by Carol J. Bova
The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announced January 19 that it has launched a COVID-19 Outbreaks in Virginia Higher Education dashboard. The department included a disclaimer that the dashboard reports only “outbreak-associated cases and not the total number of cases at the college or university.” For more information on COVID-19 numbers, the dashboard points to a separate website hosted by eleven schools which contains information about their cases at www.covid19.va.education.
The VDH rationale for a new dashboard with incomplete information? “This dashboard helps to provide awareness of the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in colleges and universities statewide.”
This new VDH dashboard does not show the true extent of COVID-19 in colleges and universities. It is a waste of time and resources. Having this information at the beginning of the fall semester might have been useful. Now it’s a waste of time and resources. Citizens are already acutely aware of the spread in their communities, and efforts need to be redirected to the state’s older population.
For example, since November 1:
Colleges and universities have had 13 outbreaks involving 556 cases and no deaths.
Long term care facilities have had 490 outbreaks with 12,024 cases and 1,012 deaths.
Totals for higher ed: 55 outbreaks, 3,026 cases, zero deaths.
Totals for LTCF: 806 outbreaks, 24,935 cases, 2,795 deaths. Continue reading
Don’t be this guy.
by James A. Bacon
Once again Virginia is gripped by COVID-19 hysteria, this time whipped up by a surge in the number of confirmed cases. The situation needs to be taken seriously — people are getting sick, and people are dying — but the wide-eyed alarmism likely isn’t justified.
Let’s start by looking at the seven-day moving average of confirmed cases reported on the Virginia Department of Health dashboard, which is the basis for the panic.
Based on these numbers, the spread of COVID-19 appears to be terrifying. The seven-day moving average is approaching 5,000 new cases reported daily — roughly four times the rate of the spring and summer peaks.
But the question arises, are more people getting COVID-19, or have we just massively expanded the level of testing? Are we capturing cases that we missed back in the spring and summer? Continue reading
by Verhaal Kenner
Governor Ralph Northam has shifted Virginia into phase “1B,” meaning that a “front line” worker, or anyone over 65 or with a chronic health condition, is eligible for COVID-19 vaccination. That’s clearly a population several times the estimated 440,500 that are in the state’s “1A” group – only about half of whom have gotten a first dose. Expanding eligibility was needed because bureaucratic and resource constraints were clearly delaying getting shots out of the freezers and into people’s arms.
The next issue will quickly become managing events and appointments to avoid the type of long-line chaos in Florida. We also need to make sure we don’t waste the doses we have.
A surprising discovery that physicians made when they received the distribution of Pfizer vaccine is that the 5-dose vials actually contain enough for six doses, or in some cases enough for seven.* The key to getting this extra dose or two is to use syringes that don’t waste any of the vaccine. Waste normally occurs in a small dead space in the top of the syringe just below the needle. The low dead-space design often has the needle manufactured as an integral part of the syringe or with a greatly reduced cavity under the snap-on needle assembly. Even within low dead space versions, there are specific products that waste less and, thus more reliably offer the extra dose. Continue reading
by Kerry Dougherty
I tend to be cynical, but still I dismissed the folks who predicted that once Joe Biden was elected, the lockdowns and shutdowns that had crushed the American economy would start to fall away.
“Just wait till after the election,” they warned.
You’re insane, I thought. I believed — still do — that the Biden administration would pressure governors to close it all down, then, as the vaccine was widely distributed and warmer weather arrived, the new president could claim victory over the pandemic.
Maybe I was wrong. Look at what’s happened in just the past week even as COVID infections grow in many places, including Virginia.
Gov. Ralph Northam, the man who once outlawed sitting on the beach or playing loud music in the sand as bizarre COVID-curbing measures, and the first governor in the country to shutter schools for the entire 2020 school year, now says it’s imperative schools reopen because our kids are turning into dunces. Continue reading
by Steve Haner
Virginia’s emergency temporary workplace standards on COVID-19 are one step closer to becoming permanent, over the continuing loud objections from employers that they are duplicative, expensive, and not making anybody any safer than existing health and safety protections already do.
UPDATE: The text of the final permanent standard approved Wednesday was finally posted publicly Jan. 15. Continue reading
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID Data Tracker
As of Jan. 13, 2021, Virginia ranked 46th among U.S. states and territories in the per capita administration of the COVID-19 vaccine. Compare Virginia with West Virginia. Maybe West Virginia knew what it was doing back in 1861. — JAB
Virginia Education Association President James J. Fedderman
by James A. Bacon
Virginia Education Association President James J. Fedderman has called for all public schools in Virginia to shift to all-virtual instruction until teachers and staff have been vaccinated. “Learning losses can be made up,” he said in a video statement. “Loss of life cannot be.”
“Governor Northam this week said that getting Virginians vaccinated against COVID-19 is the best way to end this pandemic, rebuild our economy, and move the Commonwealth forward,” Fedderman said. “We call upon the Governor, school board, and school superintendents to keep all students and staff safe with virtual instruction until staff are vaccinated.”
What concrete evidence did Fedderman present to justify the continuation of online learning? The rolling 7-day average of daily cases in Virginia now exceeds 5,000, according to the VEA web page accompanying his video, and more than 5,200 Virginians have died. Nationally, more people died of COVID-19 than any day since the pandemic began.
In the video Fedderman also drew upon his personal experience. Over the holidays he said, his entire family was infected by the virus over the winter holiday. He spent two weeks getting barely two hours of sleep a night and lost 30 pounds from the “vicious disease.”
Here are some of the facts he did not mention. Continue reading
by Kerry Dougherty
One of the first beats I ever covered for a newspaper was Fairfax County Public Schools for The Washington Post in the early 1980s.
I learned something almost immediately: Despite enjoying enviable job security, teachers are notoriously reticent about speaking to the press. They worry that if they’re critical of what’s going on in their schools they’ll be fired. Or reassigned. Or shunned in the faculty lounge.
So most teachers just keep their heads down and keep teaching their students regardless of the difficult situations in their buildings.
But even that hasn’t been easy since Gov. Ralph Northam closed the schools last March. Many teachers and students were unprepared for full-time virtual learning. They certainly weren’t prepared to reopen in the fall. Some schools are holding in-person classes, others reopened and are now closed, still others are struggling with the 10-month-long failed experiment in distance learning. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Virginia’s experiment with online learning in public schools during the COVID-19 epidemic has been widely panned as a poor substitute for in-person learning. But many school superintendents, spurred by the loss of thousands of students from public schools, are thinking that online learning may be here to stay, at least in a limited capacity.
In Virginia Beach the University of Virginia K-12 Advisory Council hosted Friday about 60 senior school administrators, mostly superintendents and assistant superintendents to discuss lessons learned from the COVID-19 experience. As part of the process, the organizers white-boarded suggested topics for breakout groups to discuss. There was a widespread sentiment that the epidemic had forced administrators to re-examine established ways of doing things.
Perhaps most remarkable was the recognition that public schools need to think about their “market share” in the educational marketplace. Apparently, the loss of 3% or more of student enrollments to private schools and home schools in some districts has been a real wake-up call. The decline in enrollments translates directly into a loss of state dollars. Continue reading
Click for larger view.
By Steve Haner
Having received and mostly spent $3.1 billion in federal COVID-19 “relief” funding already, Virginia’s state and local governments now will have another $2.7 billion in the fourth and latest (but likely not last) federal spending bill tied to the ongoing pandemic and unemployment crisis.
The word relief is in apostrophes because Virginia’s state budget, as previously reported, is surprisingly strong in this time of economic stress, strong enough to pour dollars back into the state’s reserve funds Other states are in much worse shape. But just as with the individual COVID payments, need is not a factor. The idea is to stimulate personal – and government – spending across the board. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
In announcing the creation of three new conservation easements in Henrico County, a recent press release from the Capital Region Land Conservancy made an eye-catching statement. The easements, said the Conservancy, act as a bulwark against rising pressure to develop agricultural land across Virginia “driven most recently by shifts in COVID-era lifestyles and soaring housing prices.”
This was the first time I recall anyone in Virginia making an explicit connection between the COVID epidemic, urban flight, and rising property values for agricultural land. The notion is worth exploring
The conversion of farmland into subdivisions is a long-standing concern. As the Conservancy notes, more than 339,000 acres of farmland were developed in Virginia between 2001 and 2016. In the Richmond region, more than 87,000 acres of farmland have been lost. By 2017 Henrico County had fewer than 100 farms and 10,000 acres of farmland.
The urban renaissance of the 2010s decade blunted the trend toward metropolitan sprawl. The center of gravity in development shifted back toward urban cores in Virginia and the U.S. generally. Now that momentum seems spent. Perhaps the COVID-19 epidemic is driving the reversal, but I suspect that the reality is more complex. It is also possible — consider it a hypothesis — that after a year of protests, riots and rising violent crime rates in many cities, many urban dwellers, concerned about social breakdown, fear for their personal safety. The main thing holding them back is the paucity of rural broadband and connectivity. That barrier soon may fall. Continue reading
by Kerry Dougherty
Here’s the attaboy to Gov. Ralph Northam that I meant to write for Thursday, until anarchy broke out in the U.S. Capitol.
Ever since they began in March, some of us have come to dread Northam’s COVID press conferences. The governor’s tone drips with condescension, he seems to blame people for getting sick and many of his emergency orders have been larded with restrictions that aren’t remotely grounded in science, but seem instead designed only to punish Virginians and make life miserable. No sitting on the beach comes to mind.
So, naturally, I turned on his Wednesday presser with trepidation, wondering what fresh hell awaited us. After all, Virginia’s infection rates are up sharply and even though we have thousands of empty hospital beds, no hospitals in the commonwealth are reporting a shortage of PPE and ICUs still have plenty of capacity, we seemed ripe for some kind of ugly California-style measures.
The urge to do something even if they know it won’t work, seems to be strong in most governors.
I was stunned and pleasantly surprised that this once the governor didn’t follow the lead of idiots like Gavin Newsom and Andrew Cuomo. Neither did Northam berate Virginians who are doing their best to stay healthy during a pandemic.
Instead, he spread hope. Continue reading
Administering the vaccine at the Richmond City Health Department. Credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch
by James A. Bacon
The Virginia Department of Health has released its priorities for receiving the COVID-19 vaccine in the next phase of the vaccination rollout. The top priorities are exactly who you’d expect — front-line essential workers and people over 75. It is reassuring to see that child-care and K-12 teachers and staff are high on the list.
In the initial phase, vaccines are being distributed to hospitals and nursing homes, either to people most likely to be exposed to the COVID-19 virus or to be at high risk of dying from it.
Next come the frontline essential workers. Police, fire and hazmat workers top the list. Then come corrections and homeless-shelter workers who work in settings where prisoners and homeless, packed into confined quarters, are at high risk of transmitting the virus.
Then comes the category of “child-care, K-12 teachers and staff.” One might ask why the commonwealth is prioritizing school teachers. After all, “the science” is clear that K-12 schools are low-risk settings for getting the virus. I’ll tell you why: Unlike the other occupations, teachers appear to be uniquely reluctant to return to their normal place of work. Their fears — rational or irrational — must be addressed. Continue reading
by Kerry Dougherty
Aaron Spence, superintendent of Virginia Beach Public Schools, has seen the light.
After months of kowtowing to the local teachers’ union — er education association — which is doing its best to keep classrooms closed, he belatedly joined the common sense get-the-kids-back-in-class crowd.
Better late than never.
Spence was persuaded, it seems, by medical experts who told him what many have known since last spring: That youngsters are not being infected by COVID-19 at significant rates, they tend to have very mild symptoms if they do test positive, and they’re terrible vectors of COVID-19. In other words, they don’t spread the virus. Continue reading
Superintendent of Public Instruction
by James C. Sherlock
I wrote in a column not long ago that it will be impossible to create plans to make up for COVID-related learning losses if we cannot benchmark those losses and their subsequent mitigation.
I recommended standardized testing as the only readily available and proven way to take those measurements.
For most readers of this space, the concept that standardized testing (SOLs in the case of Virginia) is required this spring to establish a baseline for learning losses is simple common sense. For the national teachers unions and for much of the woke left, standardized testing is considered unfair to the poor, a vestige of systemic racism and a violation of dogma.
What is unfair to disadvantaged children is to mask their educational needs by burying the evidence.
That is why it is good to see that the editorial board of the New York Times, in this morning’s lead editorial, has written that we need standardized testing for benchmarking of learning losses. Continue reading