What new COVID-19 updates could mean for Virginians this summer

Students play spikeball in Monroe Park as the sun sets on April 27. Photo by Kaitlyn Fulmore

Natalie Barr, Contributing Writer

Fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks outdoors, except in some crowded venues, according to a release from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on April 27.

On the state level, Gov. Ralph Northam announced in an April 22 press release that Virginians will see more relaxed COVID-19 restrictions beginning May 15.

“I am optimistic that we will be able to take more steps in June,” Northam said in a COVID-19 update video posted to his YouTube channel.

Virginia’s new guidelines will allow indoor gatherings of 100 people and outdoor gatherings of 250 people, according to Northam’s release. Indoor entertainment venues will be permitted to increase capacity to 1,000 people, and attendees at outdoor venues will not be limited.

Indoor recreational sporting events can operate at 250 spectators and 1,000 spectators for outdoor sporting events. Restaurants will be able to serve alcohol after midnight and will not be forced to close between midnight and 5:00 a.m. as previously enforced.

Cat Long, a spokesperson for Richmond and Henrico Health Districts, said the districts are in agreement with updated CDC masking guidelines. If social distancing cannot be maintained at outdoor events, such as a sporting event or outdoor festival, a mask should be worn, Long said. 

As Virginia rolled out the vaccination process, not everyone was eligible to receive the shot. Some in different age and risk groups were eligible before others, Long said.

All Virginians, 16 years and older, are now eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. As of April 28, Long said 43.5% of Virginia’s population has been vaccinated with at least one dose, and 29.4% of the population has been fully vaccinated.

“Every adult will have had the opportunity to get the vaccine by the end of May,” Long said. “It’s a question of whether or not everyone chooses to get the vaccine.”

Several challenges have impacted the vaccine rollout in Virginia, including a national shortage of vaccine supply early on, but the distribution process is growing easier as more vaccines become available, Long said. Vaccine hesitancy is a challenge Virginia is still facing as some are afraid to receive a vaccine or unsure how to gain access to vaccine appointments and locations, Long said.

As of February, more than half of adults in the U.S. said they planned on getting the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Pew Research Center. Men are more likely to want to receive the vaccine than women, and Democrats are more likely to get vaccinated than Republicans. 

People sit on the rocks at Belle Isle in Richmond, located two miles from campus. Photo by Jay Stonefield

Vaccine access for children ages 12-15 remains a challenge, according to Long. Trials by the Food and Drug Administration are currently underway on children aged 12-15, and once the vaccine is approved, more Virginians will be vaccinated, Long said. 

“Seventy-five percent of Virginia’s population is the loose goal to achieve herd immunity,” Long said. “It is hard to know an exact date, but with more people being vaccinated, it will help.”

VDH created a dashboard to inform residents on the COVID-19 variants identified in Virginia. U.K. variant B.1.17, South Africa variant B.1.351, Brazil variant P.1, and two California variants, B.1.427 and B.1.429, have all been found in Virginia. 

Evidence shows COVID-19 vaccines offer varying levels of protection against the variants, but more research needs to be done, Long stated in an email. There is a possibility for a booster vaccine to provide protection against variants, according to Long.

“Vaccines are the best protection we have available, and the best tool for ending the pandemic,” Long stated.

As the semester comes to a close, exiting campus will look different than the traditional move out, said Carolyn Conlon, VCU’s director of communications, in an email. Students can check out of dorms anytime before their housing contract ends, Conlon stated. 

Students requiring assistance with moving out can sign up for a two-hour time slot and a maximum of two guests to assist them. All residents and guests will be expected to follow COVID-19 safety measures, such as mask wearing and social distancing, Conlon stated. 

More than 2,200 single or first doses of COVID-19 vaccinations were provided to students, Conlon stated. VCU is currently performing non-mandatory exit testing for students leaving campus, but the university encourages all students to participate. 

Students interested in getting tested for COVID-19 before leaving campus can sign up on VCU’s One VCU: Better Together website. Entry testing for fall 2021 remains undecided, she stated. 

“We are still in the early stages of understanding vaccination rates among all students, which will inform decisions for testing residential students this fall,” Conlon stated.

Adebayo Ogungbade, a senior interdisciplinary studies student, is relieved his COVID-19 vaccinations are completed. Even though Ogungbade is vaccinated and restrictions are being lifted in Virginia, he has no plan to change his COVID-19 habits of hand washing, mask wearing and social distancing. Ogungbade says he wants to wait for COVID-19 cases to go down across the country before giving up his mask and hand sanitizer.   

“I’m not sure that I’m ready to fully let myself get comfortable like I was before,” Ogungbade said.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was paused by the FDA on April 13, when six cases of rare blood clots were found in women after receiving the vaccine. VCU students who originally signed up to receive the vaccine during the FDA pause were able to receive a vaccine from a different manufacturer and asked to schedule a second dose appointment, Conlon stated. The FDA lifted the pause for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on April 23. 

Students and employees wishing to receive additional information about the COVID-19 vaccine can visit the vaccine section of VCU’s website, Conlon stated.

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