Mon, October 25, 2021

in-focus

D.C., Virginia change distribution as residents scramble to find doses


WASHINGTON - Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Wednesday announced a flurry of coronavirus vaccine distribution and data reporting changes in the state, which has ranked among the worst-performing for getting doses out, while the District of Columbia streamlined its registration system for seniors trying to book appointments.

Responding to criticism that Virginia has not moved fast enough in identifying hundreds of thousands of seemingly unused doses, the Democratic governor urged hospitals not to hold on to second doses and advised health districts how to more fairly distribute the vaccine among eligible populations.

The state also launched a new vaccine reporting website, changed the time it reports its data to better line up with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and will strengthen its efforts to have providers ask a person's race and ethnicity at the time of vaccination.

"Vaccines are the light at the end of this long and dark tunnel, and they are a great reason for hope and optimism," Northam said at a news conference. "I also want to acknowledge that everyone is out of time and patience."

Northam and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, said separately Wednesday they hoped recent announcements by the Biden administration to increase supply by 16% for the next three weeks and, later, by 50% would ease the imbalance between supply and demand.

The Virginia Department of Health soon will create a statewide system for residents to register for vaccine appointments, Northam said. Residents now must navigate a hodgepodge of local health district websites and phone numbers to secure a slot.

"I know this has been a source of great frustration for a lot of Virginians," he said. "I take this seriously because I know that people just want answers. Even if the answer is they can't get an appointment for a month or two, it's important that everyone knows where to go and how to sign up."

Northam said Virginia and other states expanded eligibility weeks ago based on a pledge by the Trump administration that more doses were on the way. When the doses never materialized, he said providers who worried about supply shortages held on to doses.

"That lead to a situation where there's too much supply in some places and not enough in other places," he said.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, left, Prince George

Virginia officials expect the state's weekly allotment to increase from 105,000 to 120,000.

According to CDC tracking, Virginia has ranked last or almost last recently for its vaccine administration as a proportion of total doses delivered, but Northam said the changes helped the state move up with an average of 26,000 daily shots. He has set a goal of administering 50,000 daily shots.

Northam on Wednesday also extended until Feb. 28 his restrictions on gatherings of more than 10 people and a ban on alcohol service after 10 p.m. Those were set to expire at the end of this month.

In D.C., officials on Wednesday also tweaked plans to vaccinate seniors, people with high-risk conditions, teachers and other essential workers as residents scramble to find scarce doses of the vaccine.

In response to complaints from frustrated seniors and D.C. lawmakers, the city announced technical changes to its online process for scheduling vaccine appointments. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt told the D.C. Council that more significant changes to the registration system are on the way.

The greater Washington region has reported 870,977 known cases of the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, including 7,331 new coronavirus infections Wednesday, while 14,119 people have died of covid-19, the illness that can be caused by the virus.

As the pandemic's economic harm continues, Maryland senators pitched adding $520 million in aid to Hogan's proposed $1 billion state stimulus package.

The extra money would go to nearly three dozen groups or organizations, ranging from food banks and restaurants to people with disabilities, volunteer firefighters, the unemployed and people behind on utility bills.

Hogan has proposed sending checks of up to $750 to the state's poorest families. The Maryland Senate could vote on the expanded proposal as soon as next week. Meanwhile, Maryland's seven-day average case rate declined 37% over the past 15 days, from a pandemic high of 3,228 cases on Jan. 12 to 2,029 on Wednesday.

Hogan said Maryland has a six-day supply of vaccines because vaccinations are outpacing federal allocations.

"We're caught up and about to run out of vaccine," Hogan said outside a Giant pharmacy vaccination clinic in Prince George's County.

Demand for the doses has overwhelmed appointment systems. The registration site for Giant pharmacies crashed within minutes of going online, said Samir Balile, manager of clinical programs for 153 Giant pharmacies in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

Giant is distributing about 5,500 doses in the region each week, and appointments for them were gone "within minutes," Balile said.

In Richmond, Mayor Levar Stoney, a Democrat, said Wednesday that he had tested positive for the coronavirus after the onset of mild symptoms two days earlier. He is working from home, and people he came into contact with are quarantining and taking necessary precautions, according to his office.

The mayor of Virginia's capital city said more than 12,000 Richmonders have been infected by the virus.

"As my personal experience should tell you, while there is reason to be hopeful due to the distribution of the vaccine, this pandemic is still far from over and must be taken seriously," Stoney said.

At least 912,000 first doses of the vaccine have been administered in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

As of Wednesday, Maryland had administered 363,282 first doses while distributing 852,625 total doses. In Virginia as of Tuesday, 497,581 first doses had been administered of the 1.1 million the state has distributed.

As of Saturday, D.C. had administered 51,421 of the 68,750 doses it has received.

CVS and Walgreens, which have federal contracts to vaccinate residents and staffers at nursing homes, are nearly finished giving first doses at clinics in residential facilities in the region.

Advocates are pushing health officials in Maryland to come up with a vaccination plan for seniors in independent-living facilities, who were not included in the federal vaccination program.

"Independent living has fallen through the cracks," said Joseph DeMattos, president of the Health Facilities Association of Maryland.

Management at Charles E. Smith Life Communities in Rockville, which includes the state's largest nursing home, in addition to assisted living and independent-living facilities, has been pushing state and county officials for an on-site vaccination clinic for about 500 seniors in independent living.

Few of those seniors have been able to secure appointments, said Brenda Rice, vice president of operations at Charles E. Smith Life Communities. Meanwhile, 91% of those in its nursing home have received their second dose of the vaccine, and vaccinations in assisted living are beginning this week.

Hogan said the state is working with Giant pharmacies to inoculate seniors in independent-living communities, but details on the timing were still underway.

Elsewhere in Maryland, Anne Arundel County is lifting restrictions on restaurants, stores and churches, allowing them to operate at 50% capacity. Movie theaters, which had been closed, will open at 25%. The new policies take effect Friday.

Published : January 28, 2021

By : The Washington Post · Jenna Portnoy, Julie Zauzmer, Erin Cox, Rachel Chason