Tag Archives: COVID-19

A Tale of Two Governors

Pam Northam

by Kerry Dougherty

Every once in a while we get a delicious example of agenda-driven news coverage.

Last week, for instance.

On Thursday, headlines across the country gloated over news that Missouri Gov. Mike Parsons and his wife, Teresa had tested positive for COVID-19. Here, have a peek:

CNN: This Republican Governor Refused A Mask Mandate. Then He Got Covid.

AP: Missouri Governor, Opponent of Mandatory Masks, Has Covid-19.

Washington Post: Missouri’s Governor Has Refused to Mandate Masks. Now He Tested Positive…

Dripping with schadenfreude, aren’t they? Although they didn’t dare say it, the message clearly was, “We hope he dies. Would serve him right.”

Fast forward one day and these same media outlets learned that Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and his wife, Pam, had tested positive for COVID-19. Did those headlines point out that he is part of the mask mandate crowd? Continue reading

How Well is VDH Managing COVID-19 Outbreaks?

by Carol J. Bova

The Virginia Department of Health data is now equipped with extensive testing capacity and a small army of contact tracers to squelch outbreaks of COVID-19 in Virginia. Recent data regarding the number of outbreaks raises questions about how well VDH is doing its job.

One concern is the validity of the data that VDH is acting upon. The total number of outbreaks reported by VDH over the course of the epidemic hit 1,010 by the end of day, September 25. The dashboard indicates 23 outbreaks in colleges and universities, accounting for 1,736 cases. But that’s only half the number of cases reported on the dashboard of just four universities in jus the past couple of months.

James Madison University reports 1,474 cases from July 1 to now, including self-reported cases since August 17. UVA’s dashboard  reports 648 cases. Virginia Tech’s dashboard shows 940 cases, and VCU reports 257. Those stats include faculty, staff and contract employees, but only a small number: 58 faculty/staff at UVa and 15 employees at Tech. And they don’t include confirmed cases from Virginia’s 65 other nonprofit colleges, community colleges and universities.

The discrepancy between what VDH is reporting and the universities are reporting raises the question of how well VDH is keeping up with the data… which raises an even bigger question of how well VDH is managing the outbreaks. Continue reading

Northam Bit by the Bug

Governor Ralph Northam and his wife Pam have contracted the COVID-19 virus, the Governor’s Office announced this morning. The virus apparently was transmitted by a member of the Governor’s official residence staff, “who works closely within the couple’s living quarters.”

The Governor and First Lady, who will self-isolate for ten days, are working with state and local health authorities to trace their close contacts. The Executive Mansion and Patrick Henry office building are closed for deep cleaning this morning.

“As I’ve been reminding Virginians throughout this crisis, COVID-19 is very real and very contagious,” Northam said. “We are grateful for your thoughts and support, but the best thing you can do for us — and most importantly, for your fellow Virginians — is to take this seriously

First question: Did Northam take COVID-19 seriously? He was caught mingling maskless with the public at Virginia Beach this summer. Now he has caught the virus from a member of his residence staff. Did the staff member follow the protocols that Northam’s executive orders require of others? Or did the virus slip past the best of precautions?  Continue reading

$300 Million Bond Refinancing Won’t “Save” Higher Ed from Long-Term Challenges

If higher-ed institutions don’t address fundamental challenges, their long-term debt may not be worth much more than these Confederate bearer bonds.

by James A. Bacon

Governor Ralph Northam has unveiled a higher-education refinancing plan that will allow Virginia’s public colleges and universities to reschedule more than $300 million in debt over the next two years.

The Commonwealth of Virginia would refinance bonds issued by the Treasury Board of Virginia and the Virginia College Building Authority. Under the Governor’s plan, which requires General Assembly cooperation, institutions would make no principal payments on their VCBA bonds through fiscal year 2023; the restructuring would extend institutions’ payment plans for two years beyond their current schedule for both types of bonds.

“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have tremendous impacts on higher education, including the fiscal health of our colleges and universities,” said Governor Northam in a press release. “Families all over the country are taking advantage of record low interest rates to refinance their home mortgages, and we want our public institutions to benefit as well. Refinancing will free up millions of dollars in savings allowing our colleges and universities to make critical investments, meet the needs of Virginia students, and continue offering a world-class education.”

The headline of the Governor’s press release indicated that Virginia institutions would “save” more than $300 million over the next two years. That nomenclature was repeated in leads and/or headlines appearing in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Roanoke Times, and Washington Post. The initiative will do no such thing. The vast majority of “savings” would come from deferring payments on $300 million, which still will would have to be repaid. Continue reading

Boomerang: Opioid Overdoses Surge

by James A. Bacon

When governments shut down economic and social activity to quell the spread of the COVID-19 virus, Bacon’s Rebellion has frequently warned, they run the risk of engendering unintended consequences. We have predicted negative impacts from job loss and social isolation on mental health, substance abuse, domestic abuse, and suicide. Just because state government doesn’t report those numbers real-time, as it does with COVID-19 cases, doesn’t mean the impacts aren’t real.

Thanks to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, we do have data on opioid overdoses at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center. The surge is dramatic and impossible to ignore.

While overall emergency room visits declined 29% between March and June 2020 compared to the same period the year before, nonfatal opioid overdoses leaped 123%. Continue reading

Permanent COVID Reg Called “The Fifth Dragon”

By Steve Haner

Most Virginia employers probably have not read, let alone fully complied with, the emergency temporary standard on protecting their employees from COVID-19 adopted back in July. Yet the public comment period on the permanent version of the rules, which can carry major sanctions, closes this Friday.

Only twenty comments had been filed as of Monday morning, half of them anonymous. So far, the proposed permanent version is not generating the level of activity that surrounded the proposed temporary rule. The Department of Labor and Industry’s Safety and Health Code Board allowed no public hearing before adoption, only written comments.

File a comment on the proposed permanent standard here. You can read the comments to date here. The proposed permanent standard can be read here.

Continue reading

The COVID Made Me Do It

With apologies to Flip Wilson: the covid made me do it

by James A. Bacon

To nobody’s surprise, we are getting confirmation that lower-income students are suffering the most from the way colleges and universities are responding to the  COVID-19 challenge. Higher-ed enrollment has dropped significantly this fall, and the drop-outs are skewing toward the lower end of the income spectrum.

Some 100,000 fewer high school seniors completed financial aid applications to attend college this year, according to a National College Attainment Network analysis. Also, tuition deposits at 100 four-year colleges tracked by education research firm EAB are down 8.4% among families making less than $60,000 per year.

Those numbers are quoted by a Washington Post article highlighting the enrollment trend. Notice, though, how the Post spins the story (my emphasis):

The lower enrollment figures are the latest sign of how the economic devastation unleashed by the coronavirus crisis has weighed more heavily on lower-income Americans and minorities, who have suffered higher levels of unemployment and a higher incidence of covid-19.

Continue reading

Two of Five Virginians Say Nix to COVID-19 Vaccine

by James A. Bacon

Don’t count on a vaccine to end the COVID-19 epidemic — not in Virginia anyway. Four out of 10 Virginians say they are likely to not get a vaccine, even if approved by the Food and Drug Administration and made available for free. Only 58% say they are “somewhat” or “very” likely to do so, according to a poll released yesterday by the Virginia Commonwealth University school of government.

Last month State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said that he planned to mandate a COVID-19 immunization once it was safely released to the public. Focused on “accessibility, affordability and fair distribution” of a vaccine, Governor Ralph Northam said he was not planning a mandate at that time. As it turns out, two thirds of those responding to the VCU poll said they oppose requiring everyone to get a COVID-19 vaccine. 

As I have blogged previously, there are legitimate questions to ask about the efficacy of any vaccine. No vaccine is 100% effective. Various experts have opined that a vaccine likely to meet FDA approval would immunize between 75% and 90% of people exposed to the coronavirus. People have to balance the potential protection against the risks of side effects such as fever, fatigue and headaches.

In the poll, 63% of Independents and 59% of Democrats said they were very or somewhat likely to get the vaccine, while only 49% of Republicans saying they were. It will be fascinating to see if those numbers flip as the vaccine issue becomes polarized along partisan lines, as appears to be happening. Continue reading

Arlington Scraps Sidewalk Restrictions

Recent Arlington sidewalk scene. OMG, they’re not even wearing masks! Image credit: ARLnow.com

by James A. Bacon

Apparently, motorcycle riders and MAGA hat wearers are not the only people who resist complying with measures to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Yesterday the Arlington County Board repealed its ordinance restricting sidewalk gatherings after it was met “with defiance, confrontation and hostility,” reports the Washington Post.

The Board enacted the restriction in July at the height of the COVID-19 panic. The ordinance made it illegal for more than three people in a group to congregate in certain areas. The goal was to limit crowding as patrons waited for tables inside occupancy-limited bars and restaurants. The crowding is worst between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.

“Arlington police have determined that it is impractical to cite hundreds of violators at night,” said board member Christian Dorsey. “They have prioritized encouraging compliance and have not issued a single citation. I don’t see any reason to continue having something on the books that clearly doesn’t work.” Continue reading

Assembly May Add Unpaid Power Bills to Yours

By Steve Haner

The General Assembly is moving toward a second method of transferring money from electricity customers who can pay their bills to those who cannot. A Senate bill up today will allow Dominion Energy Virginia and Appalachian Power to simply add yet another “rider” to everybody’s monthly bill for their uncollected accounts receivable.

It is still possible the Assembly will reach into assumed excess profits on the part of Dominion and use $320 million of that to cover payments which have been allowed to lapse during the COVID-19 pandemic. As reported here a while back, that idea is being proposed as an amendment to the state budget, still being written behind closed doors.

But only Dominion has such a pot of cash hanging out there to raid, not the other utilities with hundreds of millions of unpaid electricity, gas, and water bills. And that approach may indeed not appear in the budget after all, leaving Senate Bill 5118 as the main path forward. The link is to the substitute, to which the following was added by a Senate Committee last week:

The Commission shall (emphasis added) allow for the timely recovery of bad debt obligations, reasonable late payment fees suspended, and prudently incurred implementation costs resulting from an (Emergency Debt Retirement Plan) for jurisdictional utilities, including through a rate adjustment clause or through base rates. The Commission may apply any applicable earnings test in the Commission rules governing utility rate applications and annual informational filings when assessing the recovery of such costs.

 “Shall” is the key word, of course.  If asked, the State Corporation Commission must say yes.  And the provision allowing collection “through base rates” in effect does the same thing as the proposed budget language, allowing the SCC to apply any cash the utility has lying around during a rate case. It also could lead to an increase in base rates to cover the unpaid bills.  Continue reading

Ray of Hope in Virginia Senate

by Kerry Dougherty

It’s not much. But it’s something. An anemic attempt to rein in some of the unfettered emergency powers that are being exercised by Virginia officials.

I’m referring to the unanimous vote to pass SB5025 late last week by the Virginia Senate. This is one of the very few measures before the General Assembly that legitimately deserves debate during this special session. It deals with Virginia’s ongoing and seemingly endless state of emergency.

The bill would curb the power of Virginia’s Health commissioner, Dr. Norman D. Oliver.

You know, the unelected official who refused to release details about Virginia’s nursing home carnage, by invoking a bizarre claim of privacy rights to conceal that information.

You know, the man who scared the bejaysus out of all of us in April when he speculated that the oppressive Phase One of Virginia’s reopening would last “at least two years.”

You know, the health chief who recently said that when a Covid-19 vaccine became available he’d make it mandatory. Continue reading

School Closings Reflect Ideology, Not Safety

by Hans Bader

Schools in liberal northern Virginia and the state’s other metropolitan areas are currently educating students only online. In Virginia’s most conservative counties, students usually have access to some instruction in-person.

In-person instruction is easier for elementary school students. They often have difficulty with remote learning, which can require mastery of electronic devices and concentrating for hours a day on a computer screen or tablet.

For that reason, some counties, mainly in conservative areas, give in-person learning to students in the earliest grades (such as Kindergarten and first and second grade), while offering only online instruction or a mixture of online and in-person instruction to older students.

Decisions to keep schools closed to in-person learning don’t seem to be based on safety risks to children. As Steven J. Duffield notes, “There have been zero deaths in Virginia under age of 20” from the coronavirus, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

Yet, Virginia has considerable regional variation in school reopenings, with decisions linked more to school boards’ ideology, than student safety. Continue reading

The Homeschool Surge

by James A. Bacon

Home schooling has been on the rise in Virginia for many years. The number of homeschooled students reached nearly 45,000 in 2019; if homeschoolers were a school division, they would have comprised the seventh largest of Virginia’s 133 school divisions. Demographer Hamilton Lombard at the Demographics Research Group at the University of Virginia, expects the homeschool trend to continue.

There still are significant barriers to homeschooling, particularly the time commitment required by one or both parents, but other barriers are falling. Even before the COVID-19 epidemic, thousands of parents were making the switch every year, pulling their children out of school and educating them at home. COVID-19 likely will accelerate the trend by increasing acceptance of working at home and introducing many families to virtual learning. Writes Lombard in the StatChat blog:

Prior to the pandemic, Milton Gaither, who studies the history of education at Messiah College, observed that the best way to make sense of the explosive growth in homeschooling is to recognize that it is part of “a larger renegotiation of the accepted boundaries between public and private, personal and institutional.” This can been seen in the growing popularity (even before the pandemic) of other home-based trends, such as working from home, home-based healthcare, and even home birthing. Continue reading

Is a COVID Surge Coming in October?

by Carol J. Bova

Statewide, the R0 (R-naught) value for COVID-19 moved up to 1.004 because of surges in the Near Southwest and Northwest for the week ending August 22, according to the Virginia Department of Health’s latest COVID-19 Model Weekly Update. If the RO is above 1, it indicates the potential for exponential increases in the spread of a disease.

The red areas on the map show surging hot spots in the New River and Richmond City Health Districts. Seven slow-growth areas are in deep yellow and declining numbers are the deeper blue. VDH offers no explanation for why the Eastern Region districts are all declining or for the plateau for the remaining districts.

The model projects about 78,000 new cases by Thanksgiving, with a peak of 8,300 cases during the week ending October 18th. The report says that seasonal changes like schools reopening, flu season and changing weather patterns could increase the weekly case numbers, too. Adding in a possible 10% to 20% increase in cases after Labor Day, the model forecast jumps to 11,000 to 14,000 for the week ending October 25th. Continue reading

When Online Learning Works

by James A. Bacon

Trenell “Tre” Milana, a Richmond-area teen, has a number of learning disabilities including autism. His local school system tried mainstreaming him, but he couldn’t keep up with other students. Despite low grades, the system socially promoted him through the 6th grade.

“With the processing delay, you would tell him something and go onto the next subject, and then the next subject, and all the kids are keeping up but Trenell is still trying to figure out the first thing you told him,” his mother Latoya Milana explained to WWBT television. “When he was in mainstream he would fail; 50s and 60s from November until May.”

In 7th grade, the working single mom decided that something had to change. She enrolled Tre in Virtual Virginia Academy. He thrived. “I think he finished with all A’s and B’s in 7th grade,” she said. “That has never happened with him.”

Tre’s story reflects the experience of just one kid, and one should be careful drawing broader conclusions. With that caveat, permit me to make a few observations. Continue reading