COVID-19: How Prepared Is Virginia?

by James A. Bacon

Yesterday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a statement on the COVID-19 coronavirus, warning that the highly infectious respiratory illness could spread to the United States. The disease, which has a long latency period and can be spread without people knowing it, continued to defy efforts to contain it in China, and now has erupted in South Korea, Japan, Italy, and other countries. In the absence of any mechanism yet to accurately detect the virus, it seems inevitable in today’s globally connected world that the bug eventually will inundate the U.S. Based on the limited data available, the mortality rate could run as high as 2% (although there are reasons to think that figure may be high). As investors absorbed the implications of the global pandemic for the economy, the DOW Jones Industrial Average shed 2,000 points yesterday.

There is a thin line between taking basic precautions and engaging in fear-mongering. There is no need (yet) to panic. But it would be prudent to give some thought to how we might prepare for the inevitable.

Americans instinctively turn to the federal government for leadership in a crisis like this. But the CDC makes it clear that state and local governments must play an important role in containing the spread of the disease. It is not too early for Virginians to begin asking Governor Ralph Northam what measures the Commonwealth is preparing to take when the virus reaches the Old Dominion.

According to yesterday’s CDC statement, the federal government is taking multiple measures to “slow and … contain transmission of COVID-19 in the United States” so state and local health departments, health care systems, schools, businesses and the public will have more time to prepare should widespread transmission occur. Let me repeat that: so state and local health departments and health care systems will have more time to prepare.

Local officials have a critical role to play in combating the virus, says the CDC.

Community-level nonpharmaceutical intervention might include school dismissals and social distancing in other settings (e.g., postponement or cancellation of mass gatherings and telework and remote-meeting options in workplaces). These measures can be disruptive and might have societal and economic impact on individual persons and communities. However, studies have shown that early layered implementation of these interventions can reduce the community spread and impact of infectious pathogens such as pandemic influenza, even when specific pharmaceutical treatments and vaccines are not available. These measures might be critical to avert widespread COVID-19 transmission in U.S. communities.

The idea is to buy time until the National Institutes of Health and the pharmaceutical industry can develop vaccines and therapeutics. In other words the state-local response is an integral piece of any national strategy.

Needless to say, the time to begin thinking about such things as school dismissals, remote working, event cancellations and other “social distancing” measures is now, not when the pandemic is upon us.

I have yet to see much reporting on what preparations Virginia is taking. Governor Northam has yet to issue a public statement on the subject.

The Virginia Department of Health does maintain a COVID-19 page providing limited date local information. The department, we are informed, has investigated seven persons to date. Six have been found to test negative for the virus; one case is pending. Another 179 travelers have been/are being monitored. Eleven have been classified as “low risk” and 92 as “medium risk.”

Meanwhile, a missive from James F. Lane, superintendent of public instruction, indicates that the Virginia Department of Education is urging schools to adopt basic hygienic measures.

Schools can implement health promotion strategies to reduce disease transitions within the school setting. These include good hygiene practices such as handwashing, management of cold symptoms, proper rest, and nutrition; enhanced facilities monitoring (bathrooms, buses, cafeteria, and media/library centers); sanitizing classroom toys, frequently used classroom equipment/manipulatives; and monitoring school absences and communication with parents regarding the local policy for students who are ill and/or returning to school.

So, that’s something. Is it enough?

If the pandemic peters out, perhaps it is. But if the spread accelerates, the response would seem woefully insufficient. There is no indication from what I have seen that Virginia is remotely prepared to implement “community-level interventions” to slow the transmission of the disease. Aside from schools, remote working and public events, shouldn’t the state also be thinking about public transit? Shouldn’t hospitals be thinking about virus-containment protocols?

I would feel far more reassured if I knew that Virginia’s government leaders were actively conferring with leaders in the fields of education, health care, public transportation, public safety, and industry to develop plans of action should a China-scale pandemic make its way to Virginia. Hopefully, the COVID-19 panic will recede, and the most intrusive precautions will prove unnecessary. But as the Boy Scout motto says, “Be prepared.”

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43 responses to “COVID-19: How Prepared Is Virginia?”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    so……….we’re advocating a coercive force of government ? Lordy!

    1. Larry, you know perfectly well (because I have made the point a hundred times, usually in response to your trolling) that government intervention is justified to protect the public health.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        You’ve also made the point – many times – that government is coercive and harmful and I’m pointing out that government actually is INDISPENSABLE on some things – there is no “market” forces in things like this.

        You say “justified”. Who makes that judgement? You or me?

  2. sherlockj Avatar

    Remember my column “Virginia Board of Health and the Virginia Way”? That same BOH has a mission statement that reads in part:
    “The State Board of Health exists to provide leadership in planning and policy development for the Commonwealth and the Virginia Department of Health to implement a coordinated, prevention-oriented program that promotes and protects the health of all Virginians.”
    Among its statutory responsibilities: “Makes emergency orders and 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 (§32.1-13)”
    I wonder if the BOH is in session?

  3. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    And trump has sliced the CDC’s budget? How timely!

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Not only has he cut the budget, he is now fostering an environment where government employees have to look behind their backs when trying to carry out their missions.

      If they say or do the “wrong” thing, this POTUS will come after them.

      Loyalty is required and loyalty means you do what the POTUS wants.

      That’s where we are now.

  4. I can’t help but note the irony of the fact that the House has passed a bill to enforce the quarantine of rabid animals. But search for “COVID-19” and the phrase doesn’t appear in any proposed legislation whatsoever. The deadliest pandemic in years could be descending upon Virginia — a pandemic that could be slowed and mitigated through state/local public action — and our legislature isn’t even thinking about it.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      I think they probably ARE thinking about it but there is not a whole lot they can do and some danger in doing something that will inhibit or harm our ability to deal with the problem.

      We set up government agencies with missions to act – but these days, we have widespread cynicism and outright derision from many who spend a fair amount of their time hammering government – as an institution.

      We are now in the position of having to hope and rely on the government institutions, that many of us have condemned as corrupt and incompetent.

      and… the beat goes on…………

  5. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Larry and Peter’s efforts to score political points in what should be an important policy discussion are disgusting. That’s all their brains can absorb, political hate and discontent. And I have that critique somewhat for Jim, as well, because issuing press releases is not what Northam should be concentrating on. I’m confident, given his professional background, he’s laser focused on this. There is nothing of value that will be provided from the General Assembly, Jim. Be glad they are not trying to “help.”

    Wish I didn’t have a trip overseas locked in for June…hoping very much this will be abating before then. But Virginia 1) needs to prepare aggressively and 2) has a chance to look back through the budget bill and maybe pull back a bit, pad the cushion. I saw a report from the Port of Charleston yesterday on its dropoff, and the same will happen in Virginia. Manufacturing supply chains and retail inventories will be devastated. The stock market crash has an impact on the state budget. Big issue. I’d rather over prepare and be wrong than the other way around.

    1. Steve, how to you deduce from my post that I think that issuing press releases is “what Northam should be concentrating on”?

      My purpose in pointing out that he has issued no press releases was to reinforce the preceding statement that there has been little reporting on what preparations, if any, Virginia is taking. If Northam is making preparations out of the public eye, I would be much reassured.

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    Well…I think also that “political points” about the coercive force of government, corrupt and inept government, etc, etc has been a continuing theme and that unfettered free markets are the cure for government ineptness, etc, etc..

    Now is a good time to revisit that drumbeat, we are subjected to frequently.

    And you know what? This approach to pandemic – is pure socialism!

    You do not have to have government controlling this – almost all of it.. we even have folks calling for MORE govt, i.e. include the States and localities!

    It’s a government LOVE FEST!


    yes.. it’s serious and those of us who do understand and support the govt role are glad it remains in place – and functioning though NOW, the complaint is it’s not doing ENOUGH!

    OH and this. We actually DO BELIEVE the scientists on this! What a novel concept! No bloggers telling us that scientists are incompetent, misreading the data, and lying, eh?

    1. More trolling. Not worthy of a response.

  7. sherlockj Avatar

    Fortunately private industry has not been slow at all to respond. From today’s press reports:
    Human testing of a drug designed to treat COVID-19 began in the U.S.. A clinical trial to assess Gilead’s antiviral drug remdesivir — which was previously tested in animals for treating MERS and SARS — against coronavirus started at Omaha-based University of Nebraska Medical Center, the NIH said. The first participant is an American evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan.

    The World Health Organization said remdesivir may be effective against the coronavirus.
    The comments came in a press conference at which the organization lauded the Chinese government for the measures it took to stem the spread of the virus. When identifying any drugs that could potentially combat the disease, WHO named the drug from Gilead Sciences.

    Remdesivir is an investigational antiviral that hasn’t yet been approved anywhere globally for any use.

    However, Gilead Sciences has been working with global health officials in responding to the coronavirus outbreak and officials have been experimenting with remdesivir. Numerous health organizations have participated in the trials including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Allergies and Infection Diseases, Department of Defense, the China CDC and the World Health Organization.

    Working with health authorities in China, Gilead Sciences has initiated two clinical trials of coronavirus.

    Yes, Larry, the federal government has a role, as do state and local governments. But as you will notice from these reports, so does private industry. Because of faster decision cycles and commercial as well as humanitarian motivations, Gilead is on it.

  8. johnrandolphofroanoke Avatar

    I anticipate school closures over this. We did this for the Malvos when they were loose and terrorizing.

  9. LarrytheG Avatar

    Jim, are you getting these “press reports” from the liberal main stream media?

    How do you know that these reports are not “biased”?

    Also – yes.. there are private sector efforts – all under the control and approval of government, right?

    Is this the same government that restricts access to affordable healthcare? We have “good” govt and “bad” govt?

    I have no doubt what-so-ever, that the blogosphere will “investigate” and determine that there is a worldwide conspiracy among “alarmist” scientists and “liberal” health organizations to screw up the economy and stampede innocents to “depend” on government “help”.


    1. More trolling. Not worthy of a response.

  10. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Steve. All Larry and I can handle are hate and scorn? Really? And all because i brought up Trump. A no no! You really see yourself as an enforcer!

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Well of course Peter. If you don’t agree with the basic theme here – you are a “hater” who “scorns” 😉

      You gotta get with the program Bud. You cannot hate & scorn unless it is “approved” – otherwise it’s bad karma and “trolling”….

      but holy moly… apparently Jim has also erred… does that mean he is “trolling” also – lord.

      1. Peter Galuszka Avatar
        Peter Galuszka

        Haner. On reflection, i resent having my criticism of Trump to “score” political points as “disgusting.” Where to get off with such gratuitous insults? Trump has cut cdc and nih funding. ProtectivIve gear at military based where those infected is in short supply. You might have not noticed but stocks are down 10 per cent.

        1. sherlockj Avatar

          The Associated Press found the claim by a couple of the Presidential candidates in the last debate that President Trump cut CDC and NIH funding to be false.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            he PROPOSED cutting it but Congress has yet to act on it:

            What’s True
            The Trump administration’s proposed 2021 budget includes cuts to the CDC’s activities related to chronic disease.

            What’s False
            Congress hasn’t approved the budget, so CDC funding in 2021 remains unclear.


            here’s the AP article:

            ” WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic presidential contenders are describing the federal infectious-disease bureaucracy as rudderless and ill-prepared for the coronavirus threat because of budget cuts and ham-handed leadership by President Donald Trump. That’s a distorted picture. For starters, Trump hasn’t succeeded in cutting the budget.

            He’s proposed cuts but Congress ignored him and increased financing instead. The National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention aren’t suffering from budget cuts that never took effect.”

            The AP – by the way – primarily re-prints articles from the newspapers and broadcast media that are members of the AP.

            The original article came from FOX SanAntonio and yes a part of that good old MSM that is said to be “biased”.

    2. Peter Galuszka Avatar
      Peter Galuszka

      Now instead of an expert infectious disease expert in charge we have mike pence!

  11. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Agree with you, larry. Fyi the ap reports that up until now the SARS virus some years ago was far deadlier with s 10 percent fatality rate.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      “Rush Limbaugh stated during his radio show Monday that he believes the deadly coronavirus wreaking havoc around the world is part of an effort to “bring down” President Trump.

      The conservative commentator and recent Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient made the claim as the stock market slumped over concerns about the coronavirus continuing to spread.

      “It looks like the coronavirus is being weaponized as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump,” Mr. Limbaugh said during his syndicated radio show.

      “I’m dead right on this,” he said. “The coronavirus is the common cold, folks.”

      Mr. Limbaugh, 69, subsequently proceeded to claim the coronavirus was likely developed by the Chinese government before accusing members of the media of exaggerating its severity.

      “I believe the way it’s being weaponized is by virtue of the media, and I think that it is an effort to bring down Trump, and one of the ways it’s being used to do this is to scare the investors, to scare people in business,” he said. “It’s to scare people into not buying Treasury bills at auctions. It’s to scare people into leaving, cashing out of the stock market”

      then travel on over to whatsupwiththat to get their take on the pandemic:

      1. Peter Galuszka Avatar
        Peter Galuszka

        I am no expert on China having there only twice. But it is entirely plausible that the virus came from some “wet” market where living or nearly living animals are sold with very little sanitation. I don’t how trump or limbaugh could have been involved with the origin. The big issue is what Xi Jinping does

      2. Steve Haner Avatar
        Steve Haner

        You have more in common with Rush (based on your approach to this discussion) than anyone else on this string….

  12. “Schools can implement health promotion strategies to reduce disease transitions within the school setting. These include good hygiene practices such as handwashing, management of cold symptoms, proper rest, and nutrition; enhanced facilities monitoring (bathrooms, buses, cafeteria, and media/library centers); sanitizing classroom toys, frequently used classroom equipment/manipulatives; and monitoring school absences and communication with parents regarding the local policy for students who are ill and/or returning to school.”

    Shouldn’t the schools already be doing these things?

  13. sherlockj Avatar

    Larry, after having spent a lot of time trying to answer your questions on the business of health care in Virginia and related government oversight, which I find to be deficient, I have clearly failed. No matter what any column like the one above actually says, your response is to build a straw man and burn it down. I surrender the field of dealing with you to others younger and with more stamina than I. Perhaps you should start your own blog rather than making a career out of trolling this one.

  14. LarrytheG Avatar

    You and I have the same passion about health care and the importance of it to all people – I think.

    But we have differing views on how it should happen, I suspect.

    I tend to believe Government has an ultimate role that they have to perform and that the “market” will not fix health care – whether it is MRIs or prescription drugs or electronic health records or pandemics.

    When you or anyone blogs your view – you are subjecting it to others views and comments. That’s the gig.

    I try my hardest to attack only ideas not people… I’m not perfect at it but have no problem apologizing if someone thinks I have.

    There are some who write that just want folks to agree with them but someone who really wants to test their ideas, views and beliefs – wants to hear others including alternate views and challenges and possibly be open to being persuaded to change or modify views.

    What the Coronavirus issue does is challenge all of us directly as to what the proper role of govt (and science) should be or not. No beating around the bush or trying to avoid it. It pushes us all to decide.

    In my view, the Coronavirus issue is exposing some flaws in the continuing anti-govt, anti-science narratives we are seeing promoted these days, some here in BR.

    If we trust the Govt to lead the response to the Coronavirus pandemic, why do we not have a similar amount of trust in their other health care actions like CON?

    I KNOW there is a dividing line somewhere between where govt should predominate and the private sector and competition.

    I’m not sure where it is but I can tell when we reach hypocritical points.

    It’s not easy nor simple and worthy of debate AND worthy of challenging all of us in our currently-held views.

    I hope you continue to share your views – and your thoughts. Thank you for doing so.

  15. sherlockj Avatar

    I just exchanged emails with Dr. Dan Carey, Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources. He informs me that the Virginia response is “well underway”. He is a good man and I trust him.

    1. That is good news. Thank you.

  16. “If we trust the Govt to lead the response to the Coronavirus pandemic, why do we not have a similar amount of trust in their other health care actions like CON?”

    Because no one is right all the time, including [or perhaps especially] the government – and because no one is good at everything, including [or perhaps especially] the government.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      that’s a fair comment but all other developed countries have health care devised by government – and they do it better than us. They cover all their people. They do it for 1/2 what we do and all of those countries have better life expectancies than us. That’s government led healthcare.

      1. Try this on for size. It’s going to require you to think outside the box a bit, and I have no idea whether it has even a shred of merit, but I’m going to throw it out there for you to consider, anyway:

        What if our country’s obsession with seeing a doctor for every little malady has actually had a negative effect on our overall health. The United States is the most over-medicated country on earth. We try to find a “pill” to cure everything from acne to obesity to bad breath. Isn’t it reasonable to think that maybe all those medications going in to all those bodies is going to have some unexpected, and possibly negative, side effects; and couldn’t one of those side effects be a reduction in overall life expectancy?

        What if all the countries you keep talking about who “do it for 1/2 what we do” keep costs down by not letting everyone see a doctor for every little sniffle. Perhaps people in those countries might be more likely to eat better and take better care of their bodies since they know they won’t be able to get a “pill” for every ailment which might afflict them.

        Think about it. Maybe our real problem in the United States is that we rely TOO much on doctors and medicines.

  17. LarrytheG Avatar

    Other countries do discourage over-use of medical care and we call it “rationing” and delays in getting treatment.

    Our problem over here is that we do not cover everyone and in the rural and low income counties and cities we have people who do not see a doctor at all or so seldom that their health problems are not detected and treated early on – and they do die about 10 years younger than folks in places like Fairfax:.. where most folks see doctors on a regular basis and get treated early on for their issues.

    here’s the stats:

    Buchanan 72.4
    Wise 72.5
    Dickenson 73.3
    Buena Vista City 73.5
    Norton City 73.7 7
    Portsmouth City 73.7
    Tazewell 74.2
    Bristol City 70.4
    Hopewell City 71.3
    Danville City 72.0

    then the richer counties:

    Manassas Park City 91.0
    Williamsburg City 89.9
    Fairfax 85.1
    Arlington 84.6
    Loudoun 84.3
    Alexandria City 83.6

    If we included ONLY our richer counties – we’d be in par with the other countries but when we throw in the folks in low income places and others who do not have insurance – it pulls us down to last.

  18. Jim Loving Avatar

    Well done Bacon’s rebellion. Entering “Covid-19 Virginia preparations” results in the first hit being…. this post.

    Other results show: the VA department of Health is monitoring and reporting results of tests so far. There is a separate web site.

    Fairfax says for the latest (just like Amy Klobachar did last night), go to the CDC site.

    A danville woman is “Self quarantining” herself after returning from a month-long visit to China.

    The city of Alexandria is monitoring.

    The Washingon Post is doing near hourly updates.

    So far, no comments from Virginia leaders saying they are upset that the stock market is volatile, so there is that.

  19. idiocracy Avatar

    FYI, last I checked, 40% of the students in Manassas Park were on free or reduced price lunches. The number is probably higher now..

    Point is, Manassas Park is not really a wealthy city.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      true – they still have much higher incomes than rural SW Va or inner cities and they are luck to be close to a lot of available health care in the NoVa region.

      Likewise, there is low income populations in Fairfax – but they still have longer life expectancies because access to health care is much better even for lower income.

  20. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Just heard an expert on CNBC saying he was worried the virus may be under-reported in the U.S. because people don’t want to get hit with the cost of an ER visit, or even a doc in a box….it does present just like other viral upper respiratory infections, after all, and believe it or not in there could actually be people not following this news the way others are….

  21. Jim Loving Avatar

    Fairfax county (188,000 students) has communicated with worried parents, and have cancelled field trips, and are weighing cancelling classes and delivering classes on-line.

    Loudon County (84,000 students)has also emailed parents and provided resource links.

  22. LarrytheG Avatar

    Went to the Doctor today – and they are worried about it. They see patients all day long and if the medical providers get infected – they have to shut down.

  23. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Apple’s Tim Cook is one of those rare men in public life who most always is right, or very close to it, on very complicated and/or meme issues that few of us are clear headed enough to grasp. So he is always worth listening to carefully. His latest take on virus:

  24. Jim Loving Avatar

    An update from VA (my) Congressman, Don Beyer.

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