Author Archives: James A. Bacon

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

What Northam’s “Key Measures” Do and Don’t Tell Him

Source: Virginia Department of Health COVID-19 dashboard

by James A. Bacon

Later today Governor Ralph Northam will issue his mask-wearing mandate for Virginians. I’ll reserve comment about the details of the plan for when I see them. In the meantime, it is worth considering what data he might draw upon to justify his measures.

The Virginia Department of Health COVID-19 dashboard highlights several “key measures.” One, seen above, tracks the total number of COVID-19 cases. This particular graph strongly suggests that the COVID-19 epidemic is spreading as rapidly as it ever was — indeed it has ticked back up in recent days.

Reinforcing this impression, today’s VDH dashboard reports a record increase of new confirmed COVID-19 cases — 1,615. Data compiled over the weekend is subject to jinky behavior due to reporting delays, but that number follows 1,483 cases the day before. So, if the Governor wants to make the case that the coronavirus is still spreading, there is data to support him. The Washington Post, which can scarcely keep its pro-shutdown sentiments out of its news articles, picked up on the latter number in its news headline this morning — and we all know that Northam (or his people) pay close attention to the WaPo’s coverage.

However… Continue reading

Staunton’s Election Lessons

by Chris Saxman

Virginia’s most accurate statewide election locality — Staunton — just swept off City Council three Democratic incumbents in favor of three Republicans.

Democrats go from a 6-to-1 majority to a 3-to-4 minority.

This made headlines around the Commonwealth and political news sites. “Virginia is going Red this fall!” “Will Trump win in November?”


There are many reasons why this happened and several lessons to be learned (again).

The main reason — the incumbents lost.

But first, here is just how accurate Staunton has been over the last EIGHT statewide elections in Virginia and why you should pay attention to the Queen City. Continue reading

Virginia’s Lockdown Violates Natural Law

by Deborah Hommer

My favorite Greek tragedy play is Sophocles’ “Antigone.” The protagonist risks her life with civil disobedience by burying the body of her brother Polyneices according to the religious dictates (natural/higher law) of her God in defiance of King Creon’s edict (man-made or positive law). When confronted with the choice of whether to obey the king’s cruel, arbitrary, unjust law or the law of God and her conscience, Antigone chooses the higher law. Antigone, her betrothed, and the king’s wife all commit suicide. By the end, King Creon is seen an incompetent leader shoe injustice led to irrevocable disaster.

Sophocles’ themes are universal. Americans today are governed by experts and their media megaphones to abide by arbitrary, unjust laws promulgated to combat the COVID-19 virus, and citizens must struggle with the question of whether or not to obey. Consider the following:

Neil Ferguson’s projections (resigned in disgrace), Anthony Fauci’s predictions (totally wrong and contradictory), the published report that justified the shutdown has been withdrawn, and the rest of the coronavirus hype are the biggest political hoax in history.

Things that make you go huh: Coronavirus in season 2, episode 14 in 2003 Dead Zone | 2019 Netflix Documentary Predicts “The Next Pandemic”  | Fauci: “No doubt” Trump will face surprise infectious disease outbreak, | timeline – corona has been in the making for decades |10.18.19 high-level pandemic exercise | WH hot mic – was it a hoax? | CNN reporter removes mask off camera; | Worldometer info illustrates overall Republican states have less deaths from Corona than Democrat states. Continue reading

COVID-19 Counter-Factuals and Trade-Offs

by James A. Bacon

A recent Columbia University study generated headlines after concluding that 55% of deaths reported as of May 3 could have been avoided if stricter social-distancing controls had been implemented nationally just one week earlier.

Responding to that story, President Trump created a mini-furor by engaging in his usual ad hominem attacks. Rather than addressing the underlying facts and logic in the study, he called Columbia a “liberal, disgraceful institution” — as if labeling the institution ideologically did anything to rebut the rigor of the study.

A nuanced critic of the study might have questioned the validity of using epidemiological models to run counter-factual simulations. The outcome of models like the one used by the Columbia authors depends upon an array of critical assumptions — often debatable — about the relationship between different variables. As the old saying goes, Garbage In, Garbage Out.

Whatever the merits of the particular study in question, the flap revealed that the U.S. academic and media establishments now accept counter-factual simulations as legitimate news. Perhaps someone could build a model to answer a different counter-factual question: Given the fact that most COVID-19 deaths have involved elderly patients with one or more coexisting conditions, how many would have died anyway? Continue reading

Two Faces of the Face-Mask Mandate

by Sidney Bostian

Governor Ralph Northam will announce tomorrow the details of a statewide mandate to wear masks in public spaces and businesses. “We are working through the policy. Obviously it’s an equity issue,” Northam said at his Friday news conference, adding that all Virginia residents would need access to face coverings and that he is examining how to enforce such a policy.

“Wearing a mask could literally save someone else’s life,” Northam said. “That is becoming clearer every day as we move further into managing this virus over the long term.”

The justification cited above — “could literally save someone’s life” — is one of the most interesting “definite maybes” uttered by a public official in recent memory. A careful observer would note that Northam failed to cite his scientific sources for that statement.

Mask wearing in the COVID-19 era has become controversial. Proponents suggest that the coronavirus can be managed only if we compel everyone to wear masks. Opponents to mandatory masks flinch as if they are being asked to wear the “mark of the beast.” Virginians seem evenly divided with about half favoring masks and about half opposing (acknowledging that there are some who don’t care and will swing like a barn door).

Given the passions of the partisans on both sides, it is reasonable to ask that the Governor’s decree meet two tests. First, that there is scientific evidence that universal mask wearing will save lives, and second, that there are few if any citizens who will be adversely affected by long-duration, long-term use of masks. One would hope that Northam, a physician, would affirm the “do no harm” principle. Continue reading

Ralph Northam’s Sovereign Immunity

by Kerry Dougherty

Just as we were eagerly looking forward to a glorious Memorial Day weekend in Virginia Beach, Gov. Ralph Northam dropped a stink bomb.

At his Friday press conference, in his cloying, paternalistic way, Northam said he had some homework for the commonwealth. He wanted everyone to get a mask. Details to come on Tuesday.

Can’t wait. Clearly another authoritarian mandate is coming.

And good luck with your next edict, Governor. No one takes you seriously anymore.

Not after Saturday, anyway, when the whole world saw him frolicking on the Virginia Beach boardwalk, leaning in for selfies with fans and not even pretending to care about social distance.

Northam’s going to have a hard time continuing to whip up COVID-19 panic after this. He demonstrated that he wasn’t worried one bit about the virus. The media made much of the fact that Northam wasn’t wearing a mask on the boardwalk. Of course he wasn’t. Wearing a mask outside is idiotic and unhealthy. Who cares about that? Continue reading

The Emperor’s New Clothes — or the COVID That Didn’t Happen

by Carol J. Bova

The May 22 UVA COVID-19 Model weekly report says the virus transmission rate dropped below 1.0 in the past week. It had averaged 2.2 prior to March 15. Here’s the explanation of what that means:

Researchers use the transmission rate of a disease, often referred to as R-naught (R0), to measure how fast it spreads. R0 is roughly the number of people one  sick person infects. So a transmission rate of 2.0 means that, on average, one sick person infects two others with the disease. The key number for transmission rates is 1.0. At an R0 above 1.0, the infection will spread. But below 1.0 the infection  will  die  out…

Based on onset date, the R0 of COVID-19 in Virginia dipped below 1.0 beginning on May 10.

The reproductive rate is 0.998 based on an onset date 14 days ending May 10.

Let me repeat that: “Below 1.0 the infection  will  die  out.” Continue reading

The Epidemic is Receding. Why Do We Need a Mask Mandate Now?

by James A. Bacon

As Governor Ralph Northam ponders the details of a statewide order mandating Virginians to wear face masks, he might do well to consider the latest COVID-19 data in his deliberations.

A record number of test results, 11,609, were incorporated into the Virginia Department of Health COVID-19 database yesterday and published on the VDH dashboard this morning. (Only one day, May 1, saw a higher number, and that reflected a major change in reporting methodology.) This is the first time that Virginia has met Northam’s professed goal of a minimum of 10,000 tests daily.

Only 495 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed, the lowest number in more than a month. The percentage of positive tests fell to 4.3%. That was the lowest since March 18, before COVID-19 had reached epidemic proportions. Northam has cited evidence of declining positive-test ratios as an indicator for loosening his Vulcan Death Grip on Virginia’s economy.

But Northam appears to be committed to issuing a mask-wearing edict “especially for individuals going into businesses.” The only thing holding him back is that some issues remain unresolved. One is the “equity” implications of a mandate. Said he: “We want to make sure everyone has access to a mask.” In other words, he wants to ensure that members of poor and minority communities are not prevented by their inability to obtain masks from entering places of business. Another issue, he said, “We also want to talk about how we enforce that.” Continue reading

The Nursing Home Industry Responds

Virginia’s long-term care facilities have come under close scrutiny during the COVID-19 epidemic, understandably so, considering that roughly 60% of all COVID-19 deaths in Virginia have afflicted patients living in long-term care facilities. The nursing home industry has remained remarkably quiet throughout the crisis. But yesterday I received a communication from Amy Hewett, vice president of strategy and communications for the Virginia Health Care Association.

Bacon’s Rebellion has been pretty tough on the nursing home industry and its regulators, so I thought it fair and reasonable reasonable to re-publish Hewett’s communication. Here, after deleting prefatory material, is what she had to say. — JAB

As you know, the coronavirus is of a particularly voracious nature. Even with the best infection control, it can spread at nursing homes and assisted living centers, which require high-touch care such as feeding, bathing and dressing residents – especially given the frequency of asymptomatic spread. The people we care for are high risk – not just now, but always. Public health policy must reorient itself to our community’s needs so we can do everything possible to keep our residents safe.

That said, confirmed coronavirus cases account for just 6% of all residents in our care. Long-term care facilities are taking significant steps to prevent further spread. Despite the challenges we face, most residents and staff members who are diagnosed with the virus make a full recovery – many without hospitalization. With the proper resources, we can ensure even more positive outcomes.

I wanted to pass along a few items that I thought would be of interest to you: Continue reading

Latest Data Supports Continued Reversal of Shutdown

The red line shows the number of confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients in Virginia hospitals. Graph credit: John Butcher

by James A. Bacon

We’re a week into Phase 1 of relaxing the COVID-19 lockdown, and there is no sign of an acceleration of the virus. To the contrary, the virus seems to be receding. It may be too soon to reach definitive conclusions — there is a one- to two-week lag between an infection, the display of symptoms, testing, and hospitalizations — but so far, all signs are positive.

The most reliable indicator is COVID-19 hospitalizations, and the daily number is trending down strongly, as can be seen in the graph (courtesy of John Butcher) shown above. Since May 15, the count of confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients in Virginia hospitals has declined from 1,511 to 1,384. Meanwhile the number of new hospitalizations yesterday dropped to 36 — the lowest number in 25 days. The number of deaths remains significantly below previous peaks.

The one disconcerting note in the numbers comes from nursing homes. The number of nursing home patients confirmed to have COVID-19 has increased markedly over the past week — from 1,427 five days ago (the first day for which the numbers were reported) to 1,886 yesterday. Whether that reflects an increase in testing at long-term care facilities, an increase in the number of nursing homes sharing data, or an actual spread of the virus is impossible to determine from the published data on public dashboards. Continue reading

Wise King Ralph Rules: Less Choice for the Self-Employed

Wise King Ralph

by James A. Bacon

According to Governor Ralph Northam, the way to ensure access to quality, affordable medical insurance for Virginians is to reject bills that would… expand access to health insurance for Virginians.

Yesterday Northam vetoed two bills passed with broad bipartisan support that would have allowed self-employed people to buy insurance through professional groups such as Realtors’ associations. He also vetoed a third, which would have permitted small businesses to band together to buy group health insurance for employees.

Northam’s logic was that the legislation could undermine the Affordable Care Act by providing an alternative to buying coverage on the state exchange, reports the Washington Post.

“Governor Northam’s administration has worked to expand access to affordable quality care for all Virginians,” said a statement released by the Governor’s Office. “The vetoed bills would address health insurance cost concerns for targeted segments of the population, but in doing so, could increase the cost of insurance for sicker Virginians in the marketplace.” Continue reading

COVID-19 Update

Highlights from the Virginia Department of Health and Virginia Hospital and Healthcare COVID-19 databases based on yesterday’s reporting:

Mortality statistics
COVID-19 deaths: 37
Nursing home deaths: 13
Percentage of deaths occurring long-term care settings: 35%

Testing data
Tests administered: 6,553
% positive: 14.7%

COVID-19 Hospitalization data
New hospitalizations: 52
New discharges: 185
Total COVID-19 patients hospitalized: 1,459 (lowest in 19 days)


COVID-19 a Danger to Individuals but Not an Existential Threat to Society

We’ve published variations of this graph in the past, but the perspective never grows old. This data, provided by John Butcher of Cranky’s Blog fame, shows how the COVID-19 virus stacks up against other causes of death in Virginia (using 2017 data, the most recent available). The number is almost as high as it was for the flu and pneumonia.

But… but… but one can argue that if it weren’t for the extreme lockdown measures put into place by Governor Ralph Northam, the COVID-19-related deaths in Virginia would be much higher. That may be true. However that argument takes us into esoteric territory. One could argue that we haven’t “prevented” the COVID-19 deaths so much as displaced them in time. That was precisely the logic behind the “flatten the curve” strategy — to spread out the infections over time to avoid overwhelming the healthcare system. Continue reading

COVID Confusion

by Kerry Dougherty

Looks like it may be safe to lose the grocery gloves. We can take it easy with the Clorox wipes, too.

No longer must we let Amazon packages marinate on the porch for days. Or scrub milk cartons with bleach in case some super-spreader touched it in the supermarket refrigerator case and left invisible viral bits on its waxed surface.

Yep, in a reversal of its earlier hair-on-fire warnings, the CDC admitted this week that it appears the Covid-19 virus is not easily transmissable from surfaces.

The CDC made another key change to its website, clarifying what sources are not major risks. Under the new heading “The virus does not spread easily in other ways,” the agency explains that touching contaminated objects or surfaces does not appear to be a significant mode of transmission, reported The Washington Post.

Now they tell us, 5,000 Clorox wipes later. Continue reading