by James A. Bacon
A flood of COVID-19 test results were reported to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) over the weekend — more than 45,000 tests — and the news is good. While 1,652 new cases were confirmed over Saturday and Sunday, the seven-day moving average of the percentage of people testing positive declined to 6.5%, which may be the lowest since VDH started reporting the data.
Meanwhile, we see continued declines in the number of people sick enough to warrant admittance to the hospital . The seven-day average of new hospitalizations per day now stands at 24. You have to go back to March in the earliest stages of the epidemic to find such a low number. Same story with the number of deaths.
The prevalence of the virus in the population is falling. Hospitalizations are falling. Intensive hospitalization as measured by ICU occupancy and ventilator use is falling. And deaths are falling.
Even the Virginia Mercury, an online publication with a progressive slant, is moved to explain in its COVID-19 coverage why the Northam administration isn’t opening up the economy more rapidly. After all, every criterion Governor Ralph Northam announced a month ago has been met: more testing, a falling rate of confirmed cases, and fewer hospitalization.
The Mercury quotes William Petri, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Virginia. While the data shows a decline in the spread of the disease, he said. the epidemic has not come to a complete stop. “I think it’s the right decision. The main message is that we’re not out of the woods quite yet. So, to me, it seems the prudent thing is to go in a slow, measured way.”
( So says a man who has not lost his job and is not threatened with the shutdown of his business.)
You see what’s happening here, don’t you? The goalpost has moved from slowing the spread and “flattening the curve” to bringing the epidemic to a complete stop.
Last week Northam cited the resurgence of new cases in Florida after Governor Rick DeSantis reopened the state’s economy. “I would just ask all Virginians to look at what’s going on in some of these other states,” he said. “We’re watching some of their practices. And this is why — I know everyone wants to get back to that near normal, but we’ve really got to take our time.”
It’s entirely possible — even likely — that Virginia, too, will see a rebound in the spread of COVID-19 when Northam finally gets around to releasing his Vulcan Death Grip on Virginia’s economy. The original justification of the emergency measures was not to extinguish the virus in Virginia, an impossibility, but to ensure that hospitals weren’t overwhelmed. Well, it was mission accomplished more than a month ago. Hospitals are in no danger of being overwhelmed.
Here’s the problem: Northam has articulated no logical principle for determining an acceptable level of the virus circulating in the population. He hasn’t said he wants to bring the viral spread to a complete stop, but he hasn’t said what level he’s willing to live with. No matter what the prevalence of COVID-19 is when he decides to open the economy back up — whether six out of a hundred people testing positive or only one out of hundred — the virus will likely start spreading more rapidly when the straitjacket comes off.
And there’s nothing wrong with that as long as people aren’t dying from the virus.
There is nothing wrong with an increased prevalence of the COVID-19 virus if the people getting infected are mainly young people who experience no symptoms or whose symptoms are so mild they can ride out the illness at home.
There is nothing horrendously wrong with an increase in the percentage of people being admitted to the hospital. To be sure, there is a burden to society for treating those patients, but that expense is a tiny fraction of the cost imposed on the economy by the shutdown.
The only moral justification for prolonging the shutdown — and it is a weak case because it does not consider the unmeasured health costs of the shutdown — is to save lives. But new drugs and protocols are becoming available, and hospitals and doctors are getting better at treating patients. The death rate of people admitted to the hospital is falling. Furthermore, there are more cost-effective ways to save lives than shutting down the economy. Virginia should focus containment efforts on the most vulnerable members of society — residents of long-term care facilities who account for 60% of all COVID-related deaths in Virginia — as the Northam administration belatedly has begun to do.
I see no evidence that Northam is basing his lockdown decisions on an analysis of the data. In seeking an explanation for his stubbornness, some people say that Northam, like other Democratic governors, wants to keep jobless numbers high in the hopes of defeating Donald Trump this fall. I’ve seen no evidence for that theory either. That’s a conjecture that can be neither verified nor falsified.
To me, the most plausible explanation is that humans have a herd-like instinct like schools of fish or flocks of swallows that impels them to heed and follow the actions of those around them. Northam imbibes progressive/liberal media, listens to progressive/liberal constituencies, and interacts with Virginia’s progressive/liberal Democratic politicians… all of whom, ever sensitive to the actions of those around them, move more or less in concert. There’s no need for conspiracy theories. But, please, let’s stop pretending there’s any “science” involved in the decision making.There are currently no comments highlighted.