Northam Relaxes Death Grip

by James A. Bacon

Governor Ralph Northam had a lot to say yesterday, some good and some not-so-good. In this post I’ll focus on the positive: Beginning Friday, most of Virginia will move to “Phase Two” of the rollback of COVID-19 emergency decrees.

Under Northam’s kinder, gentler Vulcan Death Grip, the maximum number of individuals permitted in social gatherings will increase from 10 to 50. Restaurants will offer indoor dining at 50% occupancy. Fitness centers can reopen at 30% occupancy. Other public venues — museums, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, and outdoor sporting and performing-arts venues — can reopen without restrictions: Current restrictions will continue for religious services, “non-essential” retail, and personal grooming services. Amusement parks and fairs will stay closed.

“Because of our collective efforts, Virginia has made tremendous progress in fighting this virus and saved lives,” the Governor said. “Please continue to wear a face covering, maintain physical distance, and stay home if you are high-risk or experience COVID-19 symptoms. Virginians have all sacrificed to help contain the spread of this disease, and we must remain vigilant as we take steps to slowly lift restrictions in our Commonwealth.”

At the request of local elected officials, Northern Virginia and the City of Richmond will remain in Phase One.

Northam’s move to relax his stranglehold on Virginia’s economy is overdue, but subjects must accept whatever crumbs they can get from their rulers — and let’s be clear, Northam, who is governing through indefinitely extended emergency decrees without consultation of the General Assembly, is acting like a ruler. In any case, justification for the rollback is amply backed by the data.

Daily testing levels (specifically, the seven-day moving average) has reached a high of 8,905, according to the Virginia Department of Health dashboard — close to the 10,000 sought by the Governor as a precondition of moving forward. (I still have yet to see a justification for the 10,000 marker other than the fact that it’s a nice round number, but I’m glad to see the Governor is not being dogmatic about achieving it.)

The seven-day moving average of new confirmed COVID-19 cases also has been trending down for several days, falling well below the 1,000 mark. Today’s dashboard indicates 951 average new cases over the past week. Even more encouraging, the percentage of positive tests has been declining steadily since late April, dipping to 11% yesterday. (One would expect the percentage of positive tests to decline as the number of tests increase: testing is reaching deeper into the population rather than being restricted to hospitalized patients with COVID-19 symptoms. So I’m not sure how meaningful these numbers are, but if Northam is happy with them, I’m happy.)

The most meaningful statistics — meaningful in that they are least susceptible to sampling bias — are the hospitalization numbers. And they are showing steady, if undramatic, improvement. The seven-day moving average for the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 peaked at 1,529 in early May and has been drifting down ever since, reaching 1,362 yesterday.

While the virus itself has spread now to virtually all corners of the state — only Highland, Bland, and Dickenson Countries have zero confirmed cases — the epidemic remains highly localized. Deaths remain heavily concentrated in long-term care facilities, which account for 57% of all deaths. 

The most significant move is the lifting of the 10-person limit to a gathering to 50 people. I’m not sure how that will work out in practice, but it should allow a lot of people to return to their workplaces. Who knows, we might even see some rehiring. Cross your fingers and hope the jobless numbers begin to shrink.

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18 responses to “Northam Relaxes Death Grip

  1. Were all the restrictions needed or effective? The debate will continue. But Virginia never was as restrictive as several other states, and was hardly in a death grip. On that one, Northam deserves thanks. Now I think it will be public reluctance more than government restrictions that impedes the recovery.

    Interesting story out of Italy recently about how the new positive cases are showing a substantially lower and less dangerous viral load. Is that the case in the US? With the public and media eye elsewhere now, I’m seeing fewer stories on the medical front.

    • Yep – give Steve credit here.

      What Northam did was not that different that most other states, in fact, he’s loosened restrictions more than some other states and yet we still make this about him personally – as opposed to talking about the restrictions themselves on the merits.

      And the reality here is look around at the businesses and institutions and what they are doing – they ARE, in fact, taking the precautions that have been recommended by science and for which the restrictions are based.

      It just boggles my mind that over and over and over we get the same blog post about Northam…

      • Northam’s three big failings have been testing, nursing homes and transparency. His lockdown strategy was middle of the road. Of course even his implementation of the lockdown rules was vacillating – beaches were closed until they were opened, masks are required unless they are not.

        As for Phase II reopening – we’re once again looking statewide when we should be looking at regions. Progress in NoVa vs an escalation in RVA. The virus has been spreading geographically from New York City for months. The spike in NoVa seems to have passed. Maybe not true in RVA.

    • The rumors of a less virulent form of the virus coming out of Italy are hotly debated among the experts. Some say yes, some say no. Once again, the “science” is unclear. For the liberals on this blog – which side of the “less virulent” vs “not less virulent” debate constitutes anti-science? Asking for a friend.

      • What I read seemed to be about the concentration of virus, the density of particles, rather than virulence.

        • Poor wording on my part. I read the same articles I think. I guess less density is less contagious rather than less virulent. Anyway, major debates among the experts on whether there really is less density. Despite that, this sounds like the typical scientific debate. One set of scientists says less density while another set says “you haven’t proven that yet”. They don’t say less density is wrong, just unproven.

      • No.. it’s purposely claiming that ALL science is “settled” and anything that science changes it’s mind on – means that science is not legitimate.

        That’s what is “anti-science” and no it has nothing to do with liberal but a lot to do with folks who are “skeptics” of science – misunderstand it – sometimes on purpose.

        Science is an evolving body of knowledge and when it comes to something like COVID-19 – data is coming out of a firehose – and it’s not “settled” at all but one needs to use their own intelligence to try to make sense of it AND be willing to admit that when something changes… that it does not mean “wrong” – it means more has been found out – and adjust accordingly.

        People want certainty – we all do – but some things are not – especially things that are new to us.

        • Science is an evolving body of knowledge when it comes to a lot of things, not just COVID19. Too often liberals want to pick one side of a scientific debate, present it as gospel and then accuse those who disagree of being anti-science. Anti-science and racist are the Gregorian chants of modern liberalism.

          • You’re talking about what some people claim science means – as opposed to the science itself.

            Also, we do have folks who do say that science itself – is not to be trusted.. especially if there is consensus – it’s viewed as a conspiracy.. and no.. not liberals doing that..

            Most of the world we live in, is based on science, and yes some thing like electricity, radio signals, and the speed of light IS “settled”. Other things like genetics ARE evolving and yes there are disputes in the scientific community but it does not make science “wrong”… Different theories are put forward and the process is to have peers review the work and over time, some things gradually become agreed to – a consensus.

            Attacking science as an institution IS “anti-science”.

          • Dick Hall-Sizemore

            The problem is people either ignoring science or dismissing it because they do not like the conclusions or implications of science in whatever field they are working. Scientists will tell you that no science is settled. There is always something we do not know and, often, what we think we know is proven wrong.

            For example, the idea that the earth’s crust is composed of large plates that are in motion (the tectonic theory) is now accepted as basic in geology. When I was in college, the idea of tectonic plates was a new concept, subject to much questioning and additional proof.

            That is the key–proof. If someone does not accept the currently accepted science that is current, whether it be climate change or COVID-19, let him either disprove those ideas with the scientific method (observation, experiments, etc.) or prove his own ideas. It is not enough just to denounce them as false.

      • The notion that the virus had become less virulent would follow the typical life cycle of a pathogen. Viruses like humans have a goal of life, if they kill their hosts they can’t continue on. So like the 1918 Spanish Flu it is entirely possible that the virus will mutate and become less virulent to achieve that end state.

  2. “Interesting story out of Italy recently about how the new positive cases are showing a substantially lower and less dangerous viral load.”

    This is the norm for viral pandemics, for many reasons. It’s why pandemics come and go, come and go, come and go.

  3. You sure the speed of light is settled science Larry ….

    • settled enough that we can rely on it for precision in existing science and engineering to build stuff that relies on the constant – like fiber optics.

      We’re not talking about invalidating the concept – only that there may be some variations that might affect, for instance, long-range calculations of how far away a planet or star might be.

      Article like this appear all the time – this one from 2013.. it does not invalidate what we already know and use.

  4. I’ll still be taking a hard pass on sitting in a restaurant, even at 50% capacity for the foreseeable future. Expect a huge spike in 2 weeks or less when all of these protesters and rioters come down with COVID. Surprised the Governor is wanting to move to Phase II with that outlook.

  5. The real question is, what will all the governors do if there ISN”T a spike among all the protesters/rioters.

  6. The COVID-19 situation is improving at DOC, with one exception. Despite increased testing at facilities with no previously reported positive cases, the total number of offenders currently testing positive has dropped slightly, from 560 to 551, since my last report five days ago. Also, the number of hospitalizations, eight, is the lowest since late April. Unfortunately, that decrease in hospitalizations probably was the result of two more inmates deaths from COVID-19, for a total of nine. Here is the summary table:

    Summary of COVID-19 Cases in Va. Dept. of Corrections
    As of 9:00 a.m., June 2

    Cumulative testing positive 1,238
    Total Deaths 9
    Active positive cases in facilities 543
    Number in hospital 8
    Recovered 678
    Staff currently tested positive 138

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