No PAC for Disaster Preparedness and Response

Why is this man smiling?

by James C. Sherlock

Virginia’s responses to COVID were a continuing national embarrassment. 

  • Individual Virginia department and agencies had no operational pandemic response plans. They ignored specific and prescient directions to build and exercise such plans in the dormant Virginia Pandemic Emergency Plan. VDEM then attempted a coverup.
  • No PPE stockpiles. Last in testing. Last in vaccinations. Hospitals first, physicians last in every decision by the VDH. 
  • Last in distribution of unemployment checks. 
  • The General Assembly was given and took no role in pandemic response for 15 months.
  • The Canterbury nursing home scandal. State nursing home inspections that failed to report staffing shortages. The directly related shortages in staffing of state inspectors.
  • The failure to sanction teachers unions for strike threats in Northern Virginia during COVID. The officially sanctioned lapse in school accountability.
  • Poorly prepared official press conferences that often added confusion rather than clarity.

This was in its totality the biggest government scandal in Virginia history.

We should have learned from COVID, but I see no evidence of it, that we need to aggressively address the problems that led to those failures and build resilience in our state and local governments.

Any chance we are now preparing for the next one?

Has anyone seen an after-action assessment and plan of remedial action? Has anyone seen any indication that there will ever be one?

Any possibility these issues will be talked about by candidates for state offices in the fall election? Do they even know what happened? Or if they know, will they  pretend the scandals never happened, ensuring they will happen again?

Looking for underlying causes, I note there is no PAC for disaster preparedness and response.

Pandemic Emergency Plan. I wrote extensively starting on March 9, 2020 about the framework for emergency response and subsequently about the utter failure of Virginia government to prepare and execute operational plans for the pandemic emergency that we suffered in COVID.

The state had an excellent and incredibly accurate pandemic response plan in place that it purchased from a contractor, but failed to exercise that plan from 2012 to 2020. And hid it from public view when I reported on its existence.

How many failures of state government agencies, led by the Department of Health, the Department of Education and the Virginia Unemployment Commission did we document?

Where are the stockpiles that plan requires? Have we finally built them now or are we still without? How about the flood of federal COVID funds? How about Virginia’s own budget surplus? Is any of that being used for preparedness? 

Contracting by the Virginia Department of Emergency Management was a mess. Those flaws had precedents  in other emergencies. Has that process been fixed? If so, how?

How about Virginia’s nursing home laws, regulations, staffing, preparedness and inspections? Has that mess been cleaned up?

Do we have new laws and regulations governing testing and vaccine distribution?

How about the duties, authorities and composition of the Board of Health? Current Virginia law specifies that specific interested lobbies nominate persons to fill positions on the Board reserved for them. That is a scandal that needs a legislative fix.

Virginia Emergency Services and Disaster Law. We discovered that our Commonwealth of Virginia Emergency Services and Disaster Law of 2000 has severe flaws that cut the General Assembly out of decisions about COVID response. 

A law meant to support immediate response without legislative branch input was used that way for 15 months.

The law puts no reasonable time limits on either the state of emergency itself or the executive orders resulting from the emergency. Under the current law both the state of emergency and executive orders, absent action by the governor that proclaimed both, expired on June 30, 2021, at which point the governor could have renewed them.

That law poses clear challenges to the Guarantee Clause (Article IV, Section 4) of the U.S. Constitution. “The United States shall guarantee to every state in this union a republican form of government.”

When can we look forward to changes in that law?

Fall elections. Cultural issues, education and taxes are finding their normal prominent positions in the fall elections. 

It’s not enough this time.

It is time for Republicans as well as good government Democrats to demand accountability for the failures in COVID response and propose steps to make sure they don’t happen again.

Before they are elected.