The state also launched a new vaccination reporting website, changed the time it reports its data to better line up with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and will strengthen its efforts to have providers ask a person’s race and ethnicity at the time of vaccination.
“Vaccines are the light at the end of this long and dark tunnel, and they are a great reason for hope and optimism,” Northam said at a news conference. “I also want to acknowledge that everyone is out of time and patience.”
Northam and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said separately Wednesday they hoped recent announcements by the Biden administration to increase supply by 16 percent for the next three weeks, and later by 50 percent, would ease the imbalance between supply and demand.
The Virginia Department of Health soon will create a statewide system for residents to register for vaccine appointments, Northam said. Residents now must navigate a hodgepodge of local health district websites and phone numbers to secure a slot.
“I know this has been a source of great frustration for a lot of Virginians,” he said. “I take this seriously because I know that people just want answers. Even if the answer is they can’t get an appointment for a month or two, it’s important that everyone knows where to go and how to sign up.”
Northam said Virginia and other states drastically expanded eligibility weeks ago based on a pledge by the Trump administration that more doses were on the way. When the doses never materialized, he said providers who worried about supply shortages held on to doses.
“That lead to a situation where there’s too much supply in some places and not enough in other places,” he said.
Virginia officials expect the state’s weekly allotment to increase from 105,000 to 120,000.
According to CDC tracking, Virginia has ranked last or almost last recently for its vaccine administration as a proportion of total doses delivered, but Northam said the changes helped the state move closer to the middle, with an average of 26,000 daily shots. He has set a goal of administering 50,000 daily shots.
Northam on Wednesday also extended until Feb. 28 his restrictions on gatherings of more than 10 people and a ban on alcohol service after 10 p.m. Those were set to expire at the end of this month.
In the District, officials Wednesday also tweaked plans to vaccinate seniors, people with high-risk conditions, teachers and other essential workers as residents scramble to find scarce doses of the vaccine.
In response to complaints from frustrated seniors and D.C. lawmakers, the city announced technical changes to its online process for scheduling vaccine appointments. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt told the D.C. Council that more significant changes to the registration system are on the way.
Six members of the council this week asked that the city replace a first-come, first-serve system with a waiting list for seniors. Under the current system, residents must log on to a website or call a hotline at 9 a.m. Thursday or Friday to claim one of the available vaccine appointments, which often are snapped up in less than an hour.
Nesbitt told council members Wednesday she is setting up a registration process that will allow the city to collect information about residents seeking the vaccine, then email them when it is their turn to sign up, based on their age, job and health status. The city also will look at whether they live in a neighborhood hard-hit by the virus and their date of registration.
“I’m very happy we’re changing the registration appointment system,” said D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3). “It was getting a little bit like ‘The Hunger Games,’ with people competing with one another.”
In the meantime, the health department announced Wednesday it has altered its website in ways meant to make it easier to use.
The changes will remove fully booked vaccine sites from a menu of options, allow printing of appointment confirmations for those without email addresses and streamline the process to prevent people from wasting time navigating the site and inadvertently losing appointments.
City officials said they upgraded the infrastructure to handle more volume and increased the number of call-takers for booking by phone from 50 to 200.
More than 15 percent of the District’s seniors have gotten their first shot, and at least 5 percent more have booked their first appointment, Nesbitt said Wednesday.
The greater Washington region has reported 870,977 known cases of the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, including 7,331 new coronavirus infections Wednesday, while 14,119 people have died of the virus.
As the pandemic’s economic toll continues, Maryland state senators pitched adding $520 million in aid to Hogan’s proposed $1 billion state stimulus package.
The extra money would go to nearly three dozen groups or organizations, ranging from food banks and restaurants to people with disabilities, volunteer firefighters, the unemployed and people behind on utility bills.
Hogan has proposed sending checks of up to $750 to the state’s poorest families. The Maryland Senate could vote on the expanded proposal as soon as next week. Meanwhile, Maryland’s seven-day average of daily new cases declined 37 percent over the past 15 days, from a pandemic high of 3,228 cases Jan. 12 to 2,029 on Wednesday.
Hogan said Maryland has only a six-day vaccine supply, as vaccinations outpace federal allocations.
“We’re caught up and about to run out of vaccine,” Hogan said outside a Giant pharmacy vaccination clinic in Prince George’s County.
Demand for the doses has overwhelmed appointment systems. The registration site for Giant pharmacies crashed within minutes of going online, said Samir Balile, manager of clinical programs for 153 Giant pharmacies in D.C., Virginia and Maryland.
Giant is distributing about 5,500 doses in the region each week, and appointments for them were gone “within minutes,” Balile said.
In Richmond, Mayor Levar Stoney (D) said Wednesday he had tested positive for the coronavirus after the onset of mild symptoms two days earlier. He is working from home, and people he came into contact with are quarantining and taking necessary precautions, according to his office.
The mayor of Virginia’s capital city said more than 12,000 Richmonders have been infected by the virus.
“As my personal experience should tell you, while there is reason to be hopeful due to the distribution of the vaccine, this pandemic is still far from over and must be taken seriously,” Stoney said.
At least 912,000 first doses of the vaccine have been administered in the District, Maryland and Virginia.
As of Wednesday, Maryland had administered 363,282 first doses while distributing 852,625 total doses. In Virginia as of Tuesday, 497,581 first doses had been administered of the 1.1 million the state has distributed.
As of Saturday, the District had administered 51,421 of the 68,750 doses it has received.
CVS and Walgreens, which have federal contracts to vaccinate residents and staff members at nursing homes, are nearly finished giving first doses at clinics in residential facilities across Virginia, Maryland and the District.
However, advocates are pushing health officials in Maryland to come up with a vaccination plan for seniors in independent-living facilities, who were not included in the federal vaccination program.
“Independent living has fallen through the cracks,” said Joseph DeMattos, president of the Health Facilities Association of Maryland.
Management at Charles E. Smith Life Communities in Rockville, which includes the state’s largest nursing home in addition to assisted-living and independent-living facilities, has been pushing state and county officials for an on-site vaccination clinic for about 500 seniors in independent living.
So far, few of those seniors have been able to secure appointments, said Brenda Rice, vice president of operations at Charles E. Smith Life Communities. Meanwhile, 91 percent of those in its nursing home have received their second dose of the vaccine, and vaccinations in assisted-living facilities are beginning this week.
Hogan said the state is working with Giant pharmacies to inoculate seniors in independent-living communities, but details on the timing were still underway.
Montgomery County officials said Wednesday they are allowing some essential workers in priority group 1B and those ages 65 to 74 to pre-register for vaccines. After filling out the county’s preregistration form, residents still have to wait to receive an invitation link to sign up for an appointment, officials said. That may take weeks as the county focuses on scheduling appointments for those older than 75, who have been able to preregister for the past two weeks.
County Executive Marc Elrich (D) called on those further down the vaccine priority list not to sign up for appointments yet. The scheduling system being used by the state and county is not designed to “differentiate” applicants based on what group they fall into, Elrich said.
Until officials can figure out how to “block out” those who are ineligible from registering, they are pleading with residents not to abuse the system. The county has had to cancel appointments made in recent days by residents in their 30s and 40s, he said.
“I’m begging, please let us get through elderly individuals in an orderly way,” Elrich said.
The county’s head of emergency management, Earl Stoddard, emphasized that the system is meant to serve as a “safety net for people who can’t get opportunities elsewhere.” He noted that various hospital systems in the county, including Adventist Health Care and Holy Cross, have started to offer vaccine appointments to the elderly.
Elsewhere in Maryland, Anne Arundel County is set to lift restrictions on restaurants, stores and churches, allowing them to operate at 50 percent capacity. Movie theaters, which had been closed, will open at 25 percent capacity. The new policies take effect Friday.
Gregory S. Schneider, Rebecca Tan and Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.