Governor Ralph Northam holds weekly coronavirus press conferences on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 2 PM; you can watch them online. I’ve listened to several of them, and have come away wondering who is coordinating the fight against COVID-19 in the Commonwealth.
Gov. Northam meanders through his answers with no statistics, just platitudes, and then turns over the podium to other administration officials who proceed to meander through their answers. It’s unsettling.
Who is in charge of testing, determining hospital bed capacity, ICU beds needed, ventilators required, and securing critical supplies? Who tracks people who have been released from hospitals, who have recovered, who died WITH COVID-19 and who died FROM COVID-19? The Governor warns of a coming surge in COVID-19 illness, but doesn’t justify why he believes that, nor does he talk about how appropriate responses are determined.
During Monday’s presser, one reporter asked why COVID-19 “recoveries” were not included on the VA Department of Health (VDH) website. Health Commissioner Norman Oliver replied, “That data is not collected” because they’re “not able to track it.” WHY? Such data is critical to understanding just how debilitating the virus is among Virginia’s residents. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control website, 33 States and territories DO collect “recovered” data. Why couldn’t Commissioner Norman reach out to one of those States and ask how they collect the data?
The Governor should be asked about death statistics reported by VDH. For example, on April 7, the VDH COVID-19 website shows 63 deaths, but doesn’t specify deaths FROM the virus or WITH the virus. The CDC offers guidelines about such reporting. On April 7, the CDC shows all COVID-19 deaths in VA (cumulatively since the beginning of February) to be 16. Deaths involving pneumonia and COVID-19 are 4. We need clarity about the reporting of COVID-19 deaths.
Another reporter observed that the University of Washington IHME website (which tracks COVID-19 around the country) suddenly shifted its prediction about the peak of outbreaks in VA from mid-May to mid-April, a significant decrease in the timetable. Gov. Northam seemed unperturbed by the shift, said they were not making any adjustments to their plans, and continued to emphasize staying at home, social distancing and hand washing. Granted, these precautionary steps are critical, but could he not address how he looks at the models driving his decisions?
To prepare for the worse case scenario, Gov. Northam is finalizing contracts for building alternative care facilities at the Dulles Expo Center, Hampton Roads Convention Center and Richmond Convention Center. These facilities will provide beds for 1,107 acute patients or 1,848 non-acute patients.
One of the models the Governor’s team looks to for forecasting is the University of WA’s IHME model. As of April 7, the IHME model predicts peak resource use in VA on April 20. On that date, there will be a zero bed shortage, and an ICU bed shortage of 231 beds. That’s a huge difference from what the Governor is planning.
By the time those facilities are built, the virus may be nearly gone from the Commonwealth. Who is paying for those facilities, and what will be done with the equipment and supplies not needed?
Speaking of who pays …. Who is paying for the DCLS (Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services) to develop genetic testing technology to better understand COVID-19?
Who is paying $27 million to Northfield, a Virginia medical manufacturing company that will be shipping Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to facilities around Virginia after it arrives this weekend from Asia? Where in Asia? Was the contract a competitive bid contract?
At last Monday’s press conference, Gov. Northam spent considerable time talking about the importance of face coverings. But he concluded the discussion by cautioning, “No one should assume they’re safe with a face covering unless it’s medical grade.” So which is it, Governor? Face covering or no face covering?
One last question for the Governor: Why doesn’t the Commonwealth maintain an emergency stockpile? According to an email I received from the Department of Health, Virginia draws from the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) when they need emergency supplies. But the role of the SNS is to SUPPLEMENT state and local supplies during public health emergencies. Apparently, Virginia doesn’t maintain emergency supplies.
Since only reporters are invited to the Governor’s press conferences, maybe some of them will ask my questions.