Private Lab COVID testing and Medical Supplies in Virginia

by James C. Sherlock

PBS posted an excellent article yesterday relating that:

“Virginia (Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM)) is in the process of finalizing contracts with private labs to expand COVID-19 testing in Virginia. Gov. Ralph Northam has said that widespread testing of at least 10,000 people per day is key to reopening the government. State officials claim Virginia is doing enough testing to partially reopen this Friday, although new studies suggest otherwise. Supply shortages have also hindered expanded testing.”

“In the process of finalizing” – take that however you will. No word on when the process started. Not sure what remains in the negotiations, since the labs are offering the test kits and the processing of those kits at the price that Medicare will reimburse. “I believe [the $100 per test rate] seemed to be about the going rate when we talked to the other companies, said VDEM’s Stern.”

Meanwhile, supplies required for the safe practice of medicine and for testing remain in short supply for front line practitioners other than hospitals.

We have discussed in this space for at least six weeks that Virginia needs to “create a distribution pipeline for PPEs for independent physicians in our community. We cannot risk a shortage of physicians, nurses and ancillary providers due to lack of protection.” – Soheila Rostomi, MD, President, Medical Society of Northern Virginia Board of Directors quoted March 28.

A Northern Virginia pediatrician quoted in yesterday’s NPR article related that she is still short of supplies of both swabs and PPE. No word from the Commonwealth on when more might be on the way.

As we have written before, all states had plans in place since 2012 funded and guided by the federal government that predicted the current crisis in considerable detail with considerable accuracy. Each recognized that pandemic response was to be locally executed, state managed and federally supported.

The plans required each state to procure stockpiles of equipment like ventilators and supplies like PPE to be used when a pandemic arrived. (That is the plan VDH removed from its website). It appears no state adequately funded its stockpiles. Virginia did not fund one at all. The federal stockpile covered the actual requirements for ventilators even without state stockpiles. Not so for supplies.

Even without the stockpiles they committed to procure, some states, localities and individual institutions got to work early to deal with the pandemic. Others lagged. Welcome to democracy.

It will be very interesting to see if Virginia funds a pandemic stockpile in its next budget. Mark me down for an early bet that it won’t.

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27 responses to “Private Lab COVID testing and Medical Supplies in Virginia

  1. J. Sherlock – check the link you posted. I got page not found.

    Some smart PPE manufacturer will hire a lobbyist, make a hundred grand in campaign contributions, and voila! Orders will be placed (sole source, if it’s a good lobbyist.) But the practice is that generals prepare for the last war, not the next one, so we’ll be caught with our pants around our ankles again.

    An analysis of the procurement process now in the process of “finalizing” would be a good task for JLARC in the aftermath.

    • Link working now.

    • Steve your comment reminds me of the recent Michael Moore video, where there was a new wood burning power plant in New England right next to schools etc. The plant was actually burning wastes and tires, and was raining down junk on the school etc. This is how political decisions are made, they go with politically correct vendors who make the proper campaign donations. The technology is then declared clean and green and approved for middle of town without the stringent regs that bigger deep pockets companies would be expected to adhere to, or else.

  2. Anyone looking for flawless execution in this pandemic needs their head examined.

    There will be ample fodder for both Monday morning quarterbacking and lessons learned with some favoring the former over the latter.

    I like the JLARC idea better than trying people in the blogosphere!

    Simple truth is that few people actually believed the full potential of a pandemic and even now there are “skeptics”.

    On the testing (and other issues) – I look at what Northam and Virginia have done / are doing – not in isolation of just this state where the critics focus their oughta/shoulda/coulda complaints, but rather also looking at other states and we end up not horrible.. except we have been near the bottom on testing in general.

    But I see very few states that are actually doing testing and contact tracing which science tells you we must do if we are going to try to re-open and need to know who is infected and who is not and get the infected isolated and find out who they have been in contact with – so we can keep the workplaces safe.

    If we do not do that and an asymptomatic person reports to work and ends up unkowingly infecting many other workers – that business may well end up closing down again – because when customers as well as other workers find out, you won’t need govt to convince anyone what to do next. They’ll stay away.

    Most all of the failures that we are seeing now are more akin to institutional failures than individual agency leaders failures in my view. People make mistakes – even as leaders in a pandemic. Yes, you’d like a leader to do better, to address the institutional shortcomings and fix them but that’s just not the reality fo institutions operating at near their limits already.

    Finally, if we want to level CREDIBLE criticism, it has got to be truly bipartisan – both sides need have some level of consensus. Partisan criticism is just that – and really is not pointed to things that really need to be fixed – and how – but rather “blame”. We got enough of that IMHO.

    • Larry, three questions:
      1. “Partisan criticism is just that – and really is not pointed to things that really need to be fixed – and how – but rather “blame”. Is it partisan to point out that physicians, nurses and technicians still don’t have PPE? Does that need to be fixed? Does the current administration have a plan to fix it?
      2. What is your bet on stockpile money in the next budget?
      3. Under what conditions do you think the economy should re-open?

      • Jim, you have surely learned by now that in Larry World any criticisms leveled by Republicans against Democrats are “partisan.” Criticisms leveled by Democrats against Republicans are well founded and grounded in reality. This is an inviolable rule. This view does have certain advantages: It enables one to dismiss inconvenient facts and arguments without actually presenting facts and arguments of one’s own.

        A similar tactic is to dismiss inconvenient findings in studies and reports by noting their conservative or libertarian provenance. (This tactic is even more powerful if the group behind the study has Koch Brothers funding.) The facts and arguments of the study can safely be ignored without bothering to confront the evidence presented.

        • That’s wrong. Any criticisms by ONE PARTY against the administration of the other party is PARTISAN.

          What is NOT Partisan is when the criticism is NOT focused from critics of one political persuasion to the other,

          And what I am saying RECOGNIZE it when it is in play – and give it the level of credence it deserves.

          “inconvenient” is how you recognize partisan… by the way – whether from the GOP or the Dems…

          FAUX libertarians are just GOP masquerading IMHO… have a conversation with them – and the truth will emerge.

    • “On the testing (and other issues) – I look at what Northam and Virginia have done / are doing – not in isolation of just this state where the critics focus their oughta/shoulda/coulda complaints, but rather also looking at other states and we end up not horrible.. except we have been near the bottom on testing in general.”

      Testing is the only major thing Northam is responsible for. That and nursing home regulation. Both are abject failures. The sky blue mayor of Alexandria has written Northam demanding more detailed information about Alexandria nursing homes. Why? Because over half of Alexandria’s COVID19 deaths have come from nursing homes. Even Democratic politicians have had enough of Northam’s buffoonery.

      Our state government was supposed to have stockpiles of equipment for use in a pandemic but didn’t.

      Beyond that, our state government’s aptly named CON process left us with diminished hospital and health care facilities relative to other states.

      Virginia’s response to COVID19 has been a disaster.

      Now we’re “finalizing arrangements” with private labs? Are you kidding me? On May 12?

      Our state government is an abject disaster. On COVID19 and many, many other areas as well.

      Time to rewrite Virginia’s constitution for the eighth time and dramatically reduce the power of our consistently incompetent state government.

      • What? You now longer want two terms?

        once again – you align with the 20% boo birds… Most folks in Virginia
        have no clue what you are talking about.

        • We are in absolute agreement. Most folks in Virginia have no clue that their state government has let them down at every turn.
          The regional press is actually doing a pretty good job of reporting those failures, but not enough people read it.

          • Then as long as it continues to be a mostly partisan criticism, it never will, right?

            Blame the MSM – but when criticism is really across the board – it does get into the MSM.

            Criticism that comes only from the right – gets short shrift and should.

            Most folks who are not hyper partisan – will look at what is going on in other states and compare that to Virginia – as they should.

            And when Virginia actually falls short compared to other states, then they will get justified blame.

  3. Jim – it’s going to be tough – There will be a lot less money and a lot more needs that compete. You use the term “stockpile money”. What is that? A big pile of money for any/all things that we think should be “stockpiled”?

    Here’s a question back at ya. For future disasters, like Hurricanes, do you think Virginia should now look at these as if it is on it’s own and the Feds cannot be relied on to help?

    Has the basic relationship between the Feds and the State changed on disaster stockpiling?

    Will states like Virginia, now start entering into multi-state compacts to cooperate on stockpile issues?

    Has the perceived relationship between how the Feds work and how the states work – changed or was it mistaken all along?

  4. Jim – on the PPE – if the criticism is coming across the board, both sides, that is different than if it’s primarily from one side.

    I answered the stockpile question…

    on re-open – we got some good guidelines I think… based on metrics…
    perhaps some can be added/improved.

    But here’s the bottom line – If a business re-opens, how does it assure that it is a safe working environment and safe for customers?

    or do you think that – that level of “safe” is wrong and more risk is warranted?

  5. In answer to your questions:
    1. The basic relationship between the levels of government does not change: locally executed, state managed and federally supported.
    2. Kinetic disasters – hurricanes and kinetic terrorist attacks, can be expected to need more federal support in more localized conditions. In the case of pandemic response, the states understand and committed to the need for state stockpiles. They simply did not fulfill those commitments. Megacities may wish to purchase their own.
    3. Multi-state compacts for pandemic supplies would be – to understate it a lot – very tricky to implement when the next pandemic actually arrives.
    4. I expect that both state and non-state actors are watching this crisis and changing their plans to attack the west from nascent nuclear programs and suicide belts to bioterrorism.

  6. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    82 billion bucks sitting in the VRS trust back in 2019. Christmas in July maybe? Plenty of PPP for everyone.

    • Nope. That money is in trust, protected by the state consitution. Article X, Section 11, states in part: “The funds of the retirement system shall be deemed separate and independent trust funds, shall be segregated from all other funds of the Commonwealth, and shall be invested and administered solely in the interests of the members and beneficiaries thereof. Neither the General Assembly nor any public officer, employee, or agency shall use or authorize the use of such trust funds for any purpose other than as provided in law for benefits, refunds, and administrative expenses, including but not limited to legislative oversight of the retirement system.”

      Now, the GA could decide to forego next year’s contribution to VRS and use the money for shortfalls elsewhere, but it can’t touch what is already in the fund.

      • James Wyatt Whitehead V

        That is good to know Mr. Dick. I had no idea how solvent VRS is when you compare the trust around the nation and even around the world. Did you know that VRS dates all the way back to 1908? I wonder if we have that kind of foresight in today’s world?

        • well,pretty sure VRS does not keep all that money in gold in a vault, right? I wonder where that money is kept and how it has fared (and will fare) in a recession?

          • Dick Hall-Sizemore

            It is invested, of course, and the recent stock market dive reduced its balance. They have a number of highly-paid folks who manage the investments.

        • No. I had no idea that it went back to 1908.

  7. I can’t figure this out. I enjoy tennis but my club is partly closed. My neighborhood court has always been open. I don’t play golf but the courses were not closed. They were in maryland for a while. My friends there complained, the babies!

    • I play both. Golf and tennis in Maryland were closed. That changed with Gov Hogan’s Phase I reopening order last Thursday. However, localities can decide whether to reopen based on their specific situations. I understand that Montgomery County has decided to stay shut.

      Compare that to Virginia, especially with regard to beaches. Northam intends to keep beaches closed no matter what the local government thinks. Hogan has made the decision a local one. Regardless of Republican vs Democrat this is a typical example of statewide dictators from Richmond looking imperiously down their noses at the local yokels out in the hinterlands beyond Rt 295.

      • Just curious, what’s the beach policy of Hogan?

        • Effective Thursday, May 7, at 7 a.m., Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR)-owned beaches will be opened and outdoor exercise such as walking, jogging, running, swimming, and fishing will be permitted, however:
          – Guidance on social distancing must be followed.
          – The prohibition on social gatherings must be strictly followed.
          – Chairs, blankets, and picnics will be prohibited.

          Opening non-state-owned beaches in Maryland is a local option.

  8. I hope Mr. Stern and VDEM do a better job of procuring these contracts than they did in procuring a contract for emergency shelters before Hurricane Florence in 2018.

  9. Pingback: It’s a Crisis! Let’s Scam the Government! | Bacon's Rebellion

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