Tag Archives: COVID-19

News Flash: Teaching Is Not a Work-from-Home Job

by Kerry Dougherty

This is rich.

Some Chesapeake teachers – you know, people who went to college to learn how to teach kids — are balking at orders that they return to the classroom in early November.

They don’t feel safe, apparently.

While it was initially expected that the first semester would be entirely virtual, a sharp downward trend in COVID-19 infections means that schools are reopening faster than expected. As high school kids return, more teachers are needed.

This does not include teachers with medical exemptions, by the way. They can continue to work from home.

Chesapeake was the first local school district to bring students back to the environment where they learn best: The classroom. Continue reading

ODU’s Fumble

by Kerry Dougherty

Here’s an unsurprising, entirely predictable tale.

On Monday, The Virginian-Pilot published a story headlined, “With Few Students and No Fall Sports Business Dries Up Around ODU.”

Businesses near the campus of ODU have been through mandated closures and restrictions on their capacity, but the fall semester has brought with it more trouble: no sporting events and a decreased student presence on campus.

Yep, college towns around the country are suffering as students attend online classes and even those on campus are limiting their social activities. The Pilot reports that 58% of ODU students are entirely online this year.

Not good for local businesses.

Making matters worse, of course, was ODU’s boneheaded decision to cancel football this year. Continue reading

Metro vs. Transurban in the Age of COVID

Perceptions of safety on different transportation modes. Green bar = more safe. Blue bar = the same. Orange bar = less safe. Source: “Urban Mobility Trends from COVID-19”

by James A. Bacon

We are taking a break from our regularly scheduled programming about the culture wars to highlight a more traditional topic: government dysfunction. In so doing, we shall contrast the flailing, failing response of a quasi-governmental entity, the Washington Metro, with the proactive, enterprising response of a private toll road operator, Transurban, to the challenge of epidemic-induced declines in traffic.

The Washington Metro, an independent authority governed by a board of directors appointed by three states and the federal government, is a train wreck. For years the commuter-rail and bus system was plagued by maintenance backlogs, a toxic workplace, frequent accidents, deteriorating on-time service, and declining ridership. Then the epidemic hit, and people found it impossible to maintain social distance. Ridership was down 85% in July compared to the same month in 2019… which was down from previous years.

Ridership on the Silver line in Fairfax County is so sparse that it is now practicable for would-be rapists to assault people on trains. Last month a 21-year-old man sexually assaulted a woman who, with her child, was the only other rider in the car. The woman did manage to escape the train at East Falls Church Station, but it won’t bode well for ridership if the public concludes that riding the train is on a par with picking up random hitch-hikers. Continue reading

Budgeting in the Time of COVID

Photo credit: Pilot Online

by James A. Bacon

When last we read news reports about the ongoing budget negotiations between the General Assembly and Governor Ralph Northam, lawmakers said they were making “progress” but had not yet come to a resolution. One outstanding issue is how much money to put into General Fund reserve funds to buffer against revenue shortfalls stemming from the COVID-19 epidemic. Another is how much of the federal CARES Act revenue to spend now on coronavirus relief and how much to hold back for future needs.

I caught up with Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne over the weekend, and he shared the perspectives that are shaping his advice to Northam, whom he describes as “middle of the road” fiscally and not inclined to accommodate all the spending demands emanating from the House of Delegates. Says Layne: “His instinct is to be cautious.”

Caution is called for, he adds, when there are so many economic and fiscal unknowns arising from the epidemic and the presidential elections.

The good news, says Layne, is that Virginia escaped the fiscal battering experienced by other states. He attributes our good fortune to two factors. One, which is widely acknowledged, is the large contribution of the federal government to Virginia’s economy. Federal employment was barely affected by the virus. Less widely appreciated is the fact that the commonwealth’s major private-sector employers also provide a stable employment base. Continue reading

Fairfax Tax Rate the Same, but Tax Burden Up

Fairfax County Board of Taxaholics, er, Supervisors

by Emilio Jaksetic

The massive lockdown triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many businesses and workers to lose significant amounts of income and forced them into financially precarious situations. Despite the undeniable financial pain and suffering that many businesses, workers, and households are facing, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors insisted upon another increase in the real estate tax. Ignoring the request of Republican Supervisor Pat Herrity to hold off on the increase, all the Democratic Supervisors decided to stick to their usual taxaholic ways.

Technically, the board did not raise the real estate tax rate itself. Rather it allowed the tax burden to increase by not adjusting the rate — $1.15-per-hundred dollars of assessed value — downward to offset higher property assessments. If board members had wanted to provide meaningful tax relief during the COVID-19 pandemic, they could have “frozen” everyone’s real estate tax bills for 2020 at the same level as their real estate tax bills for 2019.

Everyone in Fairfax County, not just property owners, will feel the painful effects of the real estate tax increase. Continue reading

778 Virginia Hospital Patients Discharged to Nursing Homes

Source: “COVID Utilization and Hospitalization Trends,” PowerPoint presentation by David Vaamonde, vice president-data analytics.

by James A. Bacon

A large majority of the patients treated for COIVD-19 and released from a Virginia hospital between April and June this year went directly home. But a significant number — 778 — were transferred to a “skilled nursing facility,” according to data contained in a Virginia Hospital and Health Care Association webinar delivered yesterday.

That raises a question. What were the protocols for discharging and transferring patients to nursing homes? What assurances were there that transferred patients were no longer infectious?

(Update: A commenter suggests that I may be improperly conflating “skilled nursing facilities” with “nursing homes,” so the reality may be more complicated than I have portrayed in this post.)

We know that an order by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo compelled hospitals to release elderly COVID patients into nursing homes early in the epidemic, resulting in a catastrophic spread of the disease among the state’s elderly. I know of no such order given by Governor Ralph Northam, and it is entirely possible that none of the patients released to long-term care facilities were infected. I’m simply asking the question. Continue reading

Older Virginians Account for Three Quarters of COVID Deaths. What Is VDH Doing?

by Carol J. Bova

We’ve seen reports that close to half of the COVID-19 deaths are from outbreaks in long term-care facilities (i.e., nursing homes, assisted living or multi-care facilities, group homes). There’s another story though, when you compare COVID-19 facts by the age ranges the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) uses in its reports.

The first age range in the table below covers birth-to-29 years because the number of deaths is so low. The next two cover twenty years each, and the last is for everyone over 70. That group has experienced only 9.2% of all COVID-19 cases but 73.5% of all COVID-19 deaths in Virginia.

In spite of VDH point-prevalence testing in the summer and federal distribution of testing equipment and supplies, the outbreaks in long term care facilities have risen to 442, affecting a total of 11,200 residents with 54 new outbreaks, 1,849 cases and 279 deaths since September 1. Unfortunately, more of those recently infected will die. Continue reading

VA COVID Deaths Drop Again. Distrust the Data.

By Steve Haner

The Google satellite photo shows Rhine River cruise boats parked recently at Basel, Switzerland, probably including the one that my wife and I would have been boarding tomorrow morning. Losing a scheduled cruise is of no concern against all the other human and economic costs of this pandemic, but it provides a slightly different illustration for a COVID story.

It’s time for another check on how Virginia is doing.    Continue reading

Jury Duty? Pick Me!

by Kerry Dougherty

Maybe it’s because I once covered courts for The Virginian-Pilot and always wondered what went on behind those closed jury doors. Perhaps it’s because one of my favorite movies is the 1957 classic, “Twelve Angry Men.” I suppose it could be because I read too many John Grisham novels.

Whatever the reason, I’ve always wanted to serve on a jury.

I had a shot last year when I was summoned to federal court. I couldn’t wait to hear evidence in a big drug, wire fraud or racketeering case in the Walter E. Hoffman U.S. Courthouse in Norfolk, within spitting distance of the old Virginian-Pilot building where I worked for 33 years.

I phoned the courthouse number at the appointed times week after week and was never needed.

The same thing happened a few years ago in Virginia Beach.

Apparently Norfolk residents are not nearly so eager to serve. One week into the resumption of trials in Norfolk Circuit Court and almost no one is showing up for jury duty. According to The Virginian-Pilot, 90% of those summoned for duty this week were no-shows. Continue reading

It Just Got Worse for the Unemployed

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

For those on this blog (including me) who have speculated as to why unemployed Virginians, who were getting up to $300 per week in unemployment benefits, could be behind on their rent, mortgage, and utility bills, here is one answer: They have not been getting that money since August 1.

The Virginian Pilot (and other media outlets) reports that the Virginia Employment Commission is still having trouble distributing the funds made available by President Trump’s decision to use FEMA balances after the Congressional authorization expired. At first, VEC said that there was sufficient funding for only three weeks, which would be paid retroactively in early September. Then it was six weeks’ worth of funding, but payment would be delayed until September 30. Now, the agency says there has been a programming problem and the target date is October 15, although there is some hope that the payments will go out sooner than that. Continue reading

Common Sense: Open the Windows

by Kerry Dougherty

Somewhere, my mother is smiling.

The woman who made us sleep at night — summer and winter — with our windows open to fight germs has been vindicated by no less an expert in public health than German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

OK, Merkel isn’t a public health expert, but politicians everywhere seem to think they are, and at least the German leader’s recommendations make sense. (That’s more than we can say about officials in Alexandria, who began mandating outdoor masks today. Idiotic.)

The Guardian reports that as the weather turns colder and folks are driven indoors, the spread of COVID-19 is beginning to accelerate in Germany. Studies show that 90% of cases spread inside. To combat this, Merkel is asking folks to “Lüften,” the age-old German custom of opening windows and letting in fresh air.

But we’re way ahead of her.

Back in March, German native Krys Stefansky wrote a piece urging everyone to do just that.

Continue reading

The Great Reshuffling of Higher-Ed Enrollment

by James A. Bacon

Yesterday I noted the fact that college enrollments in Virginia were holding their own despite the uncertainty and turmoil created by the COVID-19 epidemic. In particular, based on State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) data, I noted that enrollments had increased strongly — 6.6% — in the category of “four-year nonprofits,” most of which are small, liberal arts colleges. That seemed surprisingly — and counter-intuitively — upbeat. I had expected small liberal arts schools, which generally charge higher tuition, to suffer as students and families re-thought their educational priorities.

Upon digging deeper into the numbers, I can report that “average” numbers can conceal wide variability. Indeed, what the fall 2020 estimated college enrollment counts shows is a great reshuffling of enrollment patterns at the four-year nonprofits. Regent University in Virginia Beach increased undergraduate enrollment by 15%. Hampton University, a historically black institution, suffered an 18% decline in undergraduate enrollment. Continue reading

Dominion ❤ New Utility Bill Payment Plan

This time you get touched.

By Steve Haner

Dominion Energy Virginia loves the General Assembly’s most recent proposal on how to deal with mounting unpaid utility bills in the COVID-19 recession. You might not.

The state’s dominant utility has activated its network of grassroots lobbyists (including company retirees and stockholders) to express their personal support to their hometown delegate and senator, in an email that a recipient shared:

Last week the Senate Finance and House Appropriation committees passed budget bills that included assistance to those utility customers who have experienced economic hardship due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. All utilities have been impacted and the legislation recognizes that relief to those citizens most at risk will be different from one region and utility to the next. The direction adopted by both Chambers have been consistently supported by Dominion Energy…

As predicted more than once, the unpaid bills ultimately come to all utility consumers. The approach outlined in the new budget language is a variation on earlier themes, but the bottom line is unchanged.   Continue reading

Virginia Higher-Ed Enrollment Resilient in Face of COVID-19

by James A. Bacon

Undergraduate enrollment in Virginia’s nonprofit higher-ed institutions has declined only 1.3% this fall, far less than feared in many quarters, according to preliminary estimates released today by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV). There had been widespread concern that measures to combat the COVID-19 virus would disrupt campus life and discourage students from attending.

Continue reading

House Offers $330 Million Utility, Unemployment Aid

By Steve Haner

Virginia’s House of Delegates has proposed spending $120 million from federal COVID-19 relief funds to help at least some Virginia families catch up on their utility bills and wants to pump $210 million from the same source into the state’s unemployment insurance program.

Both ideas surfaced when the House Appropriations Committee approved a set of budget amendments September 25 (more details here). Neither idea is matched in the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee amendments, also revealed Friday and summarized here. That $330 million in COVID assistance for individuals is a serious difference of opinion to be resolved in the coming conference process.

The General Assembly so far is following Governor Ralph Northam’s advice to show restraint on state spending in the midst of the COVID-19 recession. Neither the House nor the Senate are proposing to raid state reserves to restore spending priorities frozen during the emergency. Neither is looking to increase any tax rates.

However, both have plenty of ideas for spending the $1.3 billion in unallocated federal COVID funds provided to Virginia. And both combed through the budget looking for places to cut or unnoticed revenues, creating available money to be spent on their own priorities.  Continue reading