Category Archives: Public safety & health

Return to Autocracy in Virginia

Why is this man smiling?

by James C. Sherlock.
Updated Aug 13, 12:15 PM

It was so easy to predict that I can claim no special prescience. I wrote a week ago:

“The Governor’s 15-month emergency powers expired June 30, and, God, does he miss them…. (H)ow long (will the) governor put up with the lack of emergency powers?”

If you guessed a week, you win.

Today’s headline: Virginia Gov. Orders Mask Mandate for State’s K-12 Schools

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Thursday announced a public health emergency order to require masks in all indoor settings for the state’s K-12 schools.

The Governor has a legal basis for the order, § 32.1-13 of the Code of Virginia. The State Health Commissioner, acting for the Board of Health when it is not in session (§ 32.1-20 of the Code of Virginia),

may make separate orders and regulations to meet any emergency, not provided for by general regulations, for the purpose of suppressing nuisances dangerous to the public health and communicable, contagious and infectious diseases and other dangers to the public life and health.

If you are wondering, the Board of Health meets four times a year for a couple of days each meeting. And there is no mention of a role for the General Assembly.

This is not the same law that Northam used for 15 months. New ball game. Continue reading

Northam Orders Masks on Faces of Virginia Students

by Kerry Dougherty

They say an advertisement is successful if you can recall the name of the product long after you’ve seen the ad.

If that’s true, the 2013 Staples Back-To-School spot has to be one of the greats. I thought it was hilarious when I saw it eight years ago and I think of it every year around this time.

See for yourself:

Unfortunately, after yesterday’s edict by Gov. Ralph Northam, there will be lots of long faces on students in the coming weeks – although we won’t be able to see them – as Virginia’s school children trudge back to class wearing face masks.

Again. Continue reading

Herd Immunity from the Delta Variant – “Mythical”

Image by Spencer Davis from Pixabay

To vax or not to vax? I’m vaccinated. I think everybody who is eligible to be vaccinated should get vaccinated.  Jim Bacon makes the excellent point that people who are vaccinated may still get COVID but are far less likely to die from the virus. Others believe that vaccinations will confer herd immunity to the population as a whole if only enough people get vaccinated. Not so claims a world renowned virologist. Sir Andrew Pollard, head of the Oxford Vaccine Group and a leading epidemiologist, calls herd immunity from the Delta variant “not a possibility” and “mythical.” If herd immunity really is “mythical,” is there a public health basis to mandate vaccines? The pro vax mandate crowd has continually compared the COVID vaccinations to vaccinations against diseases like polio. But if herd immunity is “not a possibility,” where do we stand? Continue reading

Public Health Policy and the New COVID Calculus

Confirmed COVID-19 cases in Virginia. Source: Virginia Department of Health

by James A. Bacon

As debates rage over mask and vaccination mandates across Virginia, there is no denying that the spread of the Delta variant has created a spike in confirmed COVID-19 cases. The seven-day moving average of 1,455 (which could grow as late reports filter into the Virginia Department of Health) is only 24% of the winter peak, but it likely still has room to run. There is legitimate cause for concern, and it is reasonable to discuss what precautions should be taken.

What has gone missing from the Virginia media coverage is that the nature of the pandemic has undergone dramatic change — and I’m not talking about the increased infectiousness of the Delta variant. Hospitalizations in Virginia are up by roughly the same amount as confirmed cases, 24%, compared to the winter peak. But the moving average of deaths is running at the rate of only three per day in Virginia compared to 83 at the peak. It appears that after 18 months experience with COVID, physicians and hospitals have gotten much better at treating the illness.

For some reason, those numbers never appear in media headlines. Continue reading

UVa’s Bait and Switch

by Walter Smith

The University of Virginia announced its COVID-19 vaccination mandate May 20. Unless students filed for a medical or religious exemption, they had to be vaccinated this fall. If they failed to comply, they would be subject to weekly testing. No mercy for COVID survivors who had developed natural immunities.

On August 6th UVa proclaimed that due to concerns over the spread of the Delta variant it would be re-instituting a masking requirement for all students. On August 9, the university announced for the first time that students who failed to comply with the vaccine would be “disenrolled.”

By the way, did I mention that UVa sent out its bills July 20 and the last day to arrange the semester payment plan was Aug. 5?

Call me a cynic. Continue reading

Vaccine Verification Follies

Vaccination cards! Vaccination cards! We got yer vaccination cards right here!

by James A. Bacon

The Delta variant is so easily transmitted that Virginia public health officials say it is just a matter of time before all Virginians are exposed to it. In response, employers are requiring employees to be vaccinated and businesses are turning away unvaccinated customers. Suddenly, there is a need for Virginians to to prove they have gotten their shots.

Give credit to the Virginia Department of Health for anticipating that need. VDH is developing a tool that will allow businesses to quickly and easily verify customers’ vaccination status by scanning a QR code, reports WAVY TV. That tool will be an alternative to the existing VDH portal that allows Virginians to print out a PDF confirmation.

State vaccination coordinator Danny Avula told WAVY that the state has no immediate plans to implement vaccine passports. The initiative is a response to private sector demands for proof of vaccination. When the FDA gives full regulatory approval to the Pfizer vaccine in September, however, he expects vaccination requirements will become more common.

I just hope VDH’s rollout of the proof-of-vaccination initiative is more effective than its bumbling program for administering the vaccines in the first place. Continue reading

Digging Deeper into Vaccine Hesitancy

Correlation between COVID-19 case rate and percentage of population vaccinated in Virginia localities. Source: “Analysis of COVID-19 in Virginia July 21th, 2021.

by James A. Bacon

There has been a lot of discussion about the causes of vaccine hesitancy: Trump-voting evangelicals are idiots, Blacks are still scarred by the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, social media is spewing disinformation, people have lost faith in the “experts,” etc. Here’s a clue: People are most influenced by their interactions with the people around them.

The graph above, compiled by the Virginia Biocomplexity Institute (VBI), shows the correlation between the incidence of COVID-19 in a locality around July 20 and the percentage of the population that had been vaccinated. In its latest update, VBI observes that there is “some” correlation between vaccination rates and the rate of spread. But if you eyeball the graph, you can see that the correlation is a weak one. Continue reading

Coming to Virginia – a New State of Emergency?

Why is this man smiling?

by James C. Sherlock

The Governor’s 15-month emergency powers expired June 30, and, God, does he miss them.

From The Virginian-Pilot:

“School districts that aren’t requiring masks, including several in Hampton Roads, are running afoul of state law, Gov. Ralph Northam said Thursday.”


The bigger questions are

  • how long the governor will put up with the lack of emergency powers;
  • when he will start to follow Virginia’s Pandemic Emergency Annex to its Emergency Operations Plan; and
  • is the General Assembly even interested?

Continue reading

Free Zywicki!

Todd Zywicki

by James A. Bacon

Virginia is now in full-blown panic mode over the Delta variant and the rebound in confirmed COVID-19 cases. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has designated a majority of Virginia localities as “high COVID transmission areas,” and media are reporting outbreaks everywhere from child care centers to summer camps. Cities, universities and employers across the state are enacting mask and vaccination mandates. Governor Ralph Northam is “actively considering” a similar mandate for state employees. 

Against this backdrop, a George Mason University law professor, Todd Zywicki, has filed a lawsuit challenging the university’s vaccine mandate. Zywicki contends that he would have gotten vaccinated had he not already contracted and recovered from COVID-19, reports The Washington Post. But his immunologist says he has a strong natural immunity to the virus, as confirmed by positive antibody tests, and he objects to being coerced.

“I would rather rely on the advice of my doctor,” Zywicki said, “than mid-level bureaucrats at Mason who are designing a one-size-fits-all solution.” Continue reading

The Accelerating Scale of the Legislate-Regulate-Spend-and-Repeat Cycle Has Broken Government

by James C. Sherlock

Virginians – the state and individual citizens – have received over $81 billion in COVID-related federal funding. That comes to $9,507 for every man, woman and child in the Commonwealth.  Big money. 

That was Virginia’s share of $5.3 trillion in federal spending just on the pandemic (so far). A trillion dollars is a million million dollars. A thousand billion dollars.

For comparison, GDP was about $21 trillion in 2020  It is projected to total just short of $23 trillion this year.  The national debt is $29 trillion and growing. A little over $86,000 for every American. That figure does not include the $5 trillion in additional spending pending in the Congress.

Every day we spend $1 billion on interest with interest on the 10-year treasuries at 1.18% today. The Congressional budget office predicts 3.6% before 2027. Do the math. That is $3 billion a day — well over a trillion dollars a year — in interest. 

Relax. If you thought I was about to launch off on a discussion of drunken sailors, writing checks that our grandkids will have to make good, and the fact that inflation will drive interest payments ever upward, be reassured I am not.

This is about the demonstrated inability of many government agencies at every level to regulate, administer, oversee, spend and repeat with anything approaching efficiency or effectiveness.  Continue reading

The Bear Truth About That Massachusetts Outbreak

by Kerry Dougherty

I have a little assignment for you before you read the rest of today’s post.

Google “Provincetown Bear Week.” I’ll wait.


Yep, it’s a gathering of burly gay men who descend each summer on this Cape Cod enclave which is renowned for its eclectic shops and studios as well as its partying gay community. Like heterosexuals, gays come in all shapes and sizes and large, hairy men call themselves “bears.”

Much goes on during Bear Week that could spread germs. I’ll leave it there.

These are adults. They aren’t breaking any laws. I’m not judging.

I have nothing against bears or anyone else. But it’s worth noticing that Bear Week was held this summer in Provincetown, Massachusetts from July 10 through the 18th.

What a coincidence!

Contact tracing of so-called “breakthrough infections” of COVID infections in vaccinated individuals shot up to 364 people who were in Provincetown from July 3 through the 17th. Another 127 unvaccinated adults tested positive. Continue reading

COVID: Is It Time to Start Panicking Again?

by James A. Bacon

COVID-19 is moving faster than we can keep up with. The headline news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based on a study of an outbreak in Massachusetts, is that vaccinated people are just as likely to spread the highly contagious Delta variant of virus as unvaccinated people. The vaccinated are far more resistant to the disease, but they’re just as likely to spread it.

What the heck do we make of that?

For example, how does this new finding impact mandated-vaccination policies in universities and many places of employment on the grounds that the unvaccinated pose a significant transmission risk to others? If vaxxed and unvaxxed are just as likely to be plague vectors, what’s the public-good justification for requiring vaccinations?

In another issue, the CDC argues that everyone should start wearing masks again. Personally, I don’t feel that masks assault my civil liberties, and I’ve made the decision to start wearing them again in public places. I’m vaccinated, so I don’t feel particularly at risk. If I do get the virus, odds are that I won’t even know it, and if I do, it will be like a bad cold. But if there’s a chance that I could carry and spread the virus to others, I feel a responsibility to the community to wear a mask. Continue reading

Delta Dawn at JMU?

by Joe Fitzgerald

More than 1 in 9 James Madison University students was infected with Covid-19 during the school year that ended in May. To date, the university has accepted little responsibility for those illnesses or for any associated spread in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.

President Alger and members of the Senior Leadership Team have been predominantly silent about any mistakes the university may have made and what it will do to correct them this year as students return in the midst of the more virulent Delta Variant spread.

The university’s stance a week after classes began last year was “cautious optimism,” according to an email from Alger a few days before in-person classes were canceled. A few weeks later a university spokesperson, not Alger or any senior administrator, told the media, “There’s nothing at blame here except for the virus.”

Silence from the university and from Alger has continued this summer. The university has said it will require students to be vaccinated, but in effect the policy amounts to asking students to tell the university if they aren’t going to be vaccinated. Faculty and staff are explicitly not required to be vaccinated. Continue reading

Vaccine Shaming Will Backfire

by Kerry Dougherty

Lemme get the straight. The president wants everyone in the country to get vaccinated against Covid-19 — an admirable goal that would likely reduce the virus to a national head cold.

So how is he persuading those who are reluctant to take the vaccine to get a shot?

By insulting them.

Just this week Joe Biden said “If you’re not vaccinated, you are not nearly as smart as I thought you were!”

Way to go. I’m sure that calling the unvaxxed stupid ought to convince them to roll up their sleeves. Continue reading

Why So Much Vaccine Hesitancy?

COVID-19 Vaccine doses received -- Virginia

COVID-19 vaccines received — Virginia

by James A. Bacon

Only a month ago, it seemed as if we were putting COVID-19 behind us. With the emergence of the super-virulent Delta strain, all bets are off. Even vaccinated people and virus-resistant school children are being called upon to start wearing masks. I have no set opinions on the proper course of action. Receptive to a wide range of viewpoints, I am in data-gathering mode. Suspecting that many other readers are as well, I am resurrecting a Bacon’s Rebellion feature from earlier in the pandemic in which I regularly posted snapshots of Virginia COVID data.

The graph above highlights the fact that almost everyone who wants a vaccine in Virginia has been able to get it. The state has received 10.2 million doses, of which 87.5% have been administered. The rate at which the state is receiving new vaccine supplies, an indicator of how many people are getting vaccinated, has tailed off to almost nothing. Earlier this year, vaccine supply was the bottleneck. Today, vaccine hesitancy is the problem.

Why? Continue reading