Marking the milestone of COVID-19 in city

George Copeland Jr. | 3/17/2022, 6 p.m.
Richmond officials recognized the milestones— good and bad — and ongoing challenges of COVID-19 during a news conference Tuesday afternoon …

Richmond officials recognized the milestones— good and bad — and ongoing challenges of COVID-19 during a news conference Tuesday afternoon marking two years since the city first began its response to the pandemic.

The Richmond and Henrico health districts’ emergency response to COVID-19 was launched March 14, 2020, three days after the World Health Organization declared the virus a global pandemic.

In the ensuing months, RHHD expanded their operations to begin a containment process and plan the first of many large-scale health events in the city and surrounding localities.

While those efforts helped to protect the public from the potentially fatal virus, many changes have taken place in the years since. Health officials announced Wednesday that the Arthur Ashe Jr. Athletic Center community vaccination site will be shuttered beginning Friday, March 25. It is just one of several recent major closures as public demand for vaccination has waned, officials said, and the department has shifted to mobile vaccination events.

However, COVID-19 continues to take a toll on the Richmond community. Since 2020, the City of Richmond has reported 479 deaths; while Henrico County has experienced 891 deaths; Chesterfield County, 741; and Hanover County, 272.

Hospitalizations and cases have spiraled into the thousands during that time.

“The cost has been steep,” Mayor Levar M. Stoney, himself a two-time COVID-19 survivor, said during Tuesday’s news conference. “We need to continue to do the things we’ve been doing to keep everyone safe. That means vaccinations, that means testing and also following common sense health guidance based in science.”

City Hall has been lighted with red during the evenings throughout this week in memory of those lost during the past two years to COVID-19. Mayor Stoney said trees will be planted again this spring at the Powhatan Community Center on Fulton in their memory.

RHHD Nurse Manager Amy Popovich reported at the news conference that 240 COVID-19 testing events have been held in the city since 2020. More than 21,000 people have been tested in Richmond and 290,000 people vaccinated through collaborative efforts with partner localities and organizations, she said.

These initiatives have contributed to 57.7 percent of the city’s population now being fully vaccinated and 62.7 percent receiving one dose. Health officials are looking to improve those numbers moving forward.

“We’re integrating our vaccination and our testing events into our regular health department activities, ensuring that their work can be sustained and can follow any ebbs and flows that happen with any potential surges,” Ms. Popovich said. “We’re really focusing on the goal that every Richmonder who wants to get vaccinated has the access and the ability to get that vaccine.”

Dr. Melissa A. Viray, acting director of the Richmond and Henrico health districts, cautioned that vigilance is still essential as the city gets closer to “a less disruptive phase of this pandemic.”

She stressed the importance of preparation by health officials and of the public following health guidelines to ensure the best outcome when it comes to the coronavirus.

“There are going to be challenging stretches, there are going to be more variants, there are going to be more outbreaks,” Dr. Viray said. “But we have tools now that we didn’t have before, and I think that helps us to figure out how to ride these waves that are coming down the pipeline.”