BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) – One of the top high school football players in the region is now fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Now, he is calling on his teammates to get the shot and keep the team in contention for a state title.
Virginia High School running back Stevie Thomas was named TV-11’s Player of the Week last week after a four-touchdown performance against Patrick Henry. Last week, the team’s game against Wise Central was canceled after a COVID outbreak in the Virginia High locker room forced the team into quarantine.
“Having that happen, it just kills our momentum,” Thomas said. “Nobody likes that. It’s not fun.”
On Tuesday, Bristol Virginia Public Schools ran a vaccination clinic outside Virginia High aimed at getting students involved in extra-curriculars their shot.
“The quarantine not only affects students at school, but also in the activities they’re doing after school,” BVPS Superintendent Keith Perrigan said.
Thomas said he and several other players got the shot today to avoid quarantines. Fully vaccinated players won’t have to quarantine for close contact.
“We have about 15-20 people vaccinated,” Thomas said. “The other half are getting out here today to get vaccinated, get it out of the way so we can get back to playing.”
Vaccinations among 12 to 17-year-olds in Bristol and Southwest Virginia have nowhere to go but up when compared with state averages.
Data from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) show that through Tuesday, just 30% of people in that age group were vaccinated in Bristol/Washington County.
Statewide the rate is just over half (51%), which is more than double the rate of 25% in the News Channel 11 viewing area’s nine counties.
The gap is similar for first doses — 68% statewide, 39% in Bristol/Washington County and 33% in Southwest Virginia.
Thomas said the team’s 3-0 start to the season was not something he wanted to sacrifice.
“With our team we have the potential to go really far in the playoffs,” Thomas said. “This is the best we’ve been in a long time, so we want everybody on the field.”
Mount Rogers Health District’s Population Health Manager, Breanne Forbes Hubbard, said the risk of game cancellations remains real.
“Our schools have been great partners throughout COVID working to keep students safe and in-person learning, and they’ve encouraged masking and encouraged vaccination,” Forbes Hubbard said.
But she said continued low vaccination rates and lack of adherence to mitigation measures can have direct impacts on people like Thomas and his teammates.
“If you’re going to make the choice to not get vaccinated and not do any of these mitigation measures, you’re making the choice to put the community at risk, to put yourself at risk and to put your lifestyle at risk,” Forbes Hubbard said.
“You aren’t going to be able to do things that we all want to do like have school sports and large events and workplaces without quarantine.”
Thomas said the vaccine will also help his college ball prospects because some teams require or heavily recommend players get the shot to keep teams active for gameday.
Perrigan said Tuesday’s clinic was the fourth held by the district with help from the Virginia Department of Health. He said the district plans to hold more clinics down the road.
Students younger than 18 are required to have parental consent to get their shot. Those older than 18 are not required to provide that.