January 27, 2021: Governor Northam responds to frustration over vaccination progress; Shining a light on the Pantops Overlook Hotel
On today’s show:
A quick look at another new hotel proposed for Pantops
Albemarle seeking to install five historic markers this year
Coverage of the January 27, 2021 briefing by Governor Ralph Northam
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Faced with mounting criticism over Virginia’s rate of vaccination, Governor Ralph Northam took to the podium this afternoon to address what his administration plans to do to speed up delivery of doses.
“First of all I want all of you to know that I understand your frustration,” Northam said. “I know you’re out of patience and I am as well.”
The first doses of the Pfizer vaccine became available in the United States in mid-December, followed soon after by the Moderna vaccine.
“We told you then that the first shots would go to the people who are most vulnerable,” Northam said. “Health care workers and people living in long-term care. We estimated that would be about 500,000 people. Today about a month later, more than 520,000 shots have been given in our Commonwealth.
Northam said that means more people have been vaccinated than diagnosed with COVID in the past year. Today that number hit 488,553 according to data from the Virginia Department of Health.
The federal government is the entity that contracted with pharmaceutical companies to manufacture the vaccines. Northam said the national government has been distributing doses to states. The presidential transition has been a factor leading to public confusion.
“Fifteen days ago, the outgoing federal Secretary of Health told states to open up eligibility to everyone 65 and over,” Northam said. “[They said] ‘we’ll send more doses. If you don’t expand eligibility, we’ll reduce your supply.’ Then two days later, states learned that there were no more doses. That made a confusing situation even more confusing across the entire country.”
Northam said he has been in touch with the Biden administration including a call yesterday with all of the nation’s governors.
“I also heard something that I have not heard since the pandemic began and that is a commitment at the national level to work together, find solutions, and get this moving so we can all get back to our lives,” Northam said.
Earlier in the day, the White House COVID Response team held a briefing on their efforts. Andy Slavitt is Acting Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
“We’ve been hitting our target of an average of 1 million vaccinations per day, necessary to meet the president’s early commitment to administer 100 million shots in 100 days,” Slavitt said.
But back to Virginia.
Northam said all states will immediately receive a 16 percent increase in supply. He also reported on a briefing from General Gustave Perna, the person in charge of Operation Warp Speed.
“We asked how can we be confident that we will receive these additional doses in the weeks ahead,” Northam said. “He told us that after more than a month of working, the drug manufacturers have hit a stable, regular sustainable cadence of production and that is good news.”
The national goal is now to have vaccinations available to everyone who wants one by the end of the summer. Today, the VDH reported the seven-day average for vaccinations is 26,010. That’s halfway to the goal of 50,000 a day.
Northam invited representatives of CVS and Walgreens, the two companies that are working with the federal government to vaccinate people who live and work in long term care facilities. James Satterfield is a regional healthcare director at Walgreens.
“We’ve completed 92 skilled nursing facilities and are in the process of pulling forward and completing our assisted living facilities as well,” Satterfield said. “Currently we’ve given over 18,500 shots to the most vulnerable in those long term care facilities and look forward to completing those doses.
Dick Dakessian is a vice president at CVS Health.
“As far as where we’re at today for CVS, our first round of COVID vaccination doses, we’ve gone to 195 skilled nursing facilities that we were dedicated to vaccinating and have completed those,” Dakessian said. “Right now we’re about halfway through those as well and plan to complete those, the second doses, by February 8. Today we have had 43,000 doses administered within skilled nursing facilities.”
Northam said he is ordering hospitals to not hold on to any additional vaccine and to get doses in arms as soon as possible.
“We’re also working with hospitals and local health districts to make sure they are not holding on to too much supply of second doses, especially if they won’t need it for several weeks,” Northam said. “By shifting inventory around, we’re going to be able to increase the number of shots this week by about 20 percent. That’s about 40,000 more shots by this Sunday on top of the 175,000 that were already planned.”
Dr. Mike McDermott is the CEO of Mary Washington Health Care in the Fredericksburg area, as well as the past president of the Virginia Hospital and Health Care Association.
“Overall, Virginia hospitals have administered more than 318,000 vaccine doses since mid-December,” McDermott said. “To give you an example of how fast vaccination capacity is scaling within our hospitals, Virginia hospitals have increased vaccinations by 35 percent in the last week.”
McDermott said Operation Warp Speed was able to get vaccines manufactured, but he said there was not enough logistical work to get what he said was the “last twelve inches” of getting shots in arms. He also said the previous federal administration was not transparent in their operations.
Vaccine supplies are still expected to be limited for some time. Northam said the Virginia Department of Health would issue more guidance about who is eligible.
“Here is how to allocate your supply,” Northam said. “Half of available doses should go for people age 65 and older,” Northam said. “The other half should be used for frontline essential workers and people who are at increased risk for severe illness as the CDC identifies.”
Northam also unveiled an updated VDH dashboard for vaccines that has more details on where doses are going. This dashboard also has more demographic information to ensure that doses are being distributed equitably. Many initial shots were recorded without identifying the race of the recipient.
“On Monday, Health Commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver wrote to every clinician in Virginian and told them to collect this information, it matters for transparency,” Northam said. He added he will endorse legislation in the General Assembly to require this information.
Right now, signing up for vaccines is handled by individual health districts. Northam said that system has been fragmented, so he has directed the Virginia Department of Health to create a statewide system.
“That is not ready today but I expect it to be ready soon,” Northam said. “I know this has been a source of great frustration for a lot of Virginians. I hear you and we’re getting this fixed.”
Northam has also amended Executive Order 72 continuing COVID-19 restrictions until at least February 28.
Before we move on to the rest of the show, let’s hear more from Andy Slavitt.
“Now as you heard from the president this week, he is pushing us to view 1 million a day as the floor, not the ceiling,” Slavitt said. “To that end, we are releasing more supply, activating [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] and deploying many more personnel. In fact, just this week, FEMA announced they had obligated $1 billion to support state vaccination sites.”
Slavett said there are two limiting factors to distributing hundreds of millions of vaccines. First is getting the supply, and the second is to distribute them quickly and efficiently.
“We are taking action to increase supply and increase capacity but even so it will be months before everyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get one,” Slavett said.
Until then, perhaps its best to follow the advice of our long-running Patreon supporter who wants to say:
"We keep each other safe. Wear a mask, wash your hands, and keep your distance."
Last week, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors was presented with the annual report of the county’s Office of Equity and Inclusion (OEI). One of the activities reported is a partnership with the Albemarle Historic Preservation Committee to install more highway markers. Liz Russell is a member of the committee.
“The challenge and sort of task presented by the Board of Supervisors and administered under OEI under the Community Remembrance project is to have five markers installed and we’d like to have them by the end of this year, five markers to better reflect the stories of women and people of color in the county,” Russell said.
Two markers are close to being installed. One is for the Albemarle Training School and one is for Virginia L. Murray, the first Black woman to be supervise education in the county. The Albemarle Training School was the precursor to Jackson P. Burley High School. The committee needs to select three more topics for markers.
Later that evening, the Pantops Community Advisory Committee learned more about a proposal to build a four-story hotel next to the Rivanna Ridge Shopping Center. Andy Reitelbach is the lead reviewer for the 125-room Pantops Overlook Hotel, which requires an amendment to the existing zoning.
“Sometimes the zoning that designates what can be developed by-right and the future land uses identified in the master plan do not always line up,” Reitelbach said. “That is way a rezoning may have to come in.”
In this case, the zoning states this land should be for office use and that a tree conservation area should be on the property. The Pantops Master Plan calls for most of the land to be community mixed-use and a small portion part of it be parks and recreation. Access would be right-in, right-out onto U.S. 250. One CAC member asked what the business viability would be for another hotel.
“In this immediate area we have going up very soon if not already finished and operating, a Holiday Inn Express, a Hilton Garden Inn, a Comfort Inn and on the plans a Hampton Inn,” said Sara Robinson. “What justification did the owners that we needed another hotel?”
Doug Ellis is with WS4 LLC, the company that owns the property.
“We see Albemarle County as a great market for a well-developed and designed hotel that meets a different need than those what you listed off but we’re very aware that they are in the general area as well and hope to develop a product that is very different from those,” Ellis said.
The new hotel would be all suites and would offer extended stays. The same company owns an adjacent parcel under the company Happy Boxes Pantops LLC. Ellis said there are no plans to develop that land. There is no date yet for public hearings at the Planning Commission or the Board of Supervisors.