Youngkin Unveils No-Mandates COVID Plan

by James A. Bacon

So, what does a COVID-19 containment strategy look like without the activist governor’s usual go-to tools of mask and vaccination mandates? Governor Glenn Youngkin has provided the answer with the COVID Action Plan he unveiled this morning.

The key elements are: (1) encourage (but don’t compel) people to get vaccinated, (2) help healthcare providers cope with the surge of hospitalizations caused by the Omicron variant, and (3) re-prioritize testing to identify the virus in K-12 students, healthcare professionals, and medically vulnerable individuals.

“Today’s announcements are designed to give Virginians the tools and resources needed to make the best decisions for their families, strengthen our hospital systems, and ensure a strong recovery as we encounter new challenges associated with the pandemic that has become part of our everyday life,” Youngkin said in a press release announcing the plan.

The initiatives follow a Day One executive order prohibiting vaccination mandates. Most of Virginia’s public universities, which had made mandates the centerpiece of their COVID-19 strategies, have announced that they will comply with the order. Battles with local school boards are still being fought over requirements to wear masks in public K-12 schools.

Here are the key elements of the strategy.

Vaccine Marshall Plan for Virginia. Youngkin says he will devote “additional resources and efforts” to encourage the roughly 1.6 million unvaccinated Virginians to get the jab. As the plan notes, data shows that people vaccinated against COVID-19 are one-fourth as likely to be hospitalized as those who are not.

Youngkin will direct state officials to “re-prioritize resources” toward vaccine education and outreach, with an eye toward “disproportionately unvaccinated communities,” host 120 vaccine events, and deploy additional mobile vaccine units to rural areas. The philosophy is to “empower Virginians with choices, not mandates.”

Help for hospitals. Hospitals are overwhelmed with the spike in Omicron patients, which Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association President Sean Connaughton describes as “some of the most challenging circumstances seen since the pandemic began.” The increase in patients is aggravated by burn-out among healthcare workers and chronic manpower shortages. Youngkin’s Executive Order 11 would give hospitals more flexibility to battle the bottlenecks by:

  • Exempting scope-of-practice requirements;
  • Expanding bed capacity;
  • Expanding flexibility, overtime hours, and availability for personal care workers;
  • Making it easier for licensed out-of-state nurses to practice in Virginia;
  • Expanding the the number of providers who can offer oral therapeutics;
  • Reimbursing innovative treatment solutions, including telemedicine, that allow individuals with mild conditions to receive care at home or remotely.

New testing priorities.

Given the supply-side constraints to testing capacity, Youngkin will discourage mass testing for purposes of pre-screening, discourage asymptomatic individuals from testing, and urge healthy individuals with mild symptoms to refrain from testing. Unused tests at state agencies will be redeployed to schools, hospitals and nursing facilities.

New guidelines will prioritize the use of rapid tests for:

  • Students potentially exposed to COVID-19 who need tests to remain in school;
  • Essential health care professionals and other essential workers;
  • Vulnerable citizens in nursing facilities, who are over the age of 65 and with serious medical conditions.

Eligibility will be expanded as test supplies increase.

Bacon’s bottom line: I share the philosophical underpinnings of Youngkin’s strategy — I view mandates as a last resort. However, the empiricist in me will insist upon keeping close tabs on the data to see how well Youngkin’s no-mandates plan is working.

Getting more people vaccinated is likely to be tougher than Youngkin expects. If previous educational and outreach efforts stalled at the 70% fully vaccinated mark (27% boosted), it’s not clear what difference additional outreach will make. The problem, I suspect, is not a lack of resources applied to the problem, but the resistance of segments of the population to the vaccination message. Moving the needle requires more than a new social media strategy or fine-tuning the message. It will require addressing the lack of trust in established authority.  Frankly, I don’t know if it’s possible to convert the unconverted at this point. If Youngkin wants to be successful, he’ll have to do something different from what his action plan describes.

On the other hand, his proposals to help hospitals cope with manpower shortages and to set new testing priorities make sense. I see no downside to these measures.

At the end of the day, I’m not persuaded that any governor’s actions will make much difference. The pandemic will recede only after it has infected millions of Virginians, and, between vaccines and naturally-acquired resistance, the population approaches herd immunity. Perhaps the most important thing to acknowledge is what Youngkin is not doing — he’s not panicking, he’s not shutting down the economy, and he’s not aggravating the epidemics of mental illness, substance abuse, suicides, and drug overdoses.


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38 responses to “Youngkin Unveils No-Mandates COVID Plan”

  1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    Fewer tests mean fewer cases… perfect Trumpian logic…

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      With a twist…
      “3) re-prioritize testing priorities to identify the virus in K-12 students, healthcare professionals, and medically vulnerable individuals.”

      Tthe numbnuts that thought this will help, will freak when it looks like it’s targeting kids.

    2. DJRippert Avatar

      The vaccines in place today “offer almost no defense against becoming infected by the highly contagious Omicron variant.” That’s from the New York Times.

      “As common as cloth face masks have become, health experts say, they do little to prevent tiny virus particles from getting into your nose or mouth and aren’t effective against the new variant.” That’s from USA Today.

      So, the vaccines that liberals have been insistent on mandating don’t prevent infection (or spread) and the cotton masks that most kids wear to school that liberals are insistent on mandating don’t prevent infection or spread.

      Seems like a lot of the “science based” theories and proposed mandates of the left are getting skewered.

      https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/19/health/omicron-vaccines-efficacy.html

      https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2022/01/05/cloth-masks-not-effective-omicron-covid/9091574002/

      1. tmtfairfax Avatar
        tmtfairfax

        It’s all about control. I’m double vaccinated and boosted. I wear a mask whenever required or suggested.

        But isn’t the right of an individual to make his or her on medical decisions based on the advice (or non-advice) of the individual’s health care provider protected by the Constitution? Penumbras and emanations work there too.

        1. DJRippert Avatar

          If the vaccines don’t prevent infection but do lessen the severity of infections then they are not vaccines. They are prophylactic therapeutics. If the vaccines don’t prevent infection then they don’t protect you from getting infected or from you spreading it to others. Are vaccines good for you? Yes, in the same way that regular exercise is good for you. Should they be mandated? No, like regular exercise isn’t mandated.

          If cotton masks don’t work then why are kids forced to wear them? If N95 masks do work then why aren’t school boards mandating them instead of other mask types.

          It is all about control.

      2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
        Dick Hall-Sizemore

        You leave out the informatino that the folks who have been vaccinated and have a booster shot are much less likely to get seriously ill or die from the omnicron variant than their unvaccinated counterparts.

        And, yes, experts say that cloth masks are ineffective against the omnicront variant. So, get the kids to wear N95 masks, instead. They are more comfortable anyway.

        1. DJRippert Avatar

          Yes, the vaccinated are less likely to get seriously ill or die. No doubt. And people who watch what they eat and exercise are less likely to have a raft of serious health issues. But we don’t mandate healthy eating or regular exercise.

          The theory of mandating vaccines was that the vaccinated were safer than the unvaccinated in regard to spreading the disease.

          That no longer seems true.

  2. Moderate Avatar

    I understand that many do not believe masks make a difference, but as one who keeps current in the evolving research related to masks and transmission of COVID believes they do, I’m disappointed that he is not at the very least encouraging those with symptoms to stay at home until they know they are negative. And I truly don’t understand not at least encouraging people to wear as mask when they have symptoms or are positive and HAVE to be near others. I can’t speak for others but I know that the last thing I want to risk is that I transmit the illness to others, especially vulnerable others. I don’t like masks, but I think using them is the best way to respect those with whom I interact and that refusing to do so shows, at minimum, lack of concern for others.

    1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
      Eric the half a troll

      “And I truly don’t understand not at least encouraging people to wear as mask when they have symptoms or are positive and HAVE to be near others.”

      I am more concerned with his policies that totally ignore asymptotic transmission (which we know is a huge factor). Discourage testing for the asymptotic and mask use in public… it’s like they are hoping that by ignoring asymptotic transmission, it will go away…

      1. Moderate Avatar

        For sure asymptomatic transmission is a huge problem! Likewise, is not having enough testing materials.

    2. vicnicholls Avatar
      vicnicholls

      The symptoms stay home crowd is something people should know by common sense. If you have to be told, then you shouldn’t be allowed to do adult things.

      I don’t know of any one who is looking to transmit anything to anyone in terms of any disease. When the mask becomes “respect” it is NOT and I repeat NOT a virus issue. If you want to wear a symbol of respect, salute the flag. That’s what a lot do, but they don’t force others to do it because they think they’re on the moralistic high ground. No one I know went and forced Kapernick to not kneel. People didn’t wear masks when they had the flu.

      How come people who have/had the AIDS virus aren’t required by law to wear condoms or not have sex?

      What about men who just want to sleep around and not have a baby? How come they’re not jailed or ridiculed when they refuse to wear condoms?

      1. Moderate Avatar

        You’re assuming that people don’t have employers who are desperate to keep their business going and pressure people to work. Some people have been pressured to work no matter what and with no sick leave, may think their choice is not paying bills, possibly losing a job, or taking a risk. Those who don’t work are accused of not being dependable workers. It’s not a societal norm to stay home when sick these days.

        Masks are not symbols. They are tools.

        Some people have worn masks when they had the flu. In some other countries masks have always been used more. I suspect they’ll be used more in the US now.

        As for your condom examples, some have wanted to require such things. However, the reality is that there’s no reasonable way to get the evidence of compliance/noncompliance to enforce it.

        1. vicnicholls Avatar
          vicnicholls

          That’s on the business, not the person trying to follow the rules.

    3. Randy Huffman Avatar
      Randy Huffman

      On staying home, he did do just that.

      https://www.governor.virginia.gov/news-releases/

      excerpt:

      Governor Glenn Youngkin will prioritize testing guidelines to mitigate supply-chain shortages for
      COVID-19 tests. The Governor will discourage mass testing for the purposes of pre-screening,
      discourage asymptomatic individuals from testing, and urge healthy individuals with mild
      symptoms to stay home and use discretion on testing. Governor Youngkin’s actions include:

      1. Moderate Avatar

        Thanks for finding that. I guess it didn’t come through to me as a strong message.

  3. VaNavVet Avatar

    At least the Gov is showing some interest. Discouraging people with symptoms from testing does not make much sense. They should know if they are positive so that they can make wise decisions for their families and others that they interact with. No mention of masking which is a way for those not vaccinated to act responsibly and for others to protect themselves around people with unknown vaccination status. Maybe his staff can introduce the N95 masks to him when they start showing up for free at drug stores.

  4. DJRippert Avatar

    During one of the presidential debates last year, Biden said of Trump, “Anyone who is responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America.”

    Now more Americans have died of COVID-19 under Biden than Trump. This is true despite the vast majority of Americans being vaccinated with a vaccine developed during the Trump Administration.

    When will Biden resign?

  5. Among those refusing the vaccine now are a number who survived Covid. Knowing some of these folks personally, they simply do not accept that the vaccine will give them any more protection than they gained from having the virus in the first place. How many of the 1.6 million are in this group, and how many cannot take the vaccine due to previous bad reactions, or don’t want to risk taking the Covid vax when they’ve had severe reactions to other vaccines. I know CDC doesn’t accept that as a contraindication, just a precaution, but that’s not how all people who’ve had a bad reaction think.

  6. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    I agree with your skepticism about how much more can be done to get people vaccinated.

    Moving on, I think you exaggerate the effects of his announcement. “Encourage, not compel, people to get vaccinated”–The only vaccination mandate under Northam was for state employees, which Youngkin has indeed rescinded. The one vaccination mandate that had folks all in a lather about on this blog was that imposed on college students. The colleges and universities have lifted the requirement that their faculty and staff be vaccinated, in accordance with Youngkin’s directive about state employees, but the student vaccination mandates are still in place. The other mandate, of course, was the requirement that students in K-12 wear masks. Ostensibly, he lifted that mandate. But, a credible case can be made that (1) state law requires schools to follow CDC guidelines, which include kids wearing masks (governors can’t supercede state law with EOs and (2) the Governor does not have authority under the state constitution to direct school boards how to conduct their classrooms. Many school divisions are electing to not follow Youngkin’s fiat.

    “He’s not panicking, he’s not shutting down the economy” Of course, he is not panicking; he is not faced with a brand new virus which is highly transmissible and can make people seriously and some to die and of which very little is known by even medical specialists in the virology field. Rather, he has the benefit of the medical and scientific field having two years of experience about the virus and developing treatments and highly effective vaccines. Plus, he has the benefit of 70-80 percent (depends on who is counting) of the state’s population being vaccinated. When he came into office, the economy was not shut down (on the contrary, the Virginia economy has handed him record budget surpluses to deal with) and no one was contemplating shutting it down. Other than the measures to help hospitals, of which I don’t know enough to comment on, I don’t see much difference between this announcement and the situation two weeks ago, before he took office.

  7. JonathanSwifter Avatar
    JonathanSwifter

    Sounds like a massive expansion of government.

    Still zero stress on what works best with the main concern: comorbidities.

    Diet and exercise!

  8. LarrytheG Avatar

    Apparently kids on school buses must wear masks, no? So they have to take masks with them to school and wear them on the way but they can “opt out” once there even if they are unvaccinated and/or their families may have covid? sounds like a “plan’.

  9. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    Per VDH, just under 90% of adults 18 or older have had at least one shot, just under 80% have had the double dose (or single J&J.) I can’t imagine what would change the minds of the holdouts. I suspect the vast majority of shots being given now are boosters, or younger people late to the game (and it is only about 20K per day.)

    As has been obvious to everybody for two years now (despite the media’s efforts to cover it up), the vast majority of people who get this get better. A significant segment never even know they have it. Only a small subset of people are really vulnerable. The unvaccinated see all that and feel safe.

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Florida pop 25M with 65,000 deaths
      Virginia pop 9M with 15,000 deaths

      We were winning on our own course. So now we’re gonna follow?

      1. Randy Huffman Avatar
        Randy Huffman

        Assuming your point is that Florida has no mandates, lets look at another State, New Jersey. Same size as Virginia, but has 30,000 deaths per CDC web site. CDC has Virginia rounded up to 16,000, and Florida at 64,000. https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#trends_dailytrendscases

        So since NJ has plenty of mandates, shouldn’t we be looking at other factors, like population demographics? While I did not take time to research this, we all know a number of Senior Citizens flock to Florida for the winter, but does anyone know people escaping to New Jersey…?

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          To? Probably more from. But large parts of NJ are bedrooms to NYC and Philly. Not many Floridians commute to, oh say, Atlanta.

          1. Randy Huffman Avatar
            Randy Huffman

            My point is Florida has the highest percentage of elderly in the country. Given that is one of the absolute highest measurable risk factors for serious illness or death from COVID that we read about, that needs to be factored in any kind of State to State comparisons. Interestingly, in this article that is from 2018, West Virginia is #3, Virginia, is #41.

            https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-us-states-with-the-oldest-population.html

          2. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Ah so. Yes 14% NJ > 65 Florida it’s 21%. No surprise about WV. It takes money to move. The poorer the State, the more stationary the elderly.

          3. Randy Huffman Avatar
            Randy Huffman

            Agree that is a factor, also limited opportunity for young people so they move. That has happened SW Virginia.

          4. how_it_works Avatar
            how_it_works

            The poorer the state, generally the lower the cost of living so many people retire to these poorer states to make their retirement dollars go further.

          5. LarrytheG Avatar

            well if that were true, SW VA would be chock-a-block… 😉

          6. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Apparently, Lexington is one of those cultured retirement places. College towns draw the retired because kids draw and provide entertainment. Bars, restaurants, theatre, recitals, etc., many open to the public.

          7. how_it_works Avatar
            how_it_works

            I suppose if someone was dead-set on retiring in Virginia on a limited income. There are 49 other states to consider, though.

          8. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            That too. So, now we need immigration rates relative to rising ages.

          9. killerhertz Avatar
            killerhertz

            This. The median age in Florida is 42. Virginia is 38.

        2. energyNOW_Fan Avatar
          energyNOW_Fan

          Yes we must normalize for demographic factors.

    1. I’m honestly not sure what to make of that.

      All I can say is I hope the students questioned were freshman undergraduates and not enrolled in the MBA program.

  10. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
    Baconator with extra cheese

    I saw guidance from DHRM for state employees that masking is still required for all worked and visitors in executive branch offices. I’m very confused as to why Youngkin removes the mask mandate for schools but not his own executive branch employees. It’s screwy.
    And I wholeheartedly support the guy.

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