What a difference a year makes. In the early days of April 2020, Virginians still were struggling to grasp the scope of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Just 3,333 positive tests had been recorded as of the 7th of that month, with 563 hospitalizations and 63 deaths. Not even 30,000 people in the commonwealth had been tested.
Fast forward to now: Last week, Virginia hit 4 million COVID-19 vaccines administered, and 100,000 of those shots have been given at Richmond Raceway in Henrico County. The progress also has accelerated in recent days. According to a Monday tweet from Gov. Ralph Northam, more than 450,000 doses were given during the first five days of April. By Tuesday, the commonwealth’s seven-day average exceeded 80,000 doses, per the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) dashboard.
In the fight against COVID-19, every second — and shot — counts. We’re in a race against time, and we can’t let any emerging COVID-19 variants upend the incredible work that has been done to develop and deliver these lifesaving vaccines.
To understand the importance of getting vaccinated, look no further than how getting your shot opens doors to safely resume some elements of prepandemic life. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, a vaccine is the ticket back to normalcy in several ways.
At two weeks after your Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or your second dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, you fully are vaccinated. That means you can see another fully vaccinated family member without masks or social distancing. Same goes for vaccinated friends visiting unvaccinated friends in a single household who are at low risk for severe disease.
Vaccinated workers need not quarantine or get a test if they have a known exposure to COVID-19 and remain asymptomatic. And vaccinated travelers can take trips around the U.S. without testing before or after flights, or self-quarantining upon returning home.
But closely read the CDC guidelines, and getting vaccinated is about more than embracing opportunities to gather. This remains a global public health crisis and, with a majority of people still yet to receive their shots, the coronavirus continues to spread and to mutate.
Locally, VDH data show roughly 2 in 3 Virginians still have yet to get vaccinated. Additionally, according to Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association figures, 1,088 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 or with a pending test result as of Tuesday morning. Within that group, 249 were in an intensive care unit and 137 were on a ventilator.
“We should be on more of a downward trend, but the reality with these variants is that we are going to continue to see disease right now,” Dr. Danny Avula, the state’s vaccine coordinator, said in a recent Times-Dispatch news report.
On Monday, a Bloomberg report explained how scientists are racing to keep up with those “new mutations” that “are popping up in increasingly complicated patterns.” That paralleled area concerns from University of Virginia researchers, who see the more contagious United Kingdom variant emerging as the commonwealth’s predominant strain, the RTD report added.
Until more testing is done, there also is no way to know whether current vaccines will keep us protected against future variants, or whether circumstances will require booster shots. That’s why no matter where you are in this pandemic — vaccinated or unvaccinated — masks and social distancing still matter when in public, or especially when gathering with unvaccinated people who are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19.