I Thought It Was All About the “Science”

by James A. Bacon

Governor Ralph Northam likes to say he follows the “science” and the “data” when promulgating rules to fight the spread of the COVID-19 virus. But he admitted yesterday that the latest round of lockdown measures — which included ordering children as young as five to wear masks — was inspired by images in the media.

“I will tell you what really affected me is seeing mobile morgues outside hospitals because there’s no place to put the dead. We don’t need that to happen to Virginia,” he said in his latest press briefing.

As described by the Roanoke Times, he started by talking about the data. But “then he became somewhat emotional,” the newspaper writes, and he said the sight of the mobile morgues prompted him last Friday to impose the latest measures.

Virginia is averaging 1,500 new confirmed cases daily, up from 1,200 the previous peak in May. The percentage of tests yielding COVID-positive results is rising, and hospitalization rates are rising. Those facts are indeed concerning and they suggest that some tightening of the lockdown may be in order. But those numbers tell us nothing about the specific measures enacted.

I’m prepared to accept that restricting gatherings of more than 25 people is supported by the “science,” although as a rational, free-thinking human being, I would appreciate it if the Governor would explain the scientific basis for why 25 — not 10 or 50 0r some other number — is the optimal cut-off point. Also, I’d like to see the data that tells us that serving alcohol at bars past 10 p.m. contributes to the spread of COVID-19 more than alcohol served before 10:00 p.m., and I’d like to know the data showing the beneficial effects of requiring five-year-olds to wear masks.

The measures are not particularly onerous compared to what governors in other states are doing, but can we drop the pretense that we’re following the “science”? Northam has provided no data. And when he confesses that he was moved by media images of mobile morgues outside Virginia, he tells me that he’s flying by the seat of his pants. 

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33 responses to “I Thought It Was All About the “Science”

  1. The tears were a nice visual. Note that at one point he was giving the same message, in a slightly different way, as Cuomo in New York. The key to Cuomo’s was this angry “you’ve got nobody to blame but yourselves” rant, capped by comparing it to cheesecake fans not willing to admit why they are fat. When I spotted that parallel an alarm bell went off. I was wondering about a set of talking points….

    Went into pick up take out last night and the restaurant, which has been fairly busy the last time I dropped by, was totally empty. The shelves are emptying again. Whether the politicians are creating the fear or simply jumping in front of the parade, it is late March again.

    And Henrico County’s cowardly retreat on the partial school opening after Thanksgiving is a huge blow to our family. The science on that is clear — the children and the schools are not the source of infection spread, and the lack of in person classes is devastating an entire generation. For the lower grades they may not fully recover, or at least face mass repeat grades. Let’s shed some tears over that – my wife did.

    • The temporary morgues have as much to do with morgue capacity as mortality from COVID-19. Morgues that ran close to capacity prior to COVID-19 are likely to be overfilled now.

  2. The “other” states are where there are body bags outside of morgues. I know the measures are hard, but people need to get a dose of reality before next Thursday! The economic impact is harsh, but where and at what cost in lives do you draw the line? If you were governor?

    • I’m already on record saying that these new restrictions are no big deal. I’ve been doing as advised now for eight months. The goal yesterday was to scare people again, pre-Thanksgiving, and frankly I don’t think that helpful in the long run.

      • I concur with that statement as well as your statement about empty store shelves again. I experienced that this past weekend with regards to TP. There hadn’t been any shortages and as recently as the previous weekend the shelves were full. I went to go TP as we were low and poof like magic it was almost all gone.

        Did the panic buyers use the horde they previously had or are they just adding to it now.

    • “If you were governor?”

      If you are a regular reader of this blog you should know that DJ Rippert has been writing article after article warning that this was coming. Governor Northam should have formulated a plan and shared that plan with “we the people.” We aren’t children and should be treated like them. Adults have responsibilities and need to plan ahead.

      “The economic impact is harsh, but where and at what cost in lives do you draw the line?”

      COVID-19 isn’t the only potential cause of death in 2020 Virginia. It remains to be seen if these measures (and the ensuing alarm) will do any good, and they may well result in more drug overdoses, more suicides, more cancer that goes undetected, and more children who don’t get vaccinated.

      We already know which segments of the population are most vulnerable to severe illness and death. The proper course of action would be to ensure that those people receive the help they need, while others are allowed to conduct their lives as normally as possible.

      As has been stated, healthy children are being disproportionally harmed by these across the board restrictions and the ensuing panic.

  3. Perhaps it was to scare people, but again, he is between a rock and a hard place and he has to live with these decisions. Bad place to be. I also agree with you with one exception, it is the press and politicians emptying the shelves, not just politicians. Northam reacted to the press.

  4. Welcome to the club, Jim. I’ve been saying this for a while. Northam has no plan. He’s an arbitrary and capricious man. As much as I despise Bill diBlasio – at least he had a plan tying the positivity rate to whether he would keep schools open. I personally agree with the Europeans that the schools are a non-issue but at lease diBlasio was predictable and transparent.

    What is the largest organization Northam has ever run? 3 nurses and a physician’s assistant? He just doesn’t seem to have much of a knack for management or leadership.

  5. There are 3,860 COVID-19 deaths in Virginia — 3,569 confirmed and 291 probable. That’s an increase of 25 from the 3,835 reported Tuesday.

    25 deaths per day = 750 deaths per month.

    Number of months since epidemic started in Virginia – 8

    8 * 750 = 6,000

    Right now, Virginians are dying from COVID-19 at just under twice the average since the disease started in the state.

    How long until Northam blurts out some more random restrictions?

    • Just looked again, and COVID-linked deaths are still less than 10% of total deaths. Even in the oldest age categories. Way, way under 10% in younger cohorts. It is the classic example of pulling something out of context. I do expect the excess death figure to climb again, but all these stories about this family facing a loss or that family mourning grandpa, ten more families face the same tragedy but from the other causes of death. A year ago those stories were not getting done, and they still aren’t. COVID goes away and millions will still be dying just like they always do. The real super-killers of our lifestyle don’t get the attention….

      • My point is that Northam is a bleeding heart liberal who cannot balance health suffering against economic suffering. His snowflake friends at the Democratic latte bar won’t let him. As the excess deaths rise Northam will be under pressure to act. This is going to happen. His additional lockdowns are not over. Wouldn’t it be nice if he laid out a plan in advance? Or is he just too incompetent to do that?

        • Agreed. I’ve stuck up for him in the past, but it is getting harder. I now believe he acted Friday from orders On High, intended to coordinate with fellow governors in more dire straits and perhaps even Biden’s call for a coordinated message. Sorry, it wasn’t you after all….

        • Has Gov. N ever shed a tear for the over 15,000 babies killed in the Commonwealth each year — most of which are ‘people of color’?
          Wait – -no need to try to research the answer…..

  6. It is not fair to try to get Northam to tie “science” to a specific size of gathering. The virus is spread in the air between humans. The more humans concentrated in one area for relatively long periods of time, especially indoors, increases the chances of folks in the group contracting the disease. That much “science” tells us. We have not developed the tools yet to know the point at which the size of the group exponentially increases the risk of spread. Common sense tells us that 20 is better than 30 or 50, but how much better? Who knows? So, governors have to balance the knowledge that gatherings increase the risk with practical and political factors. I am just glad that I am not in the position of having to make those decisions.

    • What evidence is coming from the contact tracers? Larry Hogan spends part of every update discussing what has been learned through the contact tracing efforts. What situations are leading to infection. It’s an important input to his decision making. Northam, The COVID Mime, has nothing to say about the results of analyzing the contact tracing coming from Virginia. He might as well be using a Ouija board to make his decisions.

    • It’s proximity and time that results in a viral load to spread the disease.

      If one sick person attends a 1-hour wedding with 50 guests, he’s far more likely to infect more people than if he attends a 1-hour Trump rally with 10s of hundreds.

      He’s far more likely to greet and speak to all of the wedding guests, maybe only 10 or so rally attendees.

      The way it is spread, you give it to the people you love. Sing it with me. You know the tune…

      Covid is for everybody,
      Not just for the few.
      Anyone can get Covid
      From someone nice like you…

  7. Well, they’re playing the same game being played on Northam in this blog on other governors in other states including Red states.

    It’s the same game.

    “Science” will tell us there is a high likelihood that Hurricane X will hit the coast at Y or that if you smoke 2 packs of cigarettes a day, your chances of physical harm are high – but we become “skeptics” when Science can’t tell us precisely where X hits Y and that then becomes a reason to attack a Govenor?


    • Maybe we can convince Northam’s wife to only play Mr Rogers and Teletubbies re-runs on TV. That way Northam won’t see any shocking images that lead him to make knee jerk decisions.

  8. People are dying with last words akin to “This can’t be Covid. That’s a hoax.”

    70% of Republicans believe that Trump won and the Democrats are sooooo clever they could massively defraud the election process. If just 1% of those are discouraged from voting, Trump will have been a huge success.

    • indeed… and… you don’t bring in mobile morgues for normal death rates from typical hospital deaths…

      There’s a certain amount of willful denial going on………….

      fear porn, some call it… even if deaths are requiring mobile morgues..

      I guess the phrase “mobile morgue” is “fear porn” ? 😉

  9. Any governor is between a rock and a hard place. For this reason, they see sanity in numbers, thus they stick together. The 25 in a group is a number, but he had to draw a line.

  10. Folks, if the average life is 83 years, the out of 727080 hours, 48 will be spent on Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2020. That is .0067% of my entire life. If you do the numbers as 1 out of 83 years, it is 1.2%. If I use only the 61 years as and adult, it is 1.6%. Am I really giving up that much? Nope. Take it for what it is worth. An effort to curb the virus.

    • If the man doesn’t have the guts to lead he shouldn’t have run for governor.

      • Northam has an awful “presence” and I thought that before he actually became Gov and actually felt that even a bad GOP candidate with a charamatic aura would easily beat him.

        But I think folks misunderstand that any Gov , good, bad , ugly as an individual personality is not the whole of any administration but some folks react to that personality flaw.

        To this point, I’ll take Northam any day over McDonnell and remember, the SCOTUS of the US said that McDonnells conduct was legal.

  11. Another missing link is any discussion of the spectrum of measures that have been tried across America and across the world. From the initial Swedish philosophy of personal responsibility to the Chinese hard lock regime. Northam’s vacuous stare and even more vacuous words leave me thinking he doesn’t know what others have tried. The Italians locked down hard by region and thought they had beaten the bug. The found that the bug came back and now they are locking down hard by region again. Are they just repeating prior foolishness. Cuomo wants visitors to NY to isolate and get tested. Is that a bad idea? Why is it so hard for Northam to lay out what other governors are doing and explain why Virginia is where it is on the spectrum of options.

    Maryland has a COVID-19 app for your phone that alerts you when you have been in vicinity of someone who has tested positive. From there you can isolate, get tested, avoid contact with high risk relatives, etc. Is this a good idea or a bad idea? You’ll never know listening to Northam. However, you will hear a lot about statues.

  12. I did install the app some time ago. Haven’t heard a word from it since!


  13. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    I think Northam had just finished chopping onions for his salad.

  14. I just listened to an interview with Hogan of Md. I was not impressed to be honest. Can’t figure out what DJ sees in him. 😉

    Northam is 100% the opposite of “charamatic” – no question – and yes, he is a “suit” as well as a “politician”but my bet is that most critics did not vote for him to start with. I would put more stock in criticism coming from folks who voted for him.. that’s would be solid.

  15. >>> I would appreciate it if the Governor would explain

    You can say that about a lot of laws & regulations, and it ain’t just the democrats that do it

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