Chap Petersen and Pete Snyder: Get Virginia Back to Work

By DJ Rippert

Odd bedfellows? In a recent Op-Ed entitled, “Time to get back to business, Virginia” State Senator Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, and entrepreneur and Republican activist Pete Snyder call for a more aggressive reopening of Virginia. The piece questions why large companies like Home Depot are allowed to thrive while “Mom and Pop” operations are being regulated out of existence. As the duo write, “Unlike the Wal-Marts and Home Depots whose sales have risen, small businesses have been devastated by the “shut down” economy of the past two months.” Their prescription for change is relatively simple: “What is needed is a defined plan for reopening Virginia’s small business economy, one that gets healthy workers back on the job, while still protecting the vulnerable from the spread of COVID-19.”

Continue reading

Snowflakes, Meet COVID-19

by James A. Bacon

Nearly three in four Virginia college students are combating anxiety, worry or other mental health challenges, according to a survey of more than 1,000 college students by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV).

It’s hard to know what to make of this funding. Cynics might respond, “What else do you expect? We’ve raised a generation of snowflakes. College students been taught to be emotionally fragile. This is their first exposure to the brutal reality that life is hard.”

Others might validate the students’ anxieties and point to the survey as evidence of the downside of the college shutdowns, with their attendant issues of completing courses online, managing technology issues, maintaining employment, finding employment, and the like. I have argued on this blog that the Virginia Department of Health, Governor Ralph Northam and the media are fixated on COVID-19 statistics while downplaying the negative health effects of the shutdown that are difficult to measure — such as mental health. First comes stress, then anxiety, then depression, then substance abuse, then declining physical health and, sometimes, suicide. Continue reading

Uh, Oh, COVID Hospitalization Numbers Creeping Back Up

Here’s the latest from the Excel spreadsheet of John Butcher, publisher of Cranky’s blog: Daily COVID-19 hospitalizations are creeping back up, as can be seen in the graph above. And the total number of COVID-19 patients is rebounding as well as shown in the graph below: Continue reading

One More Time: The COVID Crisis Is Largely a Nursing Home Crisis

Source: Virginia Department of Health COVID-19 dashboard

by James A. Bacon

The daily numbers reported about COVID-19 in Virginia are volatile, and it would be imprudent to read too much into a single day’s statistics. But two numbers published on public dashboards this morning are symbolic of the true nature of the epidemic.

The first data point is the number of new COVID-19 deaths reported: 20.

The second is the number of of new deaths reported for long-term-care facilities: 19.

In other words, 95% of the deaths reported were of people living in long-term-care facilities. That’s just one day, to be sure, and there have been days when nursing homes accounted for only one-third of total deaths. Over the course of the epidemic, the percentage is 57%.

Surely, Governor Ralph Northam is aware of these numbers, even as he mandates the wearing of facial coverings and signs an executive order extending the state of emergency indefinitely. What’s so frustrating is how little he has had to say about the nursing home outbreaks and what he plans to do about them. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, let me repeat: The COVID-19 epidemic is mostly a nursing home epidemic. Continue reading

Virginia’s COVID Death Rate Is Remarkably Low

by Kerry Dougherty

Beware of former English majors wielding calculators.

Nevertheless, here goes.

Every single day it seems we see newspapers publishing hysterical headlines about “sharp increases” in the number of Covid-19 cases in Virginia.

Why is anyone surprised?

After all, the governor wasted weeks wringing his hands and whining about how he couldn’t get any tests. Coronavirus testing has finally increased in Virginia and so has the number of cases.

Death tolls are a better measure of the severity of the pandemic and harder to manipulate. Ironically, that’s where we can find reassuring news.

According to yesterday’s tally on the Virginia Department of Health website, 1,338 Virginians have died of COVID-19 since that first death on March 21. Every single one of those fatalities is a tragedy.

But it’s worth noting that of those people, 755 – about 56 percent – were nursing home residents. Continue reading

Sorry, We Can’t Pay Your Insurance Claim. It Would Cost Us Too Much.

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

For the past 17 years, my wife and I have rented a house at Sandbridge in Virginia Beach for a week in late May. My daughter and her family, including the three grandkids, come down for the week. It is the highlight of our year.

This year was no exception. A year ago, we reserved the week of May 16-23. Then, of course, the coronavirus intervened. The Governor issued an executive order telling everyone to stay at home unless it was absolutely necessary to go out. Stores and restaurants were closed. Would we be able to go to the beach? What about all that money I had already paid (the entire balance due)? Continue reading

Remember Petersburg!

Robert Bobb, of the Robert Bobb Group, functioned as Petersburg’s de facto CFO for a year or more. He was tough, but he got the city’s books straightened out.

by James A. Bacon

Two weeks ago, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a $3 trillion coronavirus-relief bill that would direct nearly $1 trillion to state, local and tribal governments. This massive bail-out would come on top of massive assistance to states and localities in previous legislation: $150 for a Coronavirus Relief Fund, $30 billion for an Education Stabilization Fund, $45 billion for the disaster Relief Fund, $25 billion for public transit systems, an increase in the federal government share of Medicaid spending, and billions more for miscellaneous programs. Also the Federal Reserve Bank has set up a $500 billion program to facilitate short-term state and local borrowing.

The ball is now in the U.S. Senate’s court. What, if anything, will the Senate propose in the way of a second wave of fiscal assistance? Judging from their press releases, Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine have so far refrained from committing themselves to a Pelosi-style bail-out of the states. Their statements have focused on narrow-bore initiatives for water improvement projects, National Guard benefits, and a restaurant meals program for Americans struggling with food security.

Sooner or later, however, they may be called upon to either support or oppose a second-wave bailout. They will receive intense pressure from their Democratic Party colleagues representing the states — Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut — in most desperate need of fiscal rescue. When they do so, I hope that that the two former governors will remember the hard choices they made to keep Virginia’s fiscal house in order, and, similarly, how the McAuliffe administration forced the City of Petersburg, when faced with fiscal collapse, to make hard, hard choices to put its finances in order. Continue reading

No Expiration Date on the State of Emergency

Back on June 12, Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency to combat the COVID-19 virus. The declaration had an expiration date. Executive order 51 stated that the state of emergency “shall remain in full force and in effect until June 10,” unless “amended or rescinded by further executive order.”

Two days ago, the Governor issued Executive Order 63, which mandated the wearing of face covering while inside buildings. Not surprisingly, media attention focused on the mask mandate. But the tail end of the executive order contained this language:

This Order is in furtherance of Amended Executive Order 51 (2020) and Amended Executive Order 61 and Amended Order of Public Health Emergency Three (2020). Further, this Order shall be effective 12:00 a.m., Friday, May 29, 2020, and shall remain in full force and effect until amended or rescinded by further executive order.

Key words: “Shall remain in full force and effect until amended or rescinded by further executive order.” There is no expiration date.

Make of it what you will.

(Hat tip: Chris Braunlich.)


About that Mask Mandate

by Kerry Dougherty

Like everything else he’s done during the coronavirus crisis, Gov. Ralph Northam’s announcement that he was ordering masks for all Virginians over the age of 10 when they’re in brick and mortar establishments was onerous to businesses and fraught with contradictions.

For instance, he warned about the mask mandate on Friday, May 22 , announced it on Tuesday, and it goes into effect tomorrow.

If masks are such a critical tool to control the spread of the virus — and there are experts who disagree — why did Northam wait more than two months after declaring a health emergency to issue his order?

Then there’s the matter of enforcement.

At his presser, Northam said police would not be enforcing the executive order. Instead, face mask enforcement would be the responsibility of businesses that will face stiff penalties from the health department if they don’t knuckle under.

That means the minimum-wage cart corraler at the supermarket or the Walmart greeter will have to block the unmasked, some of whom may be a tad irritable after two months of unemployment and lockdowns.

What could possibly go wrong? Continue reading

You Don’t Have to Like the Decree, But Wear Face Masks Anyway

Wise King Ralph keeps a face mask at the ready.

by James A. Bacon

I’m still digesting Governor Ralph Northam’s face-mask mandate, but my initial reaction is that it could be worse. I dislike the coercive aspect of his executive order. But requiring Virginians to wear face masks in public buildings and places of commerce is less intrusive than compelling businesses and workplaces to shut down. If ordering people to wear face masks allows Northam to feel better about loosening other restrictions, then it’s a net gain.

There’s an element to the face mask debate that I find curiously neglected in the conservative/libertarian commentary I’ve seen. Conservatives and libertarians tout the virtue of personal responsibility. Regardless of whether or not face coverings protect you from getting the COVID-19 virus, they do reduce the chances that you will spread the virus. If we believe in personal responsibility as an alternative to government coercion, conservatives and libertarians need to live their values by… acting responsibly.

I would go one step further: If conservatives and libertarians want to see Northam release his Vulcan Death Grip on Virginia’s economy, they should do everything within their power to ensure that the coronavirus does not spread. If Virginia sees a significant uptick in the spread of the virus, that’s all the Governor needs to back peddle on his timid reversal of emergency shutdown measures. Continue reading

Hypothesis: Improving Treatments Are Making COVID-19 Less Deadly

by James A. Bacon

The Wall Street Journal cited a revealing statistical measure of the COVID-19 virus that reflects upon the ability of different health systems to cope with the epidemic: the percentage of confirmed cases that result in fatalities. That number varies widely across countries and states.

The focus of the article was Singapore and Honk Kong, two densely packed cities that have kept the deaths-to-infections deaths ratio extremely low: 0.4% in Hong Kong and less than 0.1% in Singapore. Not only have those cities done a better job than the U.S. of containing the spread of COVID-19, the virus has proved to be less fatal when people get it.

By contrast, the case-fatality rate in the U.S. overall is 5.9%. That’s high, but not as high as the United Kingdom and Italy, where the figure stands at 14.%. In the U.S., New York City the rate is 8%, according to the Journal.

What about Virginia? Our case fatality rate peaked around 3.6% and has since declined to 3.2%, based on data published on public dashboards this morning. As can be seen above, the rate increased steadily from early April to early May, crested May 9 and 10, and has declined fairly steadily since. Continue reading

Parole Board Continues Freeing Frenzy

by Kerry Dougherty

I watched most of Gov. Ralph Northam’s press conference yesterday, hoping that some bold member of the press would ask just one question:

“If masks work why don’t you slap them on the face of every inmate in Virginia and keep them in their cells?”

Alas, no one wants to remind the governor that despite a number of outbreaks, only six inmates in all of Virginia’s jails and prisons have died of the virus. Yet cell doors continue to swing open.

Both the Department of Corrections, which is granting scores of early releases, and the parole board, which seems to specialize in springing violent felons, are engaged in some sort of freeing frenzy.

Yep, another killer is scheduled to get out. This one is a real winner.

His name is Donald Lee Brooks and, according to an excellent piece in The Richmond Times-Dispatch, he killed Gerald Hall on the 12th of April 2010.

After the two men started brawling outside a bar in Amelia County, Brooks went to his truck, got out his .357 Magnum and blasted away at Hall. During the fight, Brooks also slashed Hall’s throat.

Hall must have been one tough guy. He lived for 21 days, dying on May 3, 2010. Four months later a jury found Brooks guilty of 2nd degree murder and a weapons charge and sentenced him to 28 years in prison. Continue reading

Construction: Virginia’s Quiet, Strong Man

Scene from Micron’s $3 billion construction project in Manassas. Photo credit: Inside NoVa

By Peter Galuszka

For all the complaints about the COVID-19 pandemic in Virginia – the shut-down restaurants and (temporarily) closed beaches – one industry has been working steadily and quietly all along – the state’s construction sector.

Builders haven’t missed much of a beat since the “state at home” orders started going out a couple of months ago.

In Pentagon City, works still progresses on the two, 22-story towers for Amazon’s new eastern headquarters. In suburban Chesterfield County near Richmond, workers toil adding new drain pipes and four-laning once- rural roads. Four-story apartments overlooking Swift Creek Reservoir are taking shape for the over-55 crowd.

At a loud and garish protest next to the State Capitol against Gov. Ralph Norham’s work-stoppage plans last month, Mark Carter, a contractor from Hanover County, made his views known. “We‘re still working,” he told me. “I’m not for Trump and I’m not a Democrat. People need to work.”

In Virginia, some are. After all, New York state and Boston stopped construction work due to the pandemic. Continue reading

Stay-at-Home Costs vs. Health Benefits

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

There is a fierce debate going on in this country.  One side is anxious to ease the restrictions imposed on the population in an effort to slow the spread the coronavirus and “open up the economy.” The other side, concerned about a resurgence of the disease and related deaths, wants to go slower.

Underlying this debate is the question of the economic damage resulting from the shutdowns and stay-at-home orders.  The President says, “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”  Many commenters on this blog voice the same sentiment.

Implicit in these arguments is the assumption that, at some point, the cost to the economy outweighs the value of the lives lost. No one really wants to admit this because that would be putting a value on human life, which is morally anathema. Continue reading

Strategies for Growing the Rural Population

Source: “Rural Population Loss and Strategies for Recovery,” Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond

In a recent article, the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond highlighted strategies for bolstering the population of rural counties in the Fifth Federal Reserve District. Some ideas will prove familiar to readers of Bacon’s Rebellion, such as identifying amenities that will attract retirees and second-home buyers. But the article makes some suggestions we haven’t heard before.

Population growth, or at least population stability, is critical for the economic health of Virginia’s rural counties. A shrinking workforce makes it more difficult to attract outside employers, a shriveling population makes it harder to support health services and retail amenities, and a declining tax base undermines the ability to pay for government functions. Population stagnation and/or decline is a problem across the five states of the 5th district, and Virginia is no exception. (Virginia’s rural counties actually saw a small net in-migration, but that was more than offset by “natural” decrease of deaths exceeding births.)

To my mind, the most fascinating strategy is focusing on people’s personal ties to family, friends and communities. One study used 300 interviews in 21 towns at rural high school reunions to learn why some attended decided to return to the rural community where they grew up. Continue reading