RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- Christmas decor arrived at the Executive Mansion on Monday as another new COVID-19 variant looms over the holiday season and Gov. Ralph Northam’s last full month in office.
When asked about Virginia’s response to the Omicron variant, Northam said he has no immediate plans to declare a new ‘State of Emergency’ or reinstate coronavirus restrictions.
“All options are on the table but right now we’re not doing anything differently,” Northam said. “We shouldn’t panic at this stage but we should certainly pay close attention.”
Those comments come after New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) declared a State of Emergency in anticipation of the arrival of the Omicron variant, which was initially detected in southern Africa. The order authorizes the suspension of non-urgent procedures if necessary to open up hospital capacity.
It’s still unclear how easily the Omicron variant spreads, whether it causes more severe disease and to what degree existing vaccines will provide protection.
Northam said he has no plans to update state-level vaccinations requirements as some disagreement emerges on how to define “fully vaccinated.“ At least two governors have asserted that boosters should be included in that definition now that all adults are eligible six months after the second shot of Pfizer or Moderna. Those who got Johnson & Johnson are eligible for boosters two months after their first vaccine.
As the level of community transmission in Virginia remains high from the Delta variant, Northam said Omicron should serve as another reminder for people to roll up their sleeves.
“This is a wake-up call. If you have not been vaccinated, if you haven’t received your booster, this is the time to do it,” Northam said.
As of Monday evening, there were no known cases of the Omicron variant in the United States or Virginia. In a statement, the Virginia Department of Health said that is expected to change soon. The agency will continue to partner with the Department of General Services’ Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS) to screen viral samples for the presence of new variants.
“In Virginia, we are fortunate to have a robust genetic sequencing program to determine quickly whether variants of concern are circulating in our communities,” said DCLS Director Dr. Denise Toney, Ph.D. (HCLD) in a statement. “Our network of laboratories throughout the Commonwealth is committed to sequencing as many positive samples as possible.”
“Once again, we see how unpredictable viruses can be. Viruses change and mutate all the time, and as we learn more about this new variant, we need to continue taking precautions to reduce infections,” added State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A. “Please continue to do those things that we know can help reduce virus transmission, such as wearing a face mask, social distancing, frequent hand washing, staying home if you are sick, and getting tested if you have COVID-19 symptoms or if you have had a known exposure to someone with COVID-19.”
Concerns over another winter surge come on the cusp of new leadership in Virginia. Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin will take over the state’s pandemic response come January.
Asked for comment on Monday, a spokesperson for Youngkin referred back to a previous interview in which the Governor-elect said he will get rid of all state-level vaccine and mask mandates once taking office.