Nearly one third of children ages 5 to 11 in the Blue Ridge Health District have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccination.
Vaccinating the younger children is a key step to ending the pandemic, officials have said. Still, COVID-19 cases in the district have started to creep up in recent weeks after daily increases slowed in October. Even though Thanksgiving will likely feel much more normal for vaccinated people, BRHD is urging people to be cautious, though precautions vary depending on the vaccination status of people in the gathering.
That means wearing masks while inside at public spaces such as grocery stores and when serving food. If people in the group are not vaccinated, masks should be worn inside homes as well, BRHD spokesman Kathryn Goodman said. Outdoors also is safer for Thanksgiving dinner, if weather permits.
Additionally, people who are sick should be encouraged to not attend. Other measures such as washing one’s hands should still be adhered to.
The health district recommends that anyone 5 years and older get vaccinated. Goodman said there’s still time before Thanksgiving to get a shot and have some protection.
“Now that we’re vaccinated, it certainly gives us a much needed extra layer of protection, and it’s great,” she said.
Another safety measure could be COVID-19 testing. Goodman said unvaccinated people should take a COVID-19 test before and after any travel. Vaccinated people should monitor themselves from any COVID-19 symptoms after any holiday-related travel.
Goodman said communication will be important as far as expectations for guests and comfort level around COVID-19 safety.
This month, the health district has reported 1,030 new cases and is on track to have the lowest number of cases since July. New hospitalizations and deaths also have declined from October, with 22 and 36 reported this month, respectively. Last year, cases surged to all-time highs, with 3,242 new cases in January, following the winter holidays.
Younger children still need a second dose of the vaccine and will be considered fully vaccinated two weeks after that shot.
So far, Charlottesville and Albemarle County lead the health district in the percentage of children who have rolled up their sleeves to get a shot. As of Tuesday, 41% of children in the 5 to 11 age range have received a first dose, far surpassing the state average of 19.2%.
The health district has held drive-through vaccination clinics at schools and in neighborhoods, administering 1,878 doses to kids. Pediatricians also have hosted large clinics to vaccinate children.
Shots for this age group started Nov. 6 following vaccine approval by the FDA. Second doses can start as early as this weekend.
Among 5- to 11-year-olds, 18.2% have received a first dose in Fluvanna, 13.9% have done so in Greene County, 13.7% have in Nelson County and 9.2% have in Louisa County.
“A lot of our focus, come December, is really going to be reaching out to the surrounding counties, getting out to local neighborhoods, talking to community leaders, and key partners in the surrounding counties to help get folks out there vaccinated,” Goodman said. “... We’re going to be reaching out to different churches, neighborhoods, community centers, and to see where we can meet people where they already are to get them vaccinated.”
The health district has tried to make vaccinations for the younger children more fun with stickers and lollipops. A Kona Ice truck typically makes an appearance at the larger clinics.
“It’s a big deal for them to get vaccinated,” Goodman said. “They’re part of history and helping to end the pandemic. So we certainly want to acknowledge that when they’re getting vaccinated while also trying to get folks through as quickly as possible.”
To make the process easier for families, the health district opted for a drive-thru format for the shots, so children don’t have to get out of the car.
“Some children feel better going through a drive-thru clinic than actually having to walk inside of a doctor’s office,” Goodman said. “It’s a different feeling.”
So far, BRHD have used mostly school-based clinics for vaccinations alongside going into neighborhoods in Charlottesville. Goodman said those have been successful and BRHD will use that model as they head out more into the surrounding counties.
This 5-to-11 wave is the last big phase of the COVID vaccination campaign for the health district, which began December 2020. Meanwhile, vaccinations for adults continue along with boosters.
About 63.6% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated. and 18.1% have received a booster shot.
The Virginia Department of Health opened up a community vaccination center last month inside the former Big Lots at Seminole Square to help with vaccinating the younger children and providing boosters.
Goodman said that the center has been doing great with a 3% no-show rate for appointments. The facility has more than enough capacity to handle walk-ins.
To make an appointment, go to vase.vdh.virginia.gov.