Free Western Virginia from a Shutdown Designed for Eastern Virginia

Map credit: Virginia Department of Health. Click for larger image.

by James A. Bacon

The impact of the COVID-19 virus in Virginia varies widely by age and medical condition, afflicting some groups far more than others. That foundational reality gave rise to a key principle, which, I suggested four days ago, should guide Governor Ralph Northam as he deliberates about how, and how fast, to roll back his emergency shutdown measures: Public action should focus on protecting the most medically vulnerable members of society while allowing the least medically vulnerable to return to normal life and work as quickly as possible.

Today I explore a second principle: Recognizing that the virus is far more prevalent in some regions of the state than others, emergency restrictions should be tailored to the unique conditions of each region. Measures that are suitable for Arlington (1,106 confirmed cases) are not suitable for Dickenson County (zero confirmed cases).

The map above, taken from the Virginia Department of Health COVID-19 dashboard, shows the incidence of the virus per 100,000 population. (Click here to view the interactive map directly and view the data for each locality.) The virus has penetrated the population of the eastern half of the state to a much greater extent than the western half. Virginia’s Appalachian counties in Southwest Virginia, especially those off the Interstate 81 corridor, have barely been affected.

It is legitimate to ask, as several Southwestern legislators have, why draconian lockdown standards that may (or may not) be appropriate for the eastern part of the state should apply to western Virginia where the disease is far less widespread yet the economic pain is just as prevalent. Why kick these counties when they’re down?

This map shows the rate of hospitalizations per 100,000 population. The differences between highly impacted and less impacted regions of the state is even starter. By this measure, COVID-19 is a problem mainly for Northern Virginia and the Richmond metro, and to a lesser degree Hampton Roads and the Northern Shenandoah. The trade-offs between saving lives and saving jobs is very different in each case.

Finally, this map shows the rate of deaths per 100,000 population. Large swaths of the state, mostly rural, have seen no COVID-19 deaths at all.

Fewer confirmed cases, fewer hospitalizations, and fewer deaths. Treating the localities in the low-incidence zone the same as in Northern Virginia and metro Richmond seems almost punitive. Maintaining statewide standards regardless of local conditions shows either an excessively rigid mindset or a near-criminal indifference. Or maybe both.

Let us recall the original justification for the emergency measures. The purpose was never to snuff out the virus, an impossibility in the absence of a vaccine, but to “flatten the curve” so that the health care system was not overwhelmed by an influx of patients. Well, it turns out that in Virginia’s rural areas and small towns that the curve flattens naturally all by itself. I’ll leave it to the epidemiologists to make authoritative statements about why that might be, but I’ll suggest that it is tied to a number of factors such as: (1) lower use of mass transit, (2) fewer buildings with elevators, (3) greater spatial distancing between residences, and (4) less travel in and out.

I’m not arguing that all restrictions be dropped. A larger percentage of the population in western Virginia works in factory settings where the disease can be more easily transmitted. It may make sense to require manufacturing operations to hew to higher-than-normal standards of hygiene. Many employers are already adapting to the world of COVID-19 by making voluntary changes. But not everyone gets the message, and it may be appropriate to ensure that everyone does.

But I am saying that the emergency restrictions should be tailored to the local facts on the ground, and should be no more onerous than absolutely necessary. A failure to make such accommodations will bring needless economic devastation to parts of the state that already had the economic odds stacked against them. No number of feel-good bandwidth initiatives and workforce training programs can make good for the damage inflicted by the shutdown.

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28 responses to “Free Western Virginia from a Shutdown Designed for Eastern Virginia”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    I don’t disagree and from what I hear, Northam is not opposed either – with some caveats.

    First is that while these areas have low infections, many cannot afford to have many more without overwhelming their local/regional facilities which are typically small compared to urban areas.

    What is the plan if they start to see increases? Is there a plan for backing down? Can you actually back down without the locals objecting?

    Next – once you designate these areas where say, restaurants open or barbers, or other types of services – what happens when people from the areas with restrictions come there? Are we going to put up road-blocks?

    Finally, the really dumb idea has been tossed around about having those with health conditions and seniors to go hide .

    Has anyone thought about just how many people with conditions and seniors are actually in the workforce right now? From food banks to libraries to other community services and commercial operations – how many are staffed with people with “conditions” or over 65?

    1. djrippert Avatar

      “Has anyone thought about just how many people with conditions and seniors are actually in the workforce right now? From food banks to libraries to other community services and commercial operations – how many are staffed with people with “conditions” or over 65?”

      The virus doesn’t care. You could be Virginia’s reincarnation of Mother Theresa and the virus won’t care.

      This is all about probability. If you are 65+ and work in a food bank you increase your odds of getting infected. If you are 65+ and get infected then the odds of you having serious medical consequences are much higher than the odds for a younger person.

      The person who is 65+ and/or with health issues has two choices – stay home or take your chances. What possible good are food banks or libraries that aren’t open? Why would you want to prevent younger people from going back to the food banks or libraries?

      How does keeping factories closed help make 65+ year olds safer? I can see how it makes younger people poorer but if you’re over 65 and work in factory and feel vulnerable you’ll have to find a new line of work I guess. There are a lot of unemployed people out there right now. I’m sure any positions vacated by seniors who feel vulnerable will be quickly filled by younger people who don’t feel vulnerable.

      Do you really think 35 year old factory workers should be kept in unemployment because their 65+ year old colleagues feel vulnerable?

      OK Boomer.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        How many factory workers have health conditions? More than you might think? Just kick them out?

        Just about any workplace is NOT going to be only young and healthy workers… it’s going to be pretty much a reflection of society at large.

        And there is something else not recognized now in play and that is whether or not the employer will be responsible if workers get infected in the workplace.

        Under current law, it appears they might well be.

        It’s an issue right now with the meat-packing plants as well as manufacturers like GM… Vegas Casinos, etc.

        1. djrippert Avatar

          So, if 10% of a factory’s workers have health conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID19 than average the factory should remain shuttered and the 90% who aren’t vulnerable should stay unemployed?

          You’ve got to be kidding me.

          Extended unemployment benefits for the vulnerable unemployed might make sense but stopping everybody from going back to work is absurd.

          The liability waiver needs to happen. I hear the Republicans in Congress want to add it to the next aid package but Pelosi is blocking.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            You might be a tad low on the 10% and some of the most valuable and not easily replaceable workers are older….with conditions.

            It’s a dumb idea favored by simplistic thinking folks.

            A “waiver” is not going to convince people to go back to work when they see others infected there.

            Some are laboring with the misconception that it’s the govt causing the problem with opening back up but what if the scientists are right and the “open up” guys are wrong?

            what happens to the economy then?

            Most folks do believe the science… a few do not…

    2. DeptOfTyranny Avatar

      @Larry, thanks for looking out for us little people here is Real Virginia. What would we do without our “betters” up north

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Hey, while I got you on the line – can you say how many people where you live and whether they have been testing there?

        Some rural counties actually have folks who commute to jobs out of the county. That way in your county?

        1. DeptOfTyranny Avatar

          Glad we agree North Virginia should be contained. How’s your retirement pension holding up?

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            TBD – and yours?

          2. DeptOfTyranny Avatar

            Full stop lock-down on North Virginia, Richmond, maybe some other urban parts of eastern Virginia. Its obvious the risk those areas impose on Real Virginia, and selfish to think they should be allowed to infect the rest of the state with the NoVa Corona Virus.

            Pull down the hurricane route gates, block of all escape routes, dispatch the state police, arrest those who try to Escape from NoVa. New Yorker seems to be happy with the Deblasio lock-down; North Virginias should be happy with the Northam Lock-down:

            As for the folks in Real Virginia, we’re adults. We can make our own calculated decisions without the government madidates. Business owners may or may not want to open or make reasonable changes. Those who think it too risky are free to decide from themselves to stay home (few are.)

            Sure, we’ll read the CDC guidance, and that of OSHA, VHD, and myriad other bureaucracies. We’ll do our best to mitigate the regulatory conflicts and pay our taxes for the privilege of doing so. We might even be allowed to make payroll (so long as we report our payroll to Chris Hurst, so when he’s sober, he can make sure we’re being fair.)

            But first, North Virginia must be contained!

          3. LarrytheG Avatar

            NYC city folks are fleeing the city for their second homes in various states like Rhode Island and there actually are some folks advocating blocking the interstates.

            I think Florida was or is doing that also.

            That’s the basic problem with allowing some places to have less restrictions.

            And there is a lot of irony here because people say that they have the “right” to not have to have restrictions but some of the same folks are advocating taking away other folks “freedom” to travel.


            so maybe pick you poison as to what “rights” you want to take away?

  2. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Jim says:

    “Let us recall the original justification for the emergency measures. The purpose was never to snuff out the virus, an impossibility in the absence of a vaccine, but to “flatten the curve” so that the health care system was not overwhelmed by an influx of patients. Well, it turns out that in Virginia’s rural areas and small towns that the curve flattens naturally all by itself.”

    From the above charts it appears that in great majority of Virginia Counties there is NO CURVE AT ALL. Indeed, many counties report no deaths at all. Or just a tiny jot in a thin line. Plus lots of people frightened to death by their government who has ripped up their lives and livelihood, ripping up more everyday. Now watch that same government claim it’s won a huge victory soon, or later, who knows.

    1. DeptOfTyranny Avatar

      Isn’t that the way it always works?

      Throw enough regulatory tyranny and taxpayer money at something, wait for a small blip that resembles success, then claim it as victory while disregarding anyone who points out the dismal ROI.

      Wait for the vast majority of society to approve/disapprove of something, then outlaw the minority and claim its a political victory (banning smoking.)

      Claim a negative thing didn’t happen because of some facist executive order

  3. J. Abbate Avatar
    J. Abbate

    Do you mean fascist?

    Fascism is defined as follows: Fascism is a form of government that is a type of one-party dictatorship. They work for a totalitarian one-party state. This aim is to prepare the nation for armed conflict, and to respond to economic difficulties. Fascism puts nation and often race above the individual (source: Simple English Wikipedia).

    Who do we see protesting with guns, prepared to engage in armed conflict, without masks, without regard for other individual’s safety, and refusing to follow health protocols? Who is putting the region’s economy above the health and safety of the individual? Who is standing up regularly in front of our nation and claiming a political victory in the midst of a failed national coordinated response to a lethal pandemic?

    1. First and foremost, fascism was the glorification of the state. Any definition that neglects that part of the definition is worthless. Another key aspect was its totalitarian nature. By totalitarian is meant that every aspect of life comes within the purview of the state. Nothing happens without the say-so of the state.

      There are many things you can say about the protesters but none of them are glorifying the state. Likewise, they are the antithesis of totalitarians. They aren’t interested in controlling others’ lives. They simply want to be left alone.

      Agree or disagree with them on the topic of the COVID-19 shutdown, they are the antithesis of fascists. If you worry about the rise of fascism in this country, look first to those who glorify the state and work to increase its power over all aspects of society.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        re: ” look first to those who glorify the state and work to increase its power over all aspects of society.”

        Who talks like this? Geeze… certainly not the 80+% who support the govt actions right now nor the vast majority of the people who actually do support most of what govt does in normal times.

        We are, in this country, among the most free in the world and yet we still have folks who say stuff like ” glorify the state and work to increase its power over all aspects of society.”

        We’re all entitled to our opinions but when that attitude takes to the streets with weapons, it’s more than just talk.

        1. Larry, this comment fails so totally to address the point that I made above that I have to classify it as a non sequitur.

          1. PackerFan Avatar

            And how old is that “Governor’s 80+% support” poll now? I’d be very surprised if that number hasn’t dropped a tad.

        2. LarrytheG Avatar

          Jim – you make LOTS of points … I was specifically addressing the one about ”Agree or disagree with them on the topic of the COVID-19 shutdown, they are the antithesis of fascists. If you worry about the rise of fascism in this country, look first to those who glorify the state and work to increase its power over all aspects of society.”

          that is precisely the kind of talk you hear from the folks in the streets with guns…. and in the echo chamber… about the

          You make good points a lot of the time but then you’ll throw in a sentence like that – which just blows up the other points IMHO.

  4. J. Abbate Avatar
    J. Abbate

    Should we consider those protesting the local or state health protocols defenders of freedom or MAGA terrorist protestors?

    Let’s consider the story of Aubrey Whitlock, a MAGA protester in our region from neighboring North Carolina. Multiple reports noted that on April 21, North Carolina’s MAGA contingent took to the streets to demand businesses reopen and get back to business as usual despite the fact that COVID-19 cases are still surging, there are still no reliable antibody tests, no vaccine, and most importantly, the body count is still climbing. With the help of a network of right-wing organizations promoted by Fox News, these “reopen” events took off nationwide. (

    Now one of the “Reopen NC” organizers says she tested positive for the novel coronavirus. According to ABC 11, Aubrey Whitlock shared the news on the “Reopen NC” Facebook page, which can only be viewed by members. Whitlock said her 14-day quarantine period ended on Sunday and she was asymptomatic, but when contacted by ABC 11’s Jonah Kaplan about whether Whitlock had attended rallies the last two Tuesdays, Whitlock simply said, “No comment.” If she did attend, she risked the lives of hundreds of her fellow neighbors. Whitlock did confirm that she planned to attend a rally this week.

    Or how about that Covid-19 positive woman in Kentucky who refused to quarantine? Is she one of your defenders of Liberty?

    The report on this: COVID-19 positive woman in Louisville has been arrested for flouting an order to self-quarantine in order to take a jaunt to her neighborhood Kroger. And it turns out it’s not the first time she’s broken quarantine:
    A Louisville woman who had tested positive for the novel coronavirus was arrested Monday after police said she refused a court order to self-quarantine and went inside the Kroger at Central Station.

    Kendra A. Burnett, 37, was arrested just before 10:30 a.m. at the Kroger, 3165 S. Second St., after her mother told a Louisville Metro Police officer that she was violating a court order to self-quarantine, according to an arrest citation.

    On Monday, Burnett’s mother pointed her out to the LMPD officer as Burnett left the store, the citation said.

    The LMPD officer contacted the county attorney as well, who said Burnett had refused to self-quarantine about three times, according to the arrest report, which did not say when Burnett had tested positive for COVID-19.

    The store is located in the same area as Churchill Downs and Cardinal Stadium. There were some 200 people in the store at the time, and Burnett is believed to have come in contact with five of them. However, Louisville public health officials do not believe that any customers came within six feet of Burnett for longer than 15 minutes. That doesn’t make it any less frightening. And she did this at least three other times? This woman is a modern version of Typhoid Mary.

    If possible, this story is even more hideous. It turns out that the courts only got involved when Burnett refused to voluntarily agree to self-quarantine on April 3. After she failed to answer repeated emails and phone calls from public health authorities, Metro police paid her a visit. No one came to the door, even though Burnett’s car was was in the driveway and it was obvious people were home. Additionally, Burnett’s neighbors told police that Burnett had been seen coming and going numerous times.

    Under the circumstances, it was a mere formality when a circuit judge ordered Burnett to stay home with an ankle monitor for 14 days, or when she no longer shows symptoms. Under the order, effective on April 14, she was also required to wear an ankle monitor. And yet, she’s flouted this order at least four times, and was out and about several other times after testing positive—most likely at some point in late March.

    Burnett once worked at Treyton Oaks Towers, a senior facility in Louisville that is currently one of the biggest hot zones in Kentucky. At least 35 residents have tested positive for the virus, and 13 of them have died. Burnett is believed to be one of at least 15 current or former employees to have tested positive. She was fired on April 6. While Treyton Oaks officials haven’t elaborated, it’s very likely she was fired after she refused to follow up with public health officials. After this, it may be time to take a good, long look at her past history.

    Burnett is presently facing five counts of first-degree wanton endangerment (Kentucky’s version of reckless endangerment), as well as one count of contempt of court and one count of second-degree mischief. If convicted, she’s potentially looking at a minimum of six years in prison.

    Who is really supporting the health and safety of American citizens here? Who is threatening armed violence and health endangerment? What are the conditions for opening up the limitations on businesses in western Virginia that would provide for the well being of citizens there? Can we test citizens there for anti-bodies, for possible infection? By all means, as soon as it is safe enough for a phase 1 slow opening, with appropriate safeguards, let’s open up the appropriate businesses. Another question would be who can we trust to be responsible under the initial phase 1 re-opening, so that the cities and towns that reopen are not just providing the conditions for more infection.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      This. self proclaimed lesson in political science is an exercise of pure self projection and stereotyping of the other, a standard tactic of fascists and leftist.

  5. djrippert Avatar

    The voices are back inside liberal heads. Earlier this year the voices came in the form of Constitutional scholars sounding a lot like Chuck Schumer. They said, “We will impeach Trump. We have a dossier. He’ll soon be gone.” Now the voices are the cooing sounds of amateur epidemiologists who sound a lot like Nancy Pelosi. “Keep the economy closed. We’ll just print more money. Guaranteed income for all. Virus bad, orange man worse.” Oddly, these new voices start to sound a bit slurred right after lunch. By dinnertime the voices are telling liberals that, “Fuccchi sez staaay home. Must wait for shot-y’s that stop China bug-thing.”

    As always the liberals of Northern Virginia are the first to take time off from lining their pockets with other peoples’ money to tell the folks in Western Virginia to keep their businesses shuttered regardless of the fact that Coronavirus is essentially a non-entity in many areas west of Falls Church. After all, they’ve got their Gub’mint pensions. They don’t need no stinkin’ private sector.

    Pelosi’s voice returns inside the liberals’ heads … “Tell those deplorables to shut up, drink their moonshine, smoke their homegrown and cling to their guns and religion They get jobs when I say they get jobs.”

    But lately there’s been an ominous turn. Some of the voices are starting to sound like Joe Biden ….

    “Ahoy and Twenty three skiddo … we’ll hit ’em with the old Scranton scramble if they try to go back to work. I know how this works. I watch Beverly Hillbillies on the boob tube. I’ve got half a mind to get in the flivver and go see those deplorables who want to go back to work. Yes siree. I’ll float like a butterfinger and sting like a tree. Might even take that flapper AOC with me to explain how free stuff works. Her hair smells really nice. Let’s get some petrol in the Edsel and hit the road. Which way is western Virginia from DC anyway?
    Never mind, I’ll get a map when I stop at the filling station. Love those gas hoses with the tiger tails. Not sure what Esso has to do with Frosted Flakes but I like flakes.”

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Yea, I agree.

      This Coved-19 crisis has brought out into full flower the Inner Progressive Leftist. Take UVA for example.

      Or Nancy P. who now has shut down perhaps forever the House of Representative altogether, and jailed all of its other Representatives in what looks like a perpetual quarantine in their homes enforced by Coved-19 monitoring bracelets.

      Meanwhile Speaker of the House Nancy P rules with an iron fist and toxic tongue what is left over from the ruble of American democracy, appearing daily on video feed from the bowels of her San Fransisco Chateau, scooping $13 a pint ice cream from her double wide $3,000 designer Polar Arctic Air AR49 54, while lecturing the great unwashed and deplorable American workers against having babies and working for a living.

      After all, Nancy P. declares, this plague of ours has only just started. “Now we got two inch long Jap Killer – Murder Hornets infected with Coved-19, buzz and chain-sawing their way across America. Rampaging from west to east, the killer Hornets directed by remote control from President Trump’s White House operating on Vladimir Putin’s orders.

      The great question now is can Nancy Pilosi, Chuck Shumer and Adam Shiff working with the FBI stop this latest GOP plot to install a Nazi regime of giant Oriental Killer – Murder Hornets to rule America? Nancy Pilosi will of course then be Queen Hornet.

  6. PackerFan Avatar

    Still waiting to see some stats on the age breakout of COVID deaths in the U.S. Seems like it would be some useful information to have as we discuss re-opening. Can anybody out there point me to that info?

  7. LarrytheG Avatar

    Are you aware than Northam is re-opening on the 14th?

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