arrive at the site.

For more information on COVID-19 in Virginia, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/covid-19-vaccine.

2020 GOVERNOR’S EMS AWARD WINNERS ANNOUNCED – EMS Providers and Organizations Recognized for Outstanding Contributions to Virginia’s EMS System

(RICHMOND, Va.) – On Saturday, March 20, the 2020 Governor’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Award winners were announced during a virtual presentation of the Governor’s EMS Awards. These awards, given in Governor Ralph Northam’s name, recognize outstanding EMS providers and organizations from across the Commonwealth for their demonstrated level of excellence and dedication to the EMS system.

“This past year has been particularly challenging, and presented unknown circumstances that have required the adaptation, strength and resilience of Virginia’s EMS providers,” said Gary Brown, director, Virginia Office of EMS. “This year’s award nominees represent the courage and dedication that has been required to respond to the pandemic. I am  honored to commend their heroic commitment to saving lives and thank them for their outstanding contributions to Virginia’s EMS System.”

“Congratulations to all the award winners and my sincere thanks to all the EMS providers in the Commonwealth,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A. “Your efforts, whether on a routine call for chest pain or in response to a multi-vehicle crash requiring heroic lifesaving measures, are appreciated by families everywhere. During this pandemic, many of you have stepped in to help administer vaccines, further evidence of your dedication to your communities. You are truly Virginia’s heroes.”

The 2020 Governor’s EMS Award winners are:

  • The Governor’s EMS Award for Excellence in EMS – Allen Yee, M.D., Chesterfield County Fire and EMS
  • The Governor’s EMS Award for Outstanding Contribution to Leadership in EMS (The Kent J. Weber Trophy) –
    Theresa Kingsley-Varble, Washington County Fire-Rescue and VSP-MedFlight II
  • The Governor’s EMS Award for Physician with Outstanding Contribution to EMS (The Frank M. Yeiser Trophy) – Joseph Ornato, M.D., Richmond Ambulance Authority
  • The Governor’s EMS Award for Nurse with Outstanding Contribution to EMS – Daniel Freeman, R.N., Carilion Clinic
  • The Governor’s EMS Award for Outstanding EMS Prehospital Educator – Daryl Clements, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic Fire and Emergency Services
  • The Governor’s EMS Award for Outstanding EMS Prehospital Provider – Samuel Neglia, Sterling Volunteer Rescue Squad
  • The Governor’s EMS Award for Outstanding Contribution to EMS Health and Safety – Jonathan Smith, Putting a Dent in Mental Health
  • The Governor’s EMS Award for Outstanding Contribution to EMS for Children – Chesapeake Fire Department
  • The Governor’s EMS Award for Outstanding EMS Agency – Navy Region Mid-Atlantic Fire and Emergency Services
  • The Governor’s EMS Award for Outstanding Contribution to EMS Telecommunication – John Korman, Fairfax County Department of Public Safety Communications
  • The Governor’s EMS Award for Outstanding Contribution to EMS Emergency Preparedness and Response (The James A. Nogle, Jr. Trophy) – Stafford County Fire and Rescue Department
  • The Governor’s EMS Award for Innovation Excellence in EMS – Peninsula COVID-19 Operations Center

An additional award is presented at the ceremony to recognize the outstanding contributions to EMS by a high school senior. This is a scholarship award provided by the Virginia Office of EMS in conjunction with the State EMS Advisory Board. This year, two extraordinary high school seniors were selected:

  • The Governor’s EMS Award for Outstanding Contribution to EMS by a High School Senior (The Dr. Carol Gilbert $5,000 Scholarship) –  Emma Skeen, Cleveland Life Saving Crew and William Andrews, Bensley-Bermuda Volunteer Rescue Squad

Federal Retail Pharmacy Partners Expand Vaccines to Virginians 16-64 with High-Risk Medical Conditions and Frontline Essential Workers

RICHMOND, VA – The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announced that Federal Retail Pharmacy partners will expand within Phase 1b to offer vaccines to individuals who are 16-64 with high-risk medical conditions, as well as frontline essential workers, including:

  • Police, Fire, and Hazmat
  • Corrections and homeless shelters
  • Food and Agriculture (including veterinarians)
  • Manufacturing
  • Grocery stores (including farmers’ market food vendors)
  • Public transit (including rideshare drivers)
  • Mail carriers (USPS and private)
  • Officials needed to maintain continuity of government (including judges and public facing judicial workers)
  • Clergy/faith leaders
  • Janitorial/cleaning

The expansion follows the state’s recent announcement that some Virginia communities could move from Phase 1b to Phase 1c, based upon a variety of factors, including vaccine demand decreases despite strong efforts to engage eligible populations, particularly among those who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

There are more than 300 pharmacies currently receiving vaccines within this federal program, which has the ability to expand to over 1,000 pharmacies across Virginia. Pharmacy expansion is based on equitable and fair access, demand, and supply.

Individuals who are interested in getting vaccinated at a local pharmacy may visit  VaccineFinder.org to find eligible pharmacy locations, hours, phone numbers and scheduling links where available.  While many pharmacies have continued to work directly with the health departments to vaccinate vulnerable populations, some pharmacies have online scheduling for vaccine appointments.

VDH urges everyone who lives or works in Virginia to pre-register at vaccinate.virginia.gov or call 877-VAX-IN-VA (TTY users dial 7-1-1).   Additional languages are available.