Category Archives: Public safety & health

Has Omicron Peaked?

Source: Virginia Department of Health

by James A. Bacon

The news media today is chock full of stories about school boards in Northern Virginia and other blue localities defying Governor Glenn Youngkin’s executive order ending mask mandates. The confrontations won’t be settled until the courts rule definitively whether Virginia’s Governor or the school boards have the last word. By the time that happens, the issue may be moot. It appears that the Omicron wave of COVID-19 has peaked and, though daily infections are still extremely high, they are receding.

According to the Virginia Department of Health COVID-19 dashboard, new confirmed cases of COVID-19 hit a high of 36,928 in the week ending January 8. Last week, ending January 15, new cases fell to 27,798. The latter number may miss a few stragglers in the reporting system, but it is evident that the number of infections, after leaping to unprecedented levels in Virginia, is easing off — as was predicted by the experience in South Africa and the United Kingdom. Continue reading

UVa on Third-Vaccination Mandate: Trust Us

by James A. Bacon

So, the University of Virginia bumped up its deadline for students, faculty and staff to get a COVID-19 booster shot to today, one day before Glenn Youngkin, a foe of vaccination mandates, takes office. In an interview with CBS19 News, UVa spokesman Brian Coy says Youngkin’s ascension to office was not a factor in the university’s decision making. “This is what we think is necessary to keep our community safe,” he said.

What factors did go in to the university’s decision making? That’s less clear.

“This variant does pose a unique challenge, but having everybody boosted and having everybody wearing masks we believe gives us the best opportunity to have a good semester and make this year strong,” Coy said.

Coy added that UVA will be monitoring case counts, quarantine space and hospital capacity to make any decisions, and said if UVA opts to enforce other mitigation strategies, those will be announced to the community by the end of this week. (My bold)

Ah. I see. UVa will be monitoring case counts, quarantine space and hospital capacity. By implication, UVa will not be monitoring actual hospitalizations or deaths, otherwise Coy would have mentioned them. Continue reading

No More “Medical Bandwagon Thinking” for Virginia

Dr. Marty Makary

by Kerry Dougherty

For the past several weeks, Glenn Youngkin has been busy appointing top members of his administration.

One of the most exciting announcements came this week when we learned that Dr. Marty Makary, a surgeon and public policy researcher with a dazzling resume at Johns Hopkins University, agreed to chair Youngkin’s COVID advisory team.

In other words, he’ll be Youngkin’s Fauci. Only Makary appears to be a lot smarter than Fauci and is unafraid to question the groupthink that forms many of America’s ineffective COVID policies.

Makary’s written two best-selling books and more than 250 articles on public health for publications that include The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. He’s also a frequent contributor to Fox News, the only cable network that seems to allow dissenting views about Washington’s response to COVID-19 and Biden administration edicts. Continue reading

Northam’s Legacy as COVID Fighter

by James A. Bacon

As the hours tick down on his term in office, Governor Ralph Northam is inclined to reflect upon his performance. In the limited remarks he has made in public, he has expressed few regrets and admitted to few mistakes.

As demonstrated by the thoroughly documented meltdown in Standards of Learning (SOL) test scores, his positive self-appraisal is laughably myopic. Northam is the worst education governor in modern Virginia history. Hands down.

But there is more to governing than education. One must consider the performance of the economy, the budget, taxes, public safety, quality of life, and health care, among other factors. Perhaps the most pressing challenge during Northam’s term in office has been the COVID-19 epidemic. Any judgment about Northam’s performance as governor must assess his leadership in dealing with that crisis.

Several Bacon’s Rebellion contributors, including myself, have been critical of specific aspects of his performance — testing, vaccinations, school shutdowns, mask mandates, protecting nursing homes, etc. But, then, it’s easy for pundits to criticize. We weren’t the ones who had to make tough calls in the face of incomplete, evolving, and often conflicting data. Every governor was groping in the dark. No governor amassed a perfect track record. At the end of the day, we should ask, how well has Virginia fared in the pandemic compared to the other 50 states? Continue reading

Cloth Masks Reduce Omicron Risk by 50%

by James A. Bacon

More evidence is coming in that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has very different properties than Delta and other variants, and that polices and practices deemed appropriate for earlier versions might not be so for Omicron. The latest revelation comes from Dr. Linsey Marr, a Virginia Tech engineering professor, who works in the once-obscure academic specialty of bioaerosols. She became famous during the COVID-19 epidemic after playing a role in determining that the virus did not spread by fomites (particles left on surfaces) but through aerosols in the air.

WTVR in Roanoke sums up her latest conclusions about the efficacy of wearing masks to prevent the spread of Omicron: “She said cloth masks are only about 50% effective in protecting against infected particles — good enough for earlier forms of COVID-19, but not against the more transmissible Omicron variant.”

Only 50%? Cloth masks don’t offer a 100% guarantee of protecting us from the virus? That’s the glass-half-empty version of the data. The glass-half-full version is this: hey, cloth masks are 50% effective in protecting against infected particles!! Which is a lot better than zero.

This information resonates with me because, although I have dutifully worn masks in public spaces, I was unsure about their efficacy and feared that I was engaging in COVID theater. Continue reading

Don’t Know, or Won’t Say, How Many Omicron Hospitalizations?

by Carol J. Bova

The most recent Virginia Department of Health (VDH) information on the number of COVID-19 infections in vaccinated people dates from December 25, 2021. Statewide weekly total case numbers go through January 1, 2022.

The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association (VHHA) gives total hospitalizations and ICU numbers for confirmed and pending tests as of January 9, but doesn’t differentiate between Omicron and other forms of Covid.

Bret Baier, on Fox News Sunday, January 9th, interviewed several people about the Supreme Court session on Covid vaccine mandates and Covid information. He included an audio clip of an incorrect statement by Justice Sonia Sotomayor: “We have over 100,000 children, which we’ve never had before, in serious condition and many on ventilators.”

He then asked Centers for Disease Control Director Rochelle Walensky if it were true that “there are fewer than 3,500 current pediatric hospitalizations from COVID-19.” Continue reading

Youngkin, UVa COVID Policy on a Collision Course

by James A. Bacon

The debate over COVID-19 policy rages unabated. Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin and Attorney General-elect Jason Miyares announced today their intention to challenge Biden-administration vaccine mandates through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, OSHA, and Head Start.

“While we believe that the vaccine is a critical tool in the fight against COVID-19, we strongly believe that the Federal government cannot impose its will and restrict the freedoms of Americans, and that Virginia is at its best when her people are allowed to make the best decisions for their families or businesses,” they said in a press release.

While Youngkin and Miyares were pushing one way, the University of Virginia was moving in the opposite direction.

In a communication to the UVa community, President Jim Ryan announced that the global spike in COVID-19 cases attributable to the Omicron variant had prompted him to take additional measures to prevent the spread. UVa is advancing the deadline for students, faculty and staff to get a COVID booster shot. The deadline — probably not a coincidence — is January 14, one day before Youngkin and Miyares take office. Continue reading

Red Alert! Omicron Now Everywhere

Alert! Alert! Alert! This Virginia Department of Health map shows the COVID-19 transmission rate is uniformly high across the state.

by James A. Bacon

It’s crazy out there, folks. The Omicron variant is running rampant, racking up record numbers of cases across the Commonwealth and filling up hospitals. We have seen nothing like this spike in cases and hospitalizations during the pandemic, not even in last year’s winter surge. The main consolation is that deaths are not spiking. The greatest risk to public health may be indirect: COVID cases filling hospitals and displacing patients with non-emergency medical issues.

Thankfully, Governor Ralph Northam has refrained from ordering emergency shutdowns during his last days in office. The temptation to “do something” must be powerful, but it’s not clear that anything short of draconian Chinese-style lock-people-in-their-apartments shutdowns will do much to slow the spread of this hyper-transmissible variant.

Here’s the weekly snapshot of COVID data: Continue reading

Arlington Union: Test Everyone or Close the Schools

Click for legible image.

by James A. Bacon

I can’t decide which is scarier: a letter from the Arlington Education Association (AEA) urging school superintendent Francisco Duran not to resume full-time instruction tomorrow in the absence of sufficient COVID-19 testing, or the insouciant attitude toward punctuation and grammar by the signatory, AEA president Ingrid Gant. Take your pick: no in-person school, a proven disaster… or the possibility that the letter represents the literacy standards of Arlington school teachers, a potential disaster that will long out-last the COVID virus.

Arlington parent Ellen Gallery, a  home-schooling mom, ridiculed the letter on social media, highlighting typos and garbled syntax in the manner of an English teacher grading a paper. All the mark-up lacked was an F- at the top. Gallery’s post was disseminated widely in conservative media, and the letter well deserves the mockery it has received.

However, let us not overlook the substance of the missive. The Arlington teacher’s union is pushing back against reopening the schools. Gant wants to ensure that “teachers spending hours in close contact are not inflected.” If the Arlington teachers’ union is making this demand, surely teachers in other districts are as well. The Omicron school panic could well become Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin’s first big leadership test. Continue reading

This Didn’t Have to Happen

by Joe Fitzgerald

A year ago, the post-Thanksgiving surge was still raging, but there was hope in the imminent availability of vaccines. But 2021 would be the year of criminals who stormed the Capitol because they didn’t understand democracy and of their intellectual brethren who didn’t understand science or medicine.

Virginia set a record today for statewide number of new cases. That’s the third day in a row the number has been a record (12,112 Wednesday, 13,500 yesterday, 17,618 today.) Staunton-Augusta-Waynesboro have seen a total of more than 20,000 cases as of today, and Harrisonburg-Rockingham will pass that milestone over the weekend.

The largest strain is on the health-care system. Hospitals are all but closed to all but the most serious illnesses and injuries. Nurses face not only the crush of cases, but the fact that those getting most seriously ill are the most stubborn in their denial about COVID. Those people don’t know enough science to get them to the first mid-terms of nursing school, but anecdotally many of them are abusive and sometimes violent in their resistance to COVID facts. Continue reading

Virginia Omicron Update: December 29

New COVID cases. Source: Virginia Department of Health

by James A. Bacon

Omicron is upon us, cases are surging and local media are sounding the alarm. Nationally, hospitalizations are setting “grim records,” according to the Washington Post. Closer to home, Loudoun County’s government-run drive-through testing center reached capacity within an hour of opening. Mary Washington Healthcare providers are closing a COVID clinic after exhausting supplies of monoclonal antibodies. Virginia Tech is mandating booster shots, and Norfolk State University is postponing spring-semester classes. And that’s just today’s headlines.

So, how bad are things in reality? The statewide data tell us two things. First, new COVID cases are increasingly rapidly. Second, hospitalizations are increasing, too, but less rapidly. The big caveat is that data reported on the Virginia Department of Health COVID dashboard is more than a week old, and with the fast-moving Omicron variant now the dominant strain, the data can be pun-ishly described as “out of data.” Continue reading

Good for Kamras

Jason Kamras

by James A. Bacon

Yes, you read that headline correctly. And, yes, that’s Jason Kamras, superintendent of the Richmond Public Schools we’re talking about. Bacon’s Rebellion has been highly critical of Kamras in the past, but we have to support his recent statement that he has no intention to close city schools, even in the face of the hyper-transmissible Omicron variant of COVID-19.

“We are not going to close schools again,” Kamras tweeted Wednesday, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “Our students need us to stay open — perhaps now more than ever.”

“We have vaccines for literally everyone down to kindergarten. We have air filtration units in every building. There are treatments for COVID. So, I just think it’s a very different context,” he elaborated in an RTD interview. “Plus, we know that being out of school is just really damaging to kids academically, and socially and emotionally, so when you kind of weigh the risks of COVID to kids against the risk of social, emotional and academic damage to kids. I think that that calculus has just changed, how it points to keep school open.” Continue reading

Embarrassing Managerial Incompetence

M. Norman Oliver M.D., Virginia Health Commissioner

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Northam administration has just had an embarrassing case of managerial incompetence exposed.

A series of articles by the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Patrick Wilson (here, here, and here) sets out the story of the Department of Health laying off 14 state employees who monitor drinking water systems across the state, including six field directors with a combined 180 years of experience, due to “budget error.” This office monitors water quality across the state, enforces state and federal drinking water standards, handles inspections and permits, and assists with lab testing.

The sad tale has its beginning in 2019, when the Department of Health’s Office of Drinking Water, being advised by agency administrators that it had the funding to do so, provided salary increases to 55 employees in the office and opened a field office in Richmond with four people. It turned out that advice was wrong, with a resulting shortfall projected to be $1.4 million this fiscal year. So, now, almost halfway through fiscal year 2022, the agency, facing a budget shortfall in that budget line item, tells these 14 people they are going to be laid off, effective January 9. Continue reading

Countdown to Freedom: 32 Days

by Kerry Dougherty

Oh look.

California’s dopey governor is following New York’s crazy executive. They’re both re-instituting what didn’t work the last time that COVID cases began to rise: Sweeping mask mandates and more restrictions.

There, but for the wisdom of the electorate, goes Virginia.

Oh, I suppose lame duck Ralph Northam — in an explosive display of tyrannical behavior — could impose another mask mandate on the commonwealth or tell us to be home by midnight as he did last Christmas. He could close bars again, order us not to have more than five people in our homes over the holidays and close schools.

But even the Governor knows none of those measures made a bit of difference last time and they’d be wildly unpopular today.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin will be inaugurated on January 15th and Virginians will be safe from any more sudden and erratic mandates from Richmond. Continue reading

It’s Silly Season

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Richmond Times Dispatch reports that Governor Northam will include $27.4 million in his budget bill for a new Center for Firearm Violence Intervention and Prevention in the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS). What a dumb proposal!

Setting aside the obvious politics  surrounding the subject matter, as a budget analyst, I would ask, “What in the world are they going to spend $27.4 million on?” In his remarks, the Governor talked about collecting data on gun violence and analyzing it. OK.  I am always in support of gathering data. So, add two or three well-trained analysts and statisticians to DCJS’s existing research center. Now we are down to about $27 million. What is that to be used for? There was some vague reference to providing resources to localities and community-based organizations, but no explanation as to what that means.

And why do you need a “Center”? That is just more bureaucracy. Continue reading