Tag Archives: COVID-19

Why Is COVID-19 Trending Down in Virginia?

by James A. Bacon

As the COVID-19 virus continues to recede in Virginia, I’ve abandoned my day-to-day coverage of the numbers, but I think it’s still worthwhile to post periodic updates. The good news for Virginia as seen in the chart above, taken from the Virginia Department of Health COVID-19 dashboard, is that the number of confirmed cases and deaths reported daily continue to decline — even as the virus flares up in California, Texas, Florida and Arizona.

To what do we attribute Virginia’s good fortune? Has Governor Ralph Northam found the sweet spot in his policy mix of emergency measures? Are Virginians just better behaved — more likely  to wear masks and maintain social distance — than the citizens of other states? Does the Old Dominion have human settlement patterns — less density, fewer elevators, less mass transit — that lend themselves to the propagation of the disease? Do we look to demographic factors such as a smaller percentage of illegal immigrants living in overcrowded housing? Or, less likely but not inconceivable, is the population on a pathway to developing herd immunity?

Readers, weigh in.

— JAB

Catholic Schools: Boldly Putting Kids First

by Kerry Dougherty

Any parent of a kid with disabilities will tell you, more than anything else in the world, their child just wants to fit in.

Not easy when you’re a little different.

My son doesn’t mind if I tell you he has severe learning disabilities. He’s worked hard his whole life to overcome them. But I still remember his look of surprise and relief on the morning of his first day of 1st grade at St. Gregory the Great in Virginia Beach.

We held hands as we walked from the parking lot to the line for his class. He was taking deep breaths and squeezing my hand.

Then he caught sight of his classmates and his first-day nervousness evaporated .
“We’re all wearing the same thing!” he exclaimed.

The 26 or so children in his class were all dressed as he was, in khaki shorts, polo shirts with the school logo, brown shoes and socks.

In that moment I saw the genius behind school uniforms. They give every kid – even the ones who struggle to keep up – a sense of belonging. Continue reading

Housing Grants Just a COVID Relief Rounding Error

By Steve Haner

Will $50 million be enough? Will that get all the Virginians who have fallen behind due to COVID-19 square on their rent or mortgage payments? Or is that amount, in a relief program now fleshed out by the Northam Administration, merely a start?

There is a hint on the program’s web page, now available. “Financial assistance is a one-time payment with opportunity for renewal based on availability of funding and the household’s need for additional assistance and continued eligibility.” A Senate committee was told last week that Governor Ralph Northam is considering spending hundreds of millions more for the same purpose.

This first $50 million is just the latest way that the billions of federal dollars flowing into Virginia as COVID-19 relief will be used. Within that operation, it is a  rounding error. On June 23, primary day, the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee met virtually to be briefed, among other things, on how the four waves of federal assistance have been or will be spent.

The usual suspects of the Capitol Hill press corps may not have been there (or to be exact, may not have been monitoring the Zoom conference.) The primary results and the Phase 3 announcement held their attention. A week later the unreported reports are still worth reviewing and links to them follow below.

Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne, in his presentation, estimated that Virginia has received more than $28 billion in direct aid – $6.5 billion direct to the state and local governments, $14.4 billion to state businesses in the Payroll Protection Program and $7.3 billion pledged to municipal liquidity facility loans to cover revenue losses.  Continue reading

Sweet Briar Thrives Amidst Coronavirus Epidemic

The Sweet Briar campus. Photo credit: Heather Rousseau for the Washington Post.

by James A. Bacon

I’ve long admired Meredith Woo, president of Sweet Briar College, who salvaged the troubled liberal arts college three or four years back by radically restructuring its business model. Hacking out administrative costs, reorganizing the curriculum, and clarifying its mission, she slashed the cost of attendance by 32%. She then built on distinctive niches such as equestrian and artisinal agriculture programs where the college could stand out as unique. Now she’s plugging Sweet Briar’s bucolic rural setting north of Lynchburg as a refuge from COVID-19.

“We are one of the only colleges that can maintain social distancing,” Woo told the Washington Post. “We can be as safe as home — if not safer than home.”

The onslaught of COVID-19 is expected to be devastating to small liberal arts colleges generally, as parents and students weigh the pros and cons of attending college without assurances that the institutions won’t shut down again if the virus rebounds this fall. Sweet Briar seems well positioned to weather another viral storm. Writes the Post: Continue reading

K-12 Schools Need Immunity for COVID-19

by James C. Sherlock

In May we saw several states pass laws that gave businesses immunity from COVID-19 claims.

We need similar but expanded protection for public and private schools, their school boards, superintendents and all of their employees.

In North Carolina, for example, immunity protection granted businesses was sweeping. That immunity does not bar regulatory actions, criminal charges, workers’ compensation claims, gross negligence, recklessness or intentional infliction of harm. It continues until emergency orders expire or are rescinded.

But the schools are in worse position than businesses.

Suits against schools for educational malpractice have been thrown out by courts for decades. However, COVID-19 offers opportunities to sue schools

  • for gross negligence or reckless endangerment if the schools are open; or
  • for violation of various constitutional guarantees if the schools are closed and provide remote learning only.

Quite literally, damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

Continue reading

COVID-19 Update: Mixed Signals on Viral Spread

Here are three COVID-19 trends in Virginia worth watching:

  1. The seven-day moving average of the test-positive rate ticked upwards yesterday for the first time in more than a month;
  2. Hospital utilization by COVID-19 patients dipped to the lowest point since the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association began tracking the data in early April; and
  3. It turns out that multisystem inflammatory syndrome was not much of a thing.

Positive-test rate. The percentage of COVID-19 tests confirming the presence of the virus hit a seven-day moving average of 5.9% yesterday, based on data published today on the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) COVID-19 dashboard. That’s up from 5.8% the previous day. That doesn’t sound like much, but the seven-day moving average smooths out daily fluctuations, and it reverses what had been a steady decline since May. This number is an indicator that the viral spread in the general population, which had been retreating steadily, may start picking back up. This metric bears watching.

Hospital utilization. On the other hand, there is no indication yet that the greater numbers of infected people is translating into more trips to the hospital. Continue reading

Who Cares about the Kids? Not the Teachers’ Unions.

Did school teachers abandon their students during the Spanish influenza? I suspect they were made of tougher stuff than teachers today. — JAB

by Kerry Dougherty

They hate it when we call them teachers’ unions. But when organizations act like trade unions, throw tantrums like unions, put their own needs before the people they serve, you’re looking at a union.

Make that unions. Plural.

In Fairfax County there are three: the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, the Fairfax Education Association and the Association of Fairfax Professional Educators.

According to a piece in The Washington Post headlined, “Teachers in Fairfax Revolt Against Fall Plans, Refusing to Teach In-Person,” these three groups are acting in concert to force Fairfax County students to miss another year of school.

Maybe two years.

Heck, Fairfax County schools may never reopen since these teachers are demanding that all learning be virtual until a Covid-19 vaccine is available. Continue reading

Uh, Oh, COVID-19 Metrics No Longer Improving

Source: Virginia Department of Health COVID-19 dashboard

The bad news from recent COVID-19 statistics is that the numbers aren’t getting better. Virginia has hit a plateau in the number of confirmed cases, as seen in the chart above, which shows the seven-day moving average in the number of confirmed cases. To some degree, the tick upwards in COVID-19 cases may reflect increased testing. But it’s clear that the virus, which had been receding for a month, no longer is.

I’ve never worried overly much about the number of cases. The vast majority of cases cause no lasting harm. What matters is the number of hospitalizations and deaths. As it happens, the number of hospitalizations, which had undergone a month-long decline, also has hit a plateau, and the number of deaths has nudged noticeably higher than early June, as can be seen in the chart below. Continue reading

Roanoke County and Education in the Age of COVID

by James C. Sherlock

I subscribe to the Roanoke Times because I find it by far the best regional newspaper in Virginia. It produces local reporting that the rest of us can only envy.

I was drawn to two stories in the past week.

The first, on June 21 by Alison Graham, revealed only 2/3 of residents of Roanoke County have broadband access.

Roanoke County’s Tentative Plan

The second, by Claire Mitzel today revealed the school system’s tentative plan:

“Southwest Virginia’s second-largest school system on Thursday unveiled its plan to return to school in August, which will involve daily in-person instruction for pre-K through second grade students and twice-a-week in-person instruction for third through 12th graders. Roanoke County’s plan is based on the state being in Phase 3.”

The plan is preliminary, but the article reported that the School Board seemed to support its broad outline and will vote on a final plan July 2.

“Third through 12th grade students will be split into two groups under the plan to attend at 50% capacity. One group will attend school on Mondays and Thursdays; the other group will attend Tuesdays and Fridays. Families with multiple children will attend on the same schedule.”

Continue reading

School Shutdowns Will Aggravate Racial Disparities

Graphic source: McKinsey & Co., “COVID-19 and student learning in the United States: The hurt could last a lifetime.”

A new report by the McKinsey & Company management-consulting firm contends that delaying in-class schooling to Jan. 2021 would result in a catastrophic loss of learning for students — a loss that would be even more pronounced among blacks and Hispanics than whites (and, presumably, Asians, who are not mentioned despite comprising 5.6% of the U.S. population).

The average loss of learning for all students would be 6.8 months. The loss would be slightly less for whites, about 6.0 months, but significantly greater for blacks (10.3 months) and Hispanics (9.2 months). The racial/ethnic achievement gap, which has defied all efforts of school administrators to close over the past decade, would grow significantly worse, says the article, “COVID-19 and student learning in the United States: The hurt could last a lifetime.”

The McKinsey scenario does not describe the hybrid stay-at-home/back-to-school model proposed by the Northam administration for Virginia, but it highlights many of the problems that Virginia school districts would encounter by having students attend school only two days per week. Continue reading

COVID-19: Milder than We Thought

The latest numbers from the state and hospital-association COVID-19 dashboards suggest that the coronavirus in Virginia still is retreating. The seven-day moving average of test-positive cases for COVID-19 tests continues to fall, hitting a new low of 5.8%.

Meanwhile, two measures of intensive hospital utilization have hit new lows. The number of COVID-19 patients in Intensive Care Units fell t0 219 yesterday, down from a high of 469 in early April, while the number on ventilators declined to 99, from a high of 302 in mid-April.

New research from the federal Centers for Disease Control suggest that only one in ten COVID-19 cases have been identified through testing, so the number of confirmed cases, which stands at 60,570, is likely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. If the national rate holds true here, more than 600,000 Virginians have contracted the virus. In other words, about 7% of the population has been infected. The bad news is that the virus still has a long way to run.

Here’s the good news: If that 600,000 figure holds up, and if the Virginia Department of Health’s 6,071 figure for the number of hospitalizations is reasonably accurate, it means that only 1% of the population that gets the disease ends up hospitalized for it. Given the 1,700 Virginia deaths so far, it also means that only three out of 1,000 who get the disease die from it. Continue reading

Richmond’s “Numbnuts” Cripple Busch Gardens

by Kerry Dougherty

Five more days until Virginia finally enters Phase 3 of the slo-mo reopening of the commonwealth.

But if you were planning to take the kids to Busch Gardens or Kings Dominion to celebrate, forget it.

Thanks to ridiculously small crowd limits, both sprawling theme parks said they can’t comply with Virginia’s rules. The management of the parks want to know why they are lumped in the same category as bowling alleys and skating rinks.
Under the governor’s rules “entertainment venues” can open at 50% capacity, but with no more than 1,000 visitors.

On a good summer day Busch Gardens draws upwards of 24,000 guests. Holding the 383-acre park to 1,000 visitors would be economic suicide for one of the biggest tourist attractions in Virginia.

So Busch Gardens will remain shuttered. And the economy of the so-called Historic Triangle of Williamsburg, Yorktown and Jamestown will continue to circle the drain.

“Our parks are largely outdoor facilities spread across hundreds of acres but we continue to be lumped in with unrelated models like bowling alleys and skating rinks,” said Kevin Lembke, president of Busch Gardens. Continue reading

Up Next: School Bus Crisis

by Kerry Dougherty

Last week we marveled at Gov. Ralph Northam’s unworkable guidelines to reopen Virginia schools this fall.

Richmond’s bizarre restrictions on social distancing and class size make it impossible for kids to be in their classrooms five days a week.

Instead, most school districts seem to cooking up schemes to divide student bodies in half with 50% of children in school two days a week, the other half in school for two other days a week, and the fifth day given over for teacher planning.

In other words, we’re looking at a two-day-a-week school year.

Sure, school officials insist that students will also have three days of virtual learning, but it’s no secret that distance learning was a colossal disaster this spring.

I read a Washington Post piece on distance learning this week and spied this comment from a teacher who wants to go back to the classroom five days a week even if it puts her and her family in peril for Covid-19:

Continue reading

Northam Gets a Couple of Things Right

by James A. Bacon

I do have my issues with Wise King Ralph, but I have to give credit where credit is due. He has done two things right in the past few days. He has given the OK to move to Phase 3 of the COVID-19 lockdown on July 1, and he has refused to buckle under to violent protests in Richmond. Virginia’s capital city will not turn into Portland or Seattle East.

It was not a foregone conclusion that the Governor would accede to a further relaxation of the emergency restrictions promulgated to fight the spread of the COVID-19 virus. While Virginia metrics were all heading in the right direction, the national media were in full-blown hysteria mode over a rise in infection rates in other states that had moved to reopen their economies. Even local media, which reported on beach vacationers bringing the coronavirus with them back to the Roanoke region, were sounding the alarm. Indeed, Northam said explicitly that he was paying attention to what was happening in other states.

But in the end, Wise King Ralph did the right thing. Phase 3 represents a big step forward in getting back to normal. The measures it continues to maintain — restrictions on mass gatherings with the potential to turn into super-spreader events — are defensible.

Meanwhile, the Governor, while not exactly posing as Mr. Law and Order, defended city and state police officers who earlier yesterday used tear gas and rubber bullets to clear a sit-in outside of Richmond City Hall that was blocking traffic. As The Virginia Mercury put it, Northam expressed “befuddlement” at the ongoing protests against police brutality even though he had promised “future action on police reform and other important equity issues.” Continue reading

It’s About Time: Phase 3

by Kerry Dougherty

Finally.

After weeks of plummeting death rates, dwindling hospitalizations and a sharp drop in positive test results for COVID-19, slow-walking Gov. Ralph Northam announced that the  commonwealth can enter Phase Three.

But not until next week, on July 1.

Northam made the announcement at yesterday’s press conference.

For months, Northam’s pressers have been characterized by gloom and arbitrary rules that confounded the public.

From the governor’s nonsensical “we’re a commonwealth and we’re going to act like a commonwealth” to his ridiculous no-sitting-or-loud-music-on-the-beach edicts, these bi-weekly broadcasts have been a source of dread for many of us.

Phase Three should have happened weeks ago. Nevertheless, sometimes we must simply be grateful for the crumbs the governor sprinkles in our direction. Continue reading