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2021 ends as COVID-19 surges: Where is Virginia with vaccines, boosters, and testing?

Official counts show unvaccinated cases dwarfing covid infections among the vaccinated, although there is likely underreporting due to at-home testing becoming more prevalent.
Virginia Department of Health
Official counts show unvaccinated cases dwarfing covid infections among the vaccinated, although there is likely underreporting due to at-home testing becoming more prevalent.

Virginia ended 2021 with consecutive record-breaking new case counts and a strain on testing, with Governor Ralph Northam saying Virginians should be concerned but not panicked. 

Friday’s 7-day positivity rate was 21.5%, the highest ever. 

Northam said that PCR tests are available, but state and local health department spokespeople noted a nationwide shortage of testing opportunities and supply chain and manufacturing issues.

“VDH has had to be nimble in our strategy to meet the testing demands while navigating the national manufacturing and supply chain delays,” said Logan Anderson of VDH in an email. “The testing unit has diversified our approach and has secured different options for both PCR and antigen testing throughout the Commonwealth.”

The Richmond area saw long lines at health department testing sites and appointments with limited availability at partner pharmacies. One Chesterfield CVS location canceled all appointments Thursday after it didn't have adequate staff to operate.

The Roanoke City-Alleghany health district distributed at-home test kits Thursday to meet “increased demand.”

At-home testing, where patients swab their nose and get results in 30 minutes or less using over the counter tests, has become a popular option.

But the prevalence of at-home testing means the current case counts are likely an undercount and don’t reflect how much virus is actually circulating.

VDH is encouraging people to report their positive results through their healthcare provider or the COVIDWISE app.

“It's an extra step in the process that the consumer needs to take and we know that that does not always occur,” Anderson wrote.

VDH has sent out over 110,000 kits to public libraries. They recommend calling before heading to pick one up. This week, Richmond’s central library branch ran out of tests before they were able to advertise them on twitter.

Test kits are also available for pick up at some testing and vaccine events. These vary from health district to health district.

Breakthrough infections are only making up a small amount of the new, huge surge in COVID cases. Last week unvaccinated people caught COVID 11 times more than the vaccinated. But over time immunity wanes, so 2 million vaccinated Virginians have opted to get an additional vaccine dose.

6.5 million Virginians are partially vaccinated and 5.7 million are fully vaccinated.

The same people that got vaccinated are seemingly the people getting booster shots. According to Anderson, age, geographic and race & ethnicity booster trends all largely track with other vaccination trends.

Eligibility for a booster starts six months after a final dose of a Pfizer or Moderna shot, or two months after a Johnson and Johnson vaccine. In Virginia booster uptake has gradually increased, but there was less vaccination activity over the holidays.

Northam and the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association both encouraged people to not visit the emergency room unless they have severe symptoms to avoid strains on the healthcare system.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Jahd Khalil is a reporter and producer in Richmond.