Virginia Economy Held Hostage to Lousy Data

by James A. Bacon

The number of COVID-related hospitalizations in Virginia is stabilizing. The curve is flattening, hospitals are in no danger of being overwhelmed, and Virginians want to get back to work. But Governor Ralph Northam says he will not relax his emergency social-distancing edicts until he gets better data. And there’s the rub. Virginia lacks the testing capacity to generate the data that would make the Governor comfortable enough to roll back the shutdown.

Writes the Richmond Times-Dispatch:  

Northam said that boosting testing in the state is part of “any plan to ease restrictions on businesses and address the pandemic,” but as of Monday, state officials did not yet have a grasp on the state’s testing capacity and had not set an overall testing goal.

“Testing is the key to those next steps,” Northam said.

To address the problem, the Governor has created a “work group” to focus on expanding testing in the state, including the number of sites doing tests, the population eligible for testing, and hurdles to more testing.

UVA Health System, VCU Health, Sentara Health and, most recently, the Carilion Clinic have all developed their own testing capabilities in recent weeks, while private labs have ramped up their testing as well. Yet tests reported to the Virginia Department of Health have not increased meaningfully over the past three weeks, even as the epidemic gained momentum in Virginia. The number of new tests reported daily can be seen here:


Virginia’s public health officials cannot offer an explanation why. Or, as the RTD put it, “State officials couldn’t pinpoint a specific reason for the lag of testing in the state.”

The state health secretary, Dr. Dan Carey, said that with increased testing capacity, there was a need for more coordination between testing supply chains, labs, entities that can collect samples and everyday people seeking tests. “We need that added coordination,” Carey said.

Think about it. Even as Maryland Governor Larry Hogan manages to snag 500,000 testing kits from South Korea, Virginia’s testing regimen is floundering. Worse, the people in charge in Virginia don’t even have any explanation for why. In desperation, the Governor is forming a task force to find answers.

Bacon’s bottom line: COVID-19 testing, which generates the data needed to make informed decisions on how to address the epidemic is in total disarray. And Virginia’s economy is being held hostage. The mishandling of COVID-19 may go down as the worst case of bureaucratic incompetence in Virginia history.

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23 responses to “Virginia Economy Held Hostage to Lousy Data

  1. Have we considered that the lousy data supports the actions Governor Northam wants to pursue. He clearly is enjoying the shutdown’s enhancement of his power and his increased public profile. We should at least consider that the data collection and reporting could be lousy by design.

    • Usually I’d say you were on the right track with your thought. Like Bernie Sanders espousing socialism only to become a millionaire by writing a book about his espousal of socialism. Neat trick. But what is Northam’s angle? After “I never knew there were slaves on my family’s plantation” to Coonman / blackface / klan robes to the infanticide kerfuffle Ralph has no political future. He leaves office in early 2022 goes back to being a doctor. Or retires. He isn’t going to Congress and he won’t be anybody’s idea of a good VP candidate.

      So, what’s his play? Force a crisis and then use the crisis to continue his ongoing mea culpa for the blackface scandal through the end of his term?

      My guess is that he’s lost and none of his so-called allies in the Virginia Democratic Party have any interest in helping him. The data problems are just another symptom of being lost.

  2. “State officials couldn’t pinpoint a specific reason for the lag of testing in the state.”

    “We need that added coordination,” Carey said.

    Think about it.”

    This has all the makings of a Peter Sellers movie, with Blackface Northam as Inspector Clouseau:

  3. He tried hiring McKinsey. I guess that didn’t work. Now he wants to form a task force. I have to give him credit – he seems to know that he’s lost. That’s the first step in getting back on track. I just wonder about a task force vs a so-called czar.

    How about this guy -https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_L._Jones

    Former Commandant of the United States Marine Corps. Grew up in Virginia graduating, along with many other famous Virginians, from Groveton High School in Fairfax County just south of Alexandria.

    General Jones seems like the kind of guy who could cut through this morass.

  4. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    I know 2 men who are sleeping in their cars at night down at the Wal Mart parking lot. Long time tradesmen who can’t find work and they are too old school to seek help. So they are toughing it out. We need to get back to work and back to living. There is too much collateral damage going around. I put them to work. They are painting my tin roof as we speak.

    • Thank you for for calling attention to those “2 men”. They represent the greatest of all tragedies here, and those tragedies are numerically huge, decimating the lives of millions of Americans, every day, people of sorts, ages, and kinds, who deserve far better from their political leaders, how they’re running this country into the ground.

      • Over 278,000 restaurant workers are unemployed in the commonwealth, add to that hospitality workers, small retailers (the nonessential ones), nail shop and style shop workers, personal trainers, gym employees, personal trainers, yoga teachers, furloughed healthcare workers. For the last three or four weeks anyone questioning the wisdom of Northam’s shutdown was criticized for being indifferent to saving lives. It might be news to some here, but unemployment and poverty kill people. Human misery is quite theoretical to many until they observe it up close or experience it themselves. It has seemed that nobody here has lost a job and put into danger of insolvency. Many in the Commonwealth have been.

    • Interesting. I’ve got a number of things I could put a couple of people to work doing. For pay, of course. I think it could arguably be classified as home repair so I think it would be an essential service. Given the recession / depression we are heading toward there should be some kind of job matching approach. Sad to think that we may be headed back to the “Will work for food” days of the 1930s but we may well be on our way.

  5. “The mishandling of COVID-19 may go down as the worst case of bureaucratic incompetence in Virginia history.”

    Wow. That is a very high bar indeed.

  6. It will be instructive to see the results of California’s efforts to test two entire regions in and around SanFrancisco.

    https://news.trust.org/item/20200420214536-n2156

  7. Given the number of commuters with Maryland license plates who come streaming into Northern Virginia each morning maybe we can ask our old buddy Gov Hogan to lend us 100,000 test kits. One assumes he wants those Marylanders to be able to return to work in Virginia.

  8. You are engaged with an enemy without conscience, moves in the wind, can’t be seen, and that kills as if taking pleasure in the cruelty, as you curse those that cannot get the data?

    Remember, NONE, not a one, of the testing mechanisms that detect COV2 are validated.

    • As far as I can tell you are the only person in the world who doesn’t think testing is important.

      • Smart testing is important .

        So, how do you feel about climate modeling?

        It always amazed me that the crowd that denounces the science of wind & solar, jumped on the supposed presence of He3 on the moon as the future of energy.

        • I am highly skeptical of climate modeling. The complexity of climate modeling far exceeds that of epidemiology modeling. I’ve never seen anybody oppose “the science of wind & solar” as both work just fine, if only intermittently. The engineering is solid. He3 for nuclear fusion? Tis a nice dream, but I’ll keep my gas furnace.

          • I loved Bush’s hydrogen powered cars. The largest source of hydrogen is cracking hydrocarbons, producing carbon and CO and CO2. That could change, but…

            Climate models have come a long way since I worked at Goddard. We were child’s play.

            The problem is perplexing. Don’t account for anthropomorphic CO2 and the models under predict. Add it in, and they over predict… they got it bracketed

  9. The Monday White House briefing detailed the Task Force report showing over 5,000 test sites in the nation – -broken down by state. Most of the governors on the Monday conference call had NO IDEA how many test sites their respective states had. Why is that? Too busy stopping motor boating and church services while allowing canoeing and liquor sales?

    Go to the CSPAN video and start about about 48:23
    https://www.c-span.org/video/?471349-1/white-house-coronavirus-task-force-briefing

    How come our illustriously diverse and inclusive Health Department and Gov’s Office doesn’t have this info?
    And does Northam have any idea of the current capacity being used at each site? Most test facilities are around 50% under utilized from my readings.

    Power corrupts and absolute power is a governor during a state of emergency!

  10. Tyrants don’t need no stinking data! (At least data with integrity).

  11. Still very little clarity on what kind of testing is needed. Testing for presence of the virus is transitory at best. if you test negative on Tuesday, you could be infected on Thursday. Antibody testing, if any accurate ones exist, would seem to make more sense.

  12. re: ” COVID-19 testing, which generates the data needed to make informed decisions on how to address the epidemic is in total disarray. And Virginia’s economy is being held hostage. The mishandling of COVID-19 may go down as the worst case of bureaucratic incompetence in Virginia history.”

    Only in the minds of total partisans.

    Virtually every state in the Union including Maryland and New York are struggling with the same issue.

    The “peak” is not the “peak” – the “peak” is the level at which infections occur with social distancing. It will remain more a flat line that one that reduces in the short term. If you unwind the social distancing it will go up again.

    Someone had to take the Darwin challenge and Georgia stepped up and we’re going to see if it “works” and my bet is that many employers in Georgia are NOT going to “open”.. some will, but many will not until they think it safe and/or the state gets a handle on testing.

    • Sweden is way out ahead on the Darwin challenge. You are perfectly correct that the lifting of prohibitions is the easy part, and restoring public confidence will be much, much harder.

  13. Valid testing as needed for policy work would use random sampling of all people, whether with symptoms or not. At present, we use only some sampling of those with symptoms.

  14. There are a number of different views about what to test for or not and which populations.

    It seems to be a real conundrum.

    But I agree and think Crazy also asked that question about random.

    I think the private sector is going to play a role in this because in really simple terms – employers would no more want someone with active TB in their workforce than any other infectious disease.

    And that’s the really crazy thing about this virus. For decades the infectious disease folks have tested people for things like TB and when they found a case – they’d track down all the contacts and test them.

    It’s been standard procedure forever.

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