RICHMOND, Va. - Most of Virginia’s state workers will have to be vaccinated or agree to regular COVID-19 testing, under a new requirement Gov. Ralph Northam announced Thursday.
The order will take effect Sept. 1 and will apply to more than 120,000 executive branch employees, the governor’s office said in a news release.
"The three vaccines are safe, effective, free, and widely available, and I strongly urge every eligible Virginian to get their shot. The time for waiting is over," Northam, the nation’s only doctor-governor, said in a statement.
The Democratic governor’s directive comes as the delta variant has driven a national surge in COVID-19 cases, most of which involve unvaccinated people. President Joe Biden and a growing number of state and local governments and major employers are taking an increasingly hard line against vaccine holdouts.
Northam issued his order a day after Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney announced a decision to require workers in the capital city to get the vaccine or face disciplinary action. Virginia joins other states including California, New York and North Carolina, that have already taken similar measures.
Northam’s order will require unvaccinated workers to show proof of negative tests weekly.
It will cover about 122,000 workers at executive branch agencies such as the Virginia Employment Commission, Department of Motor Vehicles and Department of Transportation, and some staff at public colleges and universities. It applies to part-time and contract workers as well, said Northam’s spokeswoman, Alena Yarmosky.
The directive won’t apply to legislative or judicial branch workers or workers in K-12 schools, though Yarmosky said the governor is encouraging local governments to follow his lead.
Cases in Virginia have been steadily increasing since mid-June but are still well below what they were at the height of the winter surge. According to an Associated Press analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University, the rolling average of daily new cases has gone up by 812, an increase of 173.8%, over the past two weeks.
Hospitalizations from COVID-19 have followed a similar trend, about doubling during the same time period, according to a public dashboard maintained by the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association. Health officials reported 669 hospitalizations for likely or confirmed COVID-19 cases Thursday — a serious jump but still far below many GOP-controlled states where hospitals are issuing dire warnings that they are running out of beds.
One such state is Florida, where more than 12,000 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Wednesday, including nearly 2,500 who are in ICU beds. Another is Louisiana, where inundated hospitals are grappling with an influx of COVID-19 patients, surgery schedules disrupted by the patient overload and too few nurses and respiratory therapists to staff all their beds.
The vast majority of cases, hospitalizations and deaths in Virginia this year have been among the unvaccinated, according to health department data.
About 65% of Virginia’s adult population is currently fully vaccinated, according to data from the state health department, slightly better than the national average.