Category Archives: Public safety & health

Bedlam at Southwest Airlines

by Kerry Dougherty

At the risk of sounding like a paid Southwest Airlines P.R. person, I can truthfully say it’s my favorite airline.

No change fees. Two bags fly free. Decent fares if you book early enough.

Best of all, Southwest flies out of our sad little airport.

Those perks are nice, but what impressed me most was the time I was in the Norfolk boarding area, peered out the window and saw the pilot on the tarmac, helping the baggage handlers load the plane.

I asked another SWA pilot about the incident and he assured me it wasn’t uncommon. The goal is to get the aircraft turned around quickly. Everyone pitches in.

I’m a sports fan. I like teamwork wherever I find it. Continue reading

What If They Threw A Party And No One Got COVID?

Photo credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports, by way of National Review

by James A. Bacon

It has been a month since Hokie fans packed the stands of the Virginia Tech-University of North Carolina football game in Tech’s Lane Stadium, sparking social-media fears of a massive spread. Despite the spectacle of thousands of screaming, expectorating fans in close quarters, there has been no meaningful outbreak.

Not only has there been no surge within the university community, Tech spokesman Mark Owczarski told National Review, but “seven day positivity rates in the Tech community have declined.”  Continue reading

Delta Variant On the Downhill Slide in Virginia

Source: University of Virginia Biocomplexity Institute. COVID still spreading in ten health districts but retreating in twenty.

by James A. Bacon

It appears that Virginia has turned the corner on the Delta variant. According to the weekly update from the University of Virginia Biocomplexity Institute Friday, the Institute’s COVID-19 model indicates that “cases have peaked and are in gradual decline.”

I don’t know about you, but that strikes me as good news — especially after weeks and weeks of we’re-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket stories from Virginia’s media outlets.

Amusingly, the only article in my VANews clip compilation this morning that acknowledged the Biocomplexity Institute findings comes from the Danville Register & Bee… in an article that COVID cases are still rising in the local health district even as the virus is retreating statewide. Count on the press to find the gray lining of every fluffy white cloud! Continue reading

Virginia’s Self-Inflicted Nursing Home Crisis — Part 2, the Business

by James C. Sherlock

Nursing homes are businesses.

Seventy percent of those in Virginia are for profit. They are run not by doctors but registered nurses with physicians on call. 

Nursing facilities very widely in size in Virginia, from the 300-bed Mulberry Creek Nursing and Rehab center in Martinsville to facilities of less than 30 beds, especially the long-term care units of a few mostly rural hospitals.

They include facilities designated as skilled nursing facilities (SNF), often post-op care and rehabilitation, and others designated as long-term-care nursing facilities (NF). Most nursing homes in Virginia have facilities and certified beds for each.

Insurer mix and staffing costs are keys to profitability.

Many of these businesses are worth what they get paid, but many are not. Continue reading

Virginia’s Self-Inflicted Nursing Home Crisis – Part 1

by James C. Sherlock

None of us ever knows when we will need a nursing home for ourselves, our parents or our kids. Yes, kids.

While long-term nursing care is mostly for older patients, skilled nursing facilities are needed for patients of all ages, including children, for shorter term post-op treatment and recovery.

The patients in many of Virginia’s nursing homes suffer greatly from a combination of known bad facilities and a lack of government inspections. The health and safety of patients in those facilities are very poorly protected by the state.  

In this series of reports I am going to point out some nursing homes (and chains) whose records will anger you. Government data show some have been horrible for a very long time in virtually every region in the state.

Those same records show that Virginia is years behind on important, federally mandated health and safety inspections.

VDH’s Office of Licensure and Certification doesn’t have enough inspectors — not even close. And the government of Virginia — officially based on budget data — not only does not care but is directly and consciously responsible.

When I am done reporting on my research I suspect you will demand more inspectors.

You will also  reasonably ask why the worst of them are still in business when the Health Commissioner has the authority to shut them down.

Good question. Continue reading

Northam’s Scare Tactics

by Kerry Dougherty

It was a gird-your-loins kind of day in Virginia on Monday. While we were on the radio in the morning, our producer handed me a bulletin announcing that Governor Ralph Northam was holding a press conference in the afternoon, on the subject of COVID.

Uh-oh.

I can’t repeat what I said off the air. But on the air, I reminded listeners that these press conferences fill many of us with dread.

The point of yesterday’s presser? To scold and scare Virginia’s unvaxxed. To begin pushing vaccines for children, even though they aren’t yet approved. And to field a couple of softball questions from the poodles in Virginia’s press corps. Continue reading

UVa Petri Dish Update

by James A. Bacon

About a month ago I suggested that the University of Virginia would make an interesting real-world experiment in the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccination mandates during the Delta Variant phase of the epidemic. The Ryan administration required vaccinations for all students, allowing only a handful of medical and religious exceptions. Vaccinations were “strongly encouraged” for faculty and staff. Students who failed to comply were “unenrolled.” As of late August, 97% of students had gotten the jab, as did 92% of teaching and research faculty.

So, how are things working out?

Surprisingly, according to figures found on UVa’s COVID dashboard, confirmed cases reported during the first 15 days of September this year ran higher than during the same period last year — 306 cases compared to 232. Since the 15th, it appears that the incidence of new cases has tailed off somewhat in comparison to last year, when cases continued to rise. It is not clear, though, if the apparent decline represents an actual slowdown in the spread of the COVID-19 virus over the past several days or the difference between partial numbers due to reporting delays this year compared to complete numbers last year. Continue reading

Pandemic and Pounds. Buy Bigger Belts

by Kerry Dougherty

I’m shocked.

Who could have predicted that closing fitness centers, filling public parks with sand, draining public pools, curtailing youth sports, shuttering schools and telling workers to stay home would result in a sharp increase in obesity?

And who would have guessed that being obese would contribute to more serious outcomes for anyone infected with COVID?

Actually, those of us with common sense knew this 19 months ago. Seems government health officials are finally catching on.

The CDC just released an alarming study billed as “the largest and first geographically diverse analysis” of the effects of the pandemic on BMI. The report confirms that extreme measures taken during the pandemic resulted in troubling weight gain that will likely result in long-term health problems for millions of Americans.

Well done, governors. Continue reading

VDH Still Can’t Count

by Carol J. Bova

In a blog post published yesterday, I noted that the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) COVID-19 dashboard breaks down vaccination status by racial/ethnic group and by age, but not by racial/ethnic groups and age.

Thinking that VDH might possess the data, even if it had chosen not to publish it, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request. The answer can be seen in the screen grab above: “The record does not exist.” Continue reading

Follow the Science. Yeah, Right

by Kerry Dougherty

Ever since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic I’ve been wondering what it would take for Americans to finally say they’d had enough.

Enough of absurd and ineffective regulations imposed on them by leaders hiding behind claims that they were simply “following the science.”

I was furious early in the spring of 2020, when Virginia’s governor — who was “following the science” — forbade SITTING ON THE BEACH. Remember that slice of crazy? It was OK to walk, run or fish on the beach, but no sitting.

That was followed by even more “follow the science “ idiocy: no football or volleyball on beaches. No loud music. No umbrellas. The constant wiping down of handrails to the beach with disinfectant, even though we knew the virus couldn’t survive in summer heat and direct sunlight.

Then came football season, and the governor ordered “crowds” at outdoor events be limited to 250 spectators, regardless of the size of the venue.

Hey, he was just following the science. Continue reading

Another Sick Idea: Vaccine Passports for Domestic Travel

by Kerry Dougherty

Oh look. Rep. Don Beyer, a Virginia car dealer who served eight years as Virginia’s lieutenant governor and ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1997 against Jim Gilmore, is in the news. The congressman who represents the second-most Democratic district in the commonwealth — the 8th — has joined the Biden administration in trying to completely balkanize America into the vaxxed and unvaxxed.

As if Biden’s likely illegal mandates to force federal workers — excluding postal workers or members of congress — to be vaccinated wasn’t a strong enough start on a medical apartheid system in the U.S., Beyer wants to go full Fauci on the unvaxxed.

To that end, Beyer has introduced a bill that he’s dubbed “Safe Travel Act,” which would ban the unvaccinated from commercial flights and Amtrak unless they can produce a negative COVID test not more than 72 hours old.

This bill may be masquerading as a safety measure, but it is purely punitive. Continue reading

UVa, COVID, and Jim Ryan’s $200,000 Bonus

Source: University of Virginia COVID Tracker

by James A. Bacon

Like many other University of Virginia alumni, I was taken aback to hear that the Board of Visitors had granted President Jim Ryan a $200,000 bonus for the great job UVa had done in addressing the COVID-19 epidemic.

Rector Whittington Clement put it this way: “When the situation this year became clearer and we had a highly successful handling of COVID-19, we think the University did as well as, if not better, than any institution of higher learning in making the adjustments necessary to COVID-19, we thought that it was appropriate to give him a bonus.”

I don’t want to prejudge whether Team Ryan has done a great job of addressing COVID-19 or not. To be sure, UVa has resumed in-person learning, but it also has instituted a draconian lockdown, including mandated vaccination for students, the unenrollment of those who did not comply, mask wearing required both indoors and outdoors, and mandated isolation and quarantine for those who test positive and/or been exposed. UVa is a laboratory testbed for the individual-liberties-be-damned approach to public health that some would like to see for the entire country. Continue reading

COVID, Vaccinations and Risk

Vaccine doses received Pfizer, Moderna and JJ). Source Virginia Department of Health.

by James A. Bacon

A new feature of the Virginia Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard compares the rate of infections, hospitalizations and deaths among vaccinated and unvaccinated people. We’ll get to that in just a moment. By way of preface, it’s worth noting that every Virginian who wants the vaccine has it.

The graph above shows the number of vaccines given since December 1. Shots given declined to almost zero in July and early August. As the Delta variant created a new surge in infections, a few hold-outs began getting the jab. At this point in time, about 4.9 million Virginians — about 57% of the population — are described as “fully” vaccinated. That number is not likely to change much, although the classification of “fully” vaccinated could change as vaccinations lose their potency and we are urged to get boosters.

Maybe the numbers that follow will jar some of the hitherto unwilling into thinking differently about the risks they face. The next chart shows the differences in the COVID infection rates broken down by vaccination status: fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated, and unvaccinated. Continue reading

Closing Schools Made Children Fatter, More Vulnerable to COVID

by Hans Bader

Many kids became fatter when schools closed to in-person learning during the coronavirus pandemic. “Overweight or obesity increased among 5- through 11-year-olds from 36.2% to 45.7% during the pandemic, an absolute increase of 8.7% and relative increase of 23.8%,” noted the Journal of the American Medical Association.

That’s making the effects of the pandemic much worse. “The evidence linking obesity to adverse COVID-19 outcomes is ‘overwhelmingly clear,’” say health experts. More than half of all people hospitalized for the coronavirus are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Children very rarely die of the coronavirus, but they can suffer a lot from it, especially if they are fat. Obese people are much more likely to require hospitalization when they contract the coronavirus.

“Pediatric COVID-19 cases are surging, pushing hospitals — and health care workers — to their breaking points,” reports Time Magazine. New Orleans is one of America’s fattest cities, and is located in one of America’s least vaccinated states. Predictably, Children’s Hospital of New Orleans (CHNO) is facing a surge in hospitalizations. Continue reading

UVa as Petri Dish for COVID-Fighting Policy

New cases reported at the University of Virginia. Source: “UVA COVID Tracker”

by James A. Bacon

The University of Virginia is engaging in an interesting real-world experiment in the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccine mandates. UVa’s must-vaccinate rule for students is similar to policies at almost every other university in Virginia and many employers as well. But UVa’s COVID tracker, which is updated daily, provides a finer-grained insight into what’s happening in its community of students, faculty and staff than other dashboards I’ve viewed.

Recall that one year ago, UVa relied upon a combination of testing, masking, social distancing, online classes, and quarantining to contain the spread of the virus. Three very big changes have occurred since then. First, vaccines were introduced. Second, the super-transmissible Delta mutation became the dominant COVID-19 virus in the United States. And third, UVa reinstituted in-person classes.

This academic year, UVa went “all in” on vaccinations, requiring all students (save a handful with medical or religious exemptions) to get the jab. Students who failed to comply were “unenrolled.” Faculty and staff were “strongly urged” to take the shot. As of last week, reported UVA Today, 97% of UVa students were fully vaccinated, as was 92% of the teaching and research faculty. Additionally, everyone is required to wear masks in public indoor places. The policies and protocols are much stricter than for Virginia as a whole.

How are they working out? Continue reading