VIRGINIA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH PROMOTING SEPTICSMART WEEK, SEPTEMBER 20-26, 2021

(RICHMOND, VA) – Governor Northam and the Virginia Department of Health’s (VDH) Office of Environmental Health Services are promoting SepticSmart Week again this year.  The Governor has issued a proclamation recognizing September 20th to the 26th as Septic Smart Week in the Commonwealth. SepticSmart Week is an annual event focused on educating homeowners and communities on the proper care and maintenance of their septic systems.

“VDH understands how septic systems can be out of sight out of mind for some Virginians.  However, proper use and maintenance of your system is vital to protecting the health of your family, your community, and the environment.  We encourage owners to follow the simple Septic Smart tips year round to protect their investment and their health,” said Lance Gregory, Director, Division of Onsite Sewage and Water Services.

There are approximately 1.1 million households in Virginia served by onsite sewage (septic) systems to treat their wastewater. Septic systems provide a cost-effective, long-term option for treating wastewater, particularly in sparsely populated areas. When properly installed, operated, and maintained, these systems help protect public health, preserve valuable water resources, and maintain a community’s economic vitality.

Here are some helpful tips on how to be SepticSmart:

  • Think at the Sink! What goes down the drain has a big impact on your septic system. Fats, grease, and solids can clog a system’s pipes and drainfield.
  • Don’t Overload the Commode! A toilet is not a trash can. Disposable diapers and wipes, feminine hygiene products, coffee grounds, cigarette butts, and cat litter can damage a septic system.
  • Don’t Strain Your Drain! Use water efficiently and stagger use of water-based appliances. Too much water use at once can overload a system that hasn’t been pumped recently.
  • Shield Your Field! Tree and shrub roots, cars, and livestock can damage your septic drainfield.
  • Keep It Clean! Contamination can occur when a septic system leaks due to improper maintenance. Be sure your drinking water is safe to drink by testing it regularly.
  • Protect It and Inspect It! Regular septic system maintenance can save homeowners thousands of dollars in repairs and protect public health.
  • Pump Your Tank! Ensure your septic tank is pumped at regular intervals as recommended by a professional and/or local permitting authority.

SepticSmart Week 2021 encourages homeowners, wastewater professionals, and state, tribal, and local officials to design and maintain effective systems to safeguard your family’s health, protect the environment, and save money. Be part of the solution by visiting VDH’s Water and Wastewater Services webpage and www.epa.gov/septic for more resources and information.

Statement from Virginia State Vaccination Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula on FDA Advisory Committee Vote on Pfizer-BioNTech Booster Doses

(Richmond, Va.) – The following statement is from state vaccination coordinator Dr. Danny Avula, MD, MPH.

“Today, an advisory committee of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) voted in favor of recommending booster doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to Virginians 65 years and up and those at high risk for severe COVID-19.  This is simply a recommendation at this point, and booster doses will not be available in Virginia until the FDA issues an updated authorization, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issues new guidance. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice is scheduled to meet September 22-23, and we do not expect CDC to release recommendations before late next week at the earliest.

“VDH will continue its planning efforts with pharmacies, providers, hospitals and other partners as well as efforts to establish other vaccination sites to ensure that once the CDC issues guidance, eligible Virginians will be able to access a booster dose.  VDH will provide information about accessing a booster dose on vaccinate.virginia.gov when more guidance is available.

“Those who are unvaccinated remain at the highest risk of severe illness due to COVID-19. Everyone 12 or older who lives or works in Virginia is eligible to be vaccinated. To find free vaccines nearby, 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.”

VDH’s Harmful Algae Bloom Advisories Remain in place for North Anna and Upper Pamunkey Branches of Lake Anna; In Orange, Louisa and Spotsylvania Counties – Public Advised to Avoid Water Contact within these Locations of the Lake

(RICHMOND, Va.) – The North Anna and Upper Pamunkey Branches, including Terry’s Run, of Lake Anna in Orange, Louisa and Spotsylvania counties are continuing to experience a harmful algae bloom (HAB). The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) advises the public to avoid contact with the lake in this area until algae concentrations return to acceptable levels. Some harmful algae, called cyanobacteria, can cause skin rash and gastrointestinal illnesses, such as upset stomach, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. The area to avoid can be seen on an interactive map at the Algal Bloom Surveillance Map. A status report containing the updated advisory areas may be viewed at Lake Anna Status Report 9.17.21.

Samples results from collections on September 9 indicated that at seven locations in the North Anna and Pamunkey Branches, swimming advisories continue to be necessary due to unsafe levels of potential toxin producing cyanobacteria. People and pets are advised to avoid swimming, windsurfing and stand-up paddleboarding, as well as other activities that pose a risk of ingesting water.

The samples collected downstream at the confluence of the two branches, at the Lake Anna State Park beach and at the Route 208 bridge, indicated cyanobacteria densities were at acceptable levels and do not necessitate a swimming advisory. Cyanotoxins were detected at each of these sites, but were well below safe swimming levels.

Follow-up monitoring above Route 208 on the lake is planned (weather permitting) the second week of October and will be the final round of follow-up sampling conducted in 2021 for Lake Anna.

The sections of the lake currently under advisory (no change in advisory extents compared to August):

Pamunkey Branch 

  • From the upper inundated waters of the Pamunkey arm of the lake downstream to the 612 Bridge, includes Terry’s Run.

North Anna Branch 

  • From the upper inundated waters of the North Anna arm of the lake downstream to above the confluence with Pamunkey Branch above Goodwins Point.  Does not include “the Splits”.

Algae blooms can occur when warm water and nutrients combine to make conditions favorable for algae growth. Most algae species are harmless, however, some species may produce irritating compounds or toxins. Avoid discolored water or scums that are green or bluish-green because they are more likely to contain toxins.

To prevent illness, people should:

  • Avoid contact with any area of the lake where water is green or an advisory sign is posted,

WHEN IN DOUBT, STAY OUT!

  • Not allow children or pets to drink from natural bodies of water.
  • Keep children and pets out of the areas experiencing a harmful algae bloom and quickly wash them off with plenty of fresh, clean water after coming into contact with algae scum or bloom water.
  • Seek medical/veterinarian care if you or your animals experience symptoms after swimming in or near an algal bloom.
  • Properly clean fish by removing skin and discarding all internal organs, and cooking fish to the proper temperature to ensure fish fillets are safe to eat.
  • Contact the Virginia Harmful Algal Bloom Hotline at (888) 238-6154 if you suspect you experienced health-related effects following exposure to a bloom.

VDH and the Virginia Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force, which includes the VDH, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and the Old Dominion University Phytoplankton Laboratory, will continue to monitor water quality in the lake. In general, advisories will be lifted following two consecutive test results with acceptable levels for algal cell counts and/or toxin concentration. An advisory may be lifted or maintained at the discretion of the health department. For example, after one test an advisory may be lifted if results are within safe levels for swimming if other information indicates exposure or human health risk is low.

For more information visit www.SwimHealthyVA.com.

Virginia Department of Health Incorporates Vaccination Data from Jurisdictions in Maryland

(RICHMOND, Va.) — Today, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has incorporated vaccination data from jurisdictions in Maryland. Virginians who received vaccinations in Maryland that were not reported through the Virginia Immunization Information System are now included in the locality and statewide dashboards.

The updated data reflects an increase in COVID-19 vaccine first dose rates of 0.33% Alexandria, 0.46% Arlington, and 0.39% Eastern Shore. The fully vaccinated rate increased 0.28% Alexandria, 0.25% Arlington, and 0.91% Eastern Shore. Providing this additional information into the VDH COVID-19 dashboard will present a more accurate picture of the vaccination campaign in the state.

In the coming weeks, VDH is working to incorporate vaccination data from other neighboring jurisdictions such as North Carolina and the District of Columbia. Data from Tennessee was added in August. Due to these data quality efforts, changes to doses and rates may be affected. The updates may also impact the locality listings on VDH COVID-19 dashboards.

Virginia Department of Health Announces Launch of QR Codes to Verify COVID-19 Vaccination Status – QR codes are secure and private for users, easy for businesses

RICHMOND – The Virginia Department of Health today announced the addition of QR codes – a type of barcode that can be scanned with smartphones – to Virginia COVID-19 vaccination records.

QR codes – short for “quick response” – are commonly used in retail, logistics, and other sectors. The technology allows anyone to show proof of vaccination with a digital or printed QR code instead of a paper card, and without the need for an app. As more and more employers and businesses respond to calls by President Biden and Governor Northam to require that employees and customers be vaccinated, QR codes will help improve the consistency and security of vaccination information while protecting individual privacy.

A person vaccinated in Virginia can visit vaccinate.virginia.gov to obtain their free vaccination record with QR code, which can then be saved to a phone gallery, printed on paper, or stored in a compatible account.

QR codes contain the same information as paper records, but in a format that offers greater security and efficiency. Because the QR code is digitally signed by the Virginia Department of Health, it cannot be altered or forged. Information from QR codes is only available if and when the individual chooses to share it. Businesses and employers that choose to verify an individual’s vaccination status can scan QR codes with the free SMART Health Verifier App. Individuals do not need to download an app to use QR codes.

Virginia is now the fifth U.S. state to adopt the SMART Health format for QR codes, empowering individuals with trustworthy and verifiable copies of their vaccination records in digital or paper form using open, interoperable standards. The framework and standards were developed by VCI, a coalition of more than 800 public and private organizations – including The Mayo Clinic, Boston Children’s Hospital, Microsoft, MITRE, and The Commons Project Foundation.

QR codes are available to anyone whose vaccination record includes a working phone number and is in the Virginia Immunization Information System (VIIS). Nearly all doses administered in Virginia are reported to VIIS, including pharmacies, physician offices, health department clinics, federally qualified health centers, and community vaccination centers. Some doses administered outside Virginia to Virginia residents may be in VIIS. Doses administered directly by federal agencies such as the Department of Defense or Department of Veterans Affairs are not reported to VIIS. A person whose record cannot be retrieved automatically may call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users call 7-1-1) for assistance.

With more than 10.2 million doses of vaccine administered so far in Virginia, more than 58% of the population is fully vaccinated. Everyone 12 or older is eligible to be vaccinated now. To find free vaccines nearby, 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.

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/.

Statement from State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) applauds President Biden’s initiatives, announced September 9, to meet the growing challenge of the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant, which is now powering a surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the United States and in Virginia. With the U.S. averaging close to 150,000 cases and about 1,500 deaths per day, primarily attributable to the Delta variant, it is imperative we do all we can to beat back this surge.

Many Virginia employers from across the economic spectrum have already instituted one of the planks of the president’s response to the Delta surge: vaccination requirements for their employees. Leading the way has been the Commonwealth of Virginia following Governor Ralph Northam’s directive for all 120,000 state employees to be vaccinated or undergo regular testing for infection. The governor has called on local governments and other governmental entities to follow the Commonwealth’s lead, emphasizing that vaccination is the only sure way out of this pandemic and the only sure way to return to pre-pandemic normality. President Biden’s directive to employers with 100 or more employees to require their employees to be vaccinated will build more momentum for COVID-19 vaccination in the private sector. VDH echoes that call.

VDH has also taken the following steps in the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 response:

  • Greatly expanded testing and screening opportunities for the general public, scheduling more than 170 Community Testing Events across the state in the month of September. Virginians in need of COVID-19 testing may call (877) VAX-IN-VA or (877) 829-4682, Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., for information about testing opportunities near them.
  • Developed the Virginia School Screening Testing for Assurance (ViSSTA) program in conjunction with the Virginia Department of Education to provide free testing to K-12 schools, public and private, in the Commonwealth in an effort to ensure the learning environment is as safe as possible for students, teachers and staff. With pilot programs in place now, we anticipate the full program to go live later in October.
  • Currently, more than 30 hospitals and medical centers throughout the Commonwealth have obtained monoclonal antibodies from the federal government for COVID-19 use.  Over the last two months, VDH has launched a statewide educational and awareness campaign about monoclonal antibodies directed to physicians and healthcare providers. This effort will continue, and information about these medications are being developed for distribution to the public.

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

VDH Expanding Testing Across the Commonwealth – Testing expanded to meet community needs

(RICHMOND, Va.) – In response to an increasing number of individuals seeking testing, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) is expanding testing events across the Commonwealth. The action comes as cases of COVID-19 are rising, due to the Delta variant, a more contagious variant than the others currently circulating throughout the state.

“While our local health departments, pharmacies and hospitals are working to keep up with the demand for testing, we are providing additional testing locations to accommodate our residents and to help reserve our hospital emergency rooms and rescue squads for medical emergencies,” said Dr. Laurie Forlano, DO, MPH, deputy director, Office of Epidemiology.

VDH has added more than 170 Community Testing Events (CTE) in September throughout the Commonwealth. Additional CTEs will be added based on community need and to reduce increasing stress on healthcare providers.  For a list of all testing locations, visit the VDH website.

VDH recommends that the following people be tested for COVID-19·

  • People with symptoms or signs of COVID-19 regardless of vaccination status.
  • Most people who have had close contact with someone known or suspected to have COVID-19

o   Fully vaccinated people should be tested 3-5 days following a known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, even if you don’t have symptoms.

o   People who are not fully vaccinated should be tested immediately after an exposure and again at 5-7 days following exposure if the first test is negative

o   People who tested positive for COVID-19 within the past 3 months and recovered, do not need to get tested after exposure as long as they do not have symptoms.

  • People who participate in activities that are higher risk for COVID-19 exposure (e.g., travel, attending large events where social distancing is not possible, or being in crowded indoor settings)
  • People who have been referred for COVID-19 testing by their healthcare provider or the state/local health department.
  • People who plan to travel or who have recently returned from travel with some exceptions for fully vaccinated people
  • People who are not fully vaccinated and who plan to visit people at high risk of developing severe COVID-19

While vaccination is the most effective strategy to protect individuals, their family and their community, testing remains an important tool to help identify individuals with illness and monitor trends in COVID-19 infection.

For more information about COVID-19 testing call (877) 829-4682, 8 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday-Saturday.

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.


About the Virginia Department of Health
The Virginia Department of Health works to protect, promote and improve the health of all people in Virginia. Learn more about VDH at www.vdh.virginia.gov.

About the Public Health Accreditation Board

The Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) was created to serve as the national public health accrediting body and is jointly funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The development of national public health department accreditation has involved, and is supported by, public health leaders and practitioners from the national, state, local, Tribal, and territorial levels. Learn more about PHAB and accreditation at www.phaboard.org, and by signing up for the PHAB e-newsletter.

 

Virginia Department of Health Urges Caution in Severe Wet Weather

(Richmond, Va.)— The remnants of Tropical Storm Ida are affecting 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 areas along the coast. The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) reminds people to take precautions to be prepared for dealing with 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 with private wells or that treat wastewater using septic systems that were submerged by flood waters – including campgrounds, restaurants, summer camps or daycares – should also take extra precautions. For more information and safety tips regarding private wells and septic systems visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/environmental-health/responding-to-an-emergency-affecting-your-private-well/. To find the location of local sewer treatment facilities, contact your local public works department.

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