Sep. 28—RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia Governor Ralph Northam blamed the unvaccinated Monday for the state's ongoing surge in new COVID-19 cases, arguing that the unvaccinated are filling up state hospitals and keeping others who are vaccinated from receiving the medical care they may need.
"The data shows nearly everyone who is getting COVID is unvaccinated," Northam, who spoke during a virtual pandemic briefing, said. "I want to repeat that. Nearly everyone who is getting COVID is unvaccinated."
Northam said 1,997 new virus cases were reported Monday in Virginia, a sharp increase from earlier this summer when virus numbers in the Commonwealth were significantly lower. He said the state is now averaging nearly a thousand new virus cases a day.
Northam, a Democrat, placed the blame for the Delta-variant fueled surge squarely on the unvaccinated.
"To those people who chose not to get the vaccine, I want to give you two facts," Northam said. "One, these vaccines are incredibly safe and effective. They are based on years of research. We know there have been few, fewer side effects. Two, by choosing not to get vaccinated, you are absolutely hurting other people. Unvaccinated people are the ones filling up our hospitals right now, making it difficult for everyone else to get the hospital care they need. You are costing everyone a lot of money."
Despite using highly critical and at times divisive language to describe the unvaccinated, Northam also conceded Monday that he didn't "know what else to say to people who selflessly refuse to get the shot."
"I had COVID back before the vaccines existed," Northam said. "Believe me you don't want to get it. My case was back in September, a year later I still can't smell anything or taste anything. And now the COVID variant is a lot worse than the one I had."
Northam said health care workers in the state are losing their patience with the unvaccinated, and are tired.
"They are exhausted," Northam said. "They are tired of seeing people die. They need our help."
Despite his criticism of the unvaccinated, Northam said statistics show that 80 percent of all adults in Virginia have received at least one shot, and that 60 percent of the state's population is now fully vaccinated."
Northam also used Monday's virtual pandemic briefing to discuss the roll-out of booster shots for those individuals who have received the Pfizer vaccine and are age 65 or older, have a preexisting medical condition and or work in high-risk environments.
Beginning this week, the Cumberland Plateau Health District — which includes Tazewell, Buchanan, Russell and Dickenson counties — will offer COVID-19 booster doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to certain eligible populations in line with the updated guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Virginia Department of Health announced Monday. This includes people 65 years and older and residents in long-term care settings; people aged 50 to 64 years with underlying medical conditions; people aged 18 to 49 years with underlying medical conditions and people aged 18 to 64 years who are at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission because of their occupational or institutional setting. In each instance, the booster shot can only be administered if it has been at least six months since the individual received their last Pfizer shot.
Northam said the state of Virginia also will be ready to start putting shots in the arms of children under the age of 12 once federal approval is received.
"We need you to be patient a little longer," Northam said of those parents who want their small children to have the shot. "Kids under age 12 are not yet eligible to get the shots."
Northam said the state has been "preparing for a long time" to administer shots to children under age 12, and will be ready to roll once the federal approval is granted.
Northam said about 420,000 students in the state above age 12 have already been vaccinated. He also pointed to two CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) studies that advocate for mask usage in schools.
"The science is clear," Northam said. "Masks in school help protect our children, and vaccines protect our children too."
Northam said his goal is to get 100 percent of all children vaccinated, although he conceded that achieving a 75 to 80 percent vaccination rate among children was a more realistic number.
Northam issued a mandate earlier this summer requiring all state employees to take the vaccine.
He said about 75 percent to 80 percent of those state employees are now fully vaccinated. Those who aren't vaccinated must commit to weekly testing and other restrictions. Northam estimated that about 60 percent of the Virginia State Police are currently fully vaccinated in response to media questions about vaccination levels within the state police ranks.
"As you know individuals who have opted not to get vaccinated must show proof once a week of a negative test," Northam said. "We are going to encourage everyone to get vaccinated."
Another reporter asked Northam about mandating the vaccine for children, and he suggested that state lawmakers should instead consider such a mandate.
"As far as a mandate for children, we have 140 legislators," Northam said. "I think we need a lot of other people to buy into that concept."
Northam, who will be leaving office in January, then added that all options are still on the table.
— Contact Charles Owens at email@example.com. Follow him @BDTOwens