- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Virginia’s new COVID-19 call center launched Wednesday with 750 people at the ready to help the public stay informed about the state’s plan for the pandemic and help pre-register eligible residents for the vaccine.

The Virginia Department of Health’s call center will be open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-275-8343). Earlier this week, Virginia rolled out a centralized website for residents to pre-register for a vaccination.

“The call center will allow you to talk to someone who can answer questions, and they can help you get preregistered,” Gov. Ralph Northam said Wednesday at a press conference. “They have the same access to online pre-registration forms. So if that works better for you, please call.”

“This is a one-stop shop for Virginians to pre-register for vaccinations so that when your turn comes, the health department can easily reach out to schedule you for your shot,” the Democratic governor said.

Mr. Northam said that 1.6 million records were moved from local health departments into the new system over the weekend, but some are still being shifted so there could be a delay for some individuals.

Maryland’s call center — at 1-855-MDGOVAX (1-855-634-6829) —  was fully operational Tuesday. It’s open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week. The state’s Department of Health and Aging stressed that the system is designed specifically for residents without internet access.

The majority of Virginia’s COVID-19 specific restrictions are still in place through the end of the month, but Mr. Northam announced that starting Monday outdoor sporting events can host up to 250 spectators, as long as there’s adequate social distancing and children will be allowed to attend summer camps.

Mr. Northam stressed that the virus is still a threat even with the vaccine rollout, but said some other announcements regarding other restrictions should be expected next week.

The governor also warned against scammers looking to leverage the high demand for a vaccine and stressed that the state is not charging.

“Unfortunately, there are people out there who would take advantage of the high interest in vaccination,” he said. “Please remember, and this is so important, the vaccine doesn’t cost you anything. Don’t respond to anyone asking for money to reserve your shot.”

Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh issued a similar warning Wednesday on Twitter, urging the public to hang up if offered a vaccine over the phone.

More than 1.4 million vaccines have been administered in Virginia, and 12.4% of residents have received at least one dose.

Mr. Northam said on average, 34,000 doses are being given on a daily basis but the goal is to get to 50,000 per day. Since the state’s centralized website has launched, the governor said 240,000 Virginians have preregistered.

Generally, COVID-19 cases are trending downward in Virginia. The state’s data reported 2,284 new cases on Wednesday, with its seven-day average down to 2,610 cases per day.

In Maryland, health officials reported 759 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday and 19 deaths.

More than 936,550 vaccines have been administered in Maryland and 82.6% of the first doses allocated by the federal government have been given, according to the state’s vaccine daily bulletin. They are averaging  26,360 shots per day.

Both Mr. Northam and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan are warning residents to take precautions ahead of Thursday’s expected snowstorm.

“Federal officials have warned that winter storms may cause delays in shipments to vaccine providers, and we are anticipating severe winter weather across the state tomorrow,” Mr. Hogan tweeted. “If you have an appointment in the coming days, be sure to check in with your provider.”

• Gabriella Muñoz can be reached at gmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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