Tag Archives: COVID-19

Brace Yourself for Omicron… and Omicron Hysteria

Pre-Omicron: Confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Virginia. Source: Virginia Department of Health

by James A. Bacon

The Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus has set foot (perhaps I should say set its little viral spikes) in California, and it is only a matter of days (perhaps hours) before it arrives in Virginia. How worried should we be?

Some will dismiss the virus as nothing special, nothing to divert us from business as usual — the virus is said to have mild symptoms, after all. Others will engage in non-stop fear porn — we don’t know what we don’t know about the variant! Most of us, I suspect, will take a wait-and-see attitude before either blowing it off and putting ourselves at unnecessary risk or subjecting ourselves to another round of economy-wrecking, school-debilitating government mandates.

Personally, I incline toward the former response. The virus isn’t going away; it will continue mutating, and we have to learn to live with it just as we live with the flu. Maintaining a permanent regime of shutdowns and restrictions has massive unintended consequences, from medical procedures foregone to increased social isolation, depression, substance abuse and suicide; from supply-side disruptions to a massive and unsustainable run-up in the federal debt. Continue reading

Omicron: It’s Here!

by Kerry Dougherty

He could barely contain his glee. He was positively giddy.

I’m talking about White House medical advisor Anthony Fauci who held a press conference yesterday to declare that the long-awaited moment had arrived: We had our first confirmed case of the Covid omicron variant.

Hallelujah!

Now the government has an excuse — however flimsy — to institute more arbitrary rules and extend others all while quietly nudging governors to crack down on civil liberties just in time for the holidays. Continue reading

New COVID Data Displays

Rates of infection per 100,000 (Jan. 17 through Nov. 20, 2021. Source: Virginia Department of Health

The Virginia Department of Health is now publishing a graph that compares the COVID-19 infection rate by vaccination status. The graph above, based on 2021 data, shows that unvaccinated people have confirmed COVID-19 infections at a rate 4.6 times that of fully vaccinated people and 2.2 times that of partially vaccinated people. Continue reading

Omigod, Omicron Is Coming!

by Kerry Dougherty

I’ve seen this movie before. And I’m not buying a ticket this time.

I’m talking about the latest remake in the theater of the absurd: “A New COVID Variant Is Coming! We’re All Going To Die!”

Fear hustlers managed to spook the stock markets on Friday with panic porn about a variant detected in South Africa among a handful of healthy people being tested for travel.

Naturally the nation’s biggest attention whore, Anthony Fauci, was on the Sunday shows hinting at the possibility that more lockdowns and mandates could be coming. (When he wasn’t weirdly dabbling in politics and bringing up January 6th, that is.)

If there’s one thing public health officials learned during the pandemic it’s that scaring the bejabbers out of the populace is the best way to prepare them to knuckle under and surrender their civil rights. Continue reading

When Schools Get Long-Haul COVID

School learning mode by state. Ranking of in-person leaning index, 2020/21 school year. Virginia highlighted in red. Source: Burbio’s School Opening Tracker.

by James A. Bacon

“Long haul” COVID is the term used to describe COVID symptoms that persist far beyond the normal four weeks of infection. It seems that Virginia schools are experiencing long-haul COVID, too: maladies that have arisen long after the impact of the original illness — the shutdown of in-person learning — has passed. Like long-haul COVID for people, long-haul COVID for schools often involves symptoms not seen previously.

School districts around the nation are canceling classes for what they call “mental health days” on the grounds that students and staff need breaks to handle the pressure of returning to school, reports the Wall Street Journal.  More than a third of the 8,692 school closures reported this year have occurred in three states: North Carolina, Virginia, and Missouri.

The Journal article specifically cites school systems in Suffolk, Chesapeake and Richmond. Teachers are experiencing burnout, and superintendents are giving them time off to recoup. In large part, the burnout is a consequence of the COVID-driven flight to distance learning in the 2020/21 school year. Virginia public schools had the 7th-lowest rate of in-person learning in the country, by one set of measures in the Burbio K-12 School Opening Tracker and 3rd lowest by another set. Continue reading

More Proof: Virginia Schools’ COVID Policies Were a Disaster

Source: “Pandemic Schooling Mode and Student Test Scores: Evidence from US States”

by James A. Bacon

Here is more proof, as if it were needed, that Virginia’s public school system suffered one of the greatest COVID-induced collapses in standardized test scores of the 50 states. A paper by Clare Halloran, a Brown University professor, and three colleagues recently published by the National Bureau of Economic Research drew data from 12 states, including Virginia, to probe the impact of COVID-related school shutdowns on student learning. Virginia students experienced the lowest rate of in-person learning — and they likewise experienced the biggest drop in test scores. It wasn’t even close.

Summarize the authors: “Of the states in our analyses, in-person learning rates are highest in Florida and Wyoming, and lowest in Minnesota and Virginia. Virginia and Colorado also have the highest share of district-time spent in virtual learning.” Continue reading

Hallelujah! Greenbrier Christian Academy Defies Virginia’s Mask Mandate

by Kerry Dougherty

In a bold move, Greenbrier Christian Academy in Chesapeake announced this week that when students return from Thanksgiving break they can be mask-free. Unless their parents want them in masks, in which case the school will make sure parental wishes are carried out.

In a video sent to Greenbrier parents, Superintendent Ron White said it’s been five weeks since the school had its “last Covid contact” and that no students or parents are being tested right now for possible infection so this seems like the right time to return to normal.

Continue reading

Update on the Richmond School Enrollment Meltdown

by James A. Bacon

Yesterday I presented Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) statistics indicating that student enrollment in the City of Richmond public school system dropped 25% this year. The drop was especially pronounced among Asian and White students — more than 60% for both categories — suggesting a massive flight from Richmond city schools.

The numbers were accurate, but the article was missing critical context. As reader “RJordan” pointed out in the comments section, Richmond enrollment numbers had surged the previous year, when fear of COVID-19 was at its peak, as hundreds of students from around the region signed up for the city’s virtual schools program. As school systems returned to in-person classes, the students dis-enrolled from Richmond and returned to their normal school districts.

However, flight from Richmond public schools is still a real thing — it’s just not as pronounced as I had portrayed it. John Butcher ran the numbers, broken down by racial/ethnic category, comparing 2019 and 2022 enrollments.

Continue reading

The End of One-Man-Rule in Richmond

by Kerry Dougherty

I can’t believe this needs to be said, but Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin, in announcing that he will abolish state-wide mask and vaccine mandates but allow private schools and school boards to decide if they want to continue with masking, is KEEPING promises.

Not breaking them.

Let me remind the sore-loser Democrats and far-right Republicans who are trolling Youngkin on social media that many of us voted to end to one-man rule in Richmond.

We don’t want a dictatorship of the left or the right.

We were appalled by Ralph Northam’s eagerness to crush civil liberties and substitute his judgement — flawed as it’s always been, remember that blackface episode? — for that of local government. He closed our beaches to “sitting” for months, ordered us home by midnight because his parents always told him “nothing good happens after midnight,” and demanded that school districts like Chesapeake and the Diocese of Richmond mask students, even though they’d voted to make masks optional. Continue reading

Show Us Your Papers

by Kerry Dougherty

Well, what do you know.

In their eagerness to flex their authoritarian muscles, Virginia Beach Public School officials made fools of themselves this week.

On Tuesday evening, Human Resources fired off a stern email to all workers informing them that December 6th would be Show-Us-Your-Papers Day. By that date every school employee will be required to complete a “VBCPS Employee Vaccination Status Questionnaire” showing proof that they were vaccinated against COVID.

Unvaxxed employees will be forced to submit to a weekly test.

There is no mention of what happens to employees who refuse to cooperate. That will be interesting, given the huge staffing shortages. Stay tuned.

The reason for the urgency?

“On Nov. 5, 2021, the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued an emergency temporary standard requiring all employers with 100 or more employees to mandate vaccination or provide proof of a weekly negative test. This mandate is currently under review in the federal court system therefore, the start date for compliance is unclear. Continue reading

How Team Northam Botched the Unemployment Insurance Crisis

Source: “Operations and Performance of the Virginia Employment Commission, 2021,” Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission

by James A. Bacon

By way of preface, let us acknowledge that managerial problems at the Virginia Employment Commission preceded the Northam administration. And let us acknowledge that the magnitude of the challenge in responding to the unemployment spike during the COVID-19 epidemic was unprecedented. It would not be fair to blame the entirety of the VEC’s breakdown in performance — one of the worst in the country — upon the ineffectual leadership of Governor Ralph Northam. But it is entirely defensible to say that the VEC’s spectacular failure to expedite unemployment claims was one of the most consequential failures of his tenure.

Team Northam was both slow and lacking in its response to VEC’s challenges. Not only did the agency’s inability to process unemployment insurance claims create hardship for hundreds of thousands of out-of-work Virginians who went months without their checks, it engendered ancillary crises downstream such as the spike in tenant evictions and the turmoil resulting from that. VEC’s failure added immeasurably to COVID-related misery in Virginia,

The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) does not draw those conclusions in its recently published report dissecting VEC’s performance during the pandemic, but the inference is unavoidable. Here is what JLARC did say: Continue reading

Was UVa’s Vax Mandate Justified? We’ll Never Know.

New COVID cases among faculty, staff, students and contract employees. Source: University of Virginia COVID tracker

by James A. Bacon

This academic year the University of Virginia mandated that all students get vaccinated. With few exceptions, all have done so, as have most of the university’s 30,000 faculty, staff and employees. According to the Daily Progress, only 173 are estimated to be out of compliance. They have until January 4 to get their shots. So, how is the University of Virginia’s COVID-fighting regime working out? Have the mandates made a difference?

One way to tell is by comparing the incidence of new COVID cases reported during this fall’s mini-surge with the mini-surge that occurred a year ago, when pre-vaccination measures such as remote learning, quarantining and mandated mask wearing were in place. As can be seen in the graph above, this year’s mini-surge was smaller than last year’s. Last year’s fall surge peaked at 29.6 new cases per day (seven-day running average) compared to 23,3 new cases per day. That clearly looks like an improvement. (Both were dwarfed by the February super-surge, which peaked at 112.6 new cases per day, but I’m trying to compare periods with like conditions.)

In that limited sense, the UVa experiment can be viewed as a success. But these statistics don’t tell the whole story, nor do they answer a question not susceptible to measurement: was the marginal gain worth the trammeling of individual liberties? Continue reading

Marik Sues Sentara Over COVID-19 Treatment Ban

Paul Marik

by James A. Bacon

Paul Marik, director of Sentara Norfolk General’s ICU, has sued the hospital to reverse a ban on a treatment protocol he uses to treat critically ill patients. That protocol includes the administration of ivermectin and fluvoxamine.

In the lawsuit Marik claimed that the Sentara restrictions may have contributed to the deaths of four of his patients. “It’s the physician who determines what’s the best treatment for the patient, not nameless bureaucrats sitting in an office,” Marik said, according to WTKR-TV. “I had to stand by idly watching [my patients] die because I was not allowed to do what I’m meant to do.”

“I think it’s criminal. It’s immoral, and it’s illegal,” he added. “Can you understand the toll that that takes that I have young patients — young patients in the 30s and 40s, who I had to watch die — while the hospital prevented me from giving them the treatment I thought was in their best interest?”

Sentara contends that the use of ivermectin, an inexpensive and widely available anti-parasitic drug, has not been proven effective in randomized, double-blind clinical trials, the scientific gold standard. Furthermore, the hospital contended that Marik based his claim to have cut mortality rates in half, published in the Journal of Intensive Care Medicine, upon inaccurate information. The journal has since retracted the article.

The controversy highlights a fundamental question: who decides — and how they decide — what COVID-19 treatments are permissible. Continue reading

Vaccine Decisions Belong to Parents. Period.

by Kerry Dougherty

This creepy promotion ought to make all of us uncomfortable. Pharmaceutical companies should back off any outreach to impressionable children and leave decisions about vaccinations where it belongs: With parents.

Stop trying to brainwash youngsters. Continue reading

How Data Asymmetry Drives COVID Policy

Confirmed COVID-19 cases, just one of many COVID data points tracked by the Virginia Department of Health. Good news: The virus is receding!

by James A. Bacon

There’s a common saying in the business world: You manage what you measure. In Virginia, as in the rest of the United States, we have a super-abundance of data about COVID-19. Just visit the VDH website for a taste.

As we have frequently observed on this blog — and we’re hardly alone in doing so — the lockdowns imposed in an effort to contain the virus have negative effects, the most visible of which is increasing peoples’ sense of social isolation. The effects are measured in a variety of ways, from counting drug overdoses to suicides, but the data is not updated daily. Indeed, the numbers are typically released quarterly or annually after lengthy reporting delays, if they are compiled at all. For all practical purposes, that data is invisible and, therefore, plays almost no role in formulating policy.

Patrick Wilson with the Richmond Times-Dispatch (yes, I have to give the RTD credit for still doing some good reporting) tells the story of Michael McDermott, who supplies information about drug overdoses in the website FAVOR (Faces and Voices of Recovery in Virginia). He updates a chart showing the monthly EMS response data for overdoses in Virginia, using data collected by the Virginia Department of Health. Continue reading