From the moment Governor Ralph Northam quarantined Virginia residents, he has repeated the mantra that data drive his COVID-19 related decisions. “Forward Virginia” is another Northam mantra. The Governor is relying on data to drive Virginia forward out of the quarantine: COVID-19 data, not data linked to unemployment and related health consequences.
Two months have gone by since the quarantine began. We now have more data by which to assess the Governor’s actions. During this time, and to its credit, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has improved its COVID-19 website. We now can see clearly that Long Term Care Facilities have been the hot spots for COVID-19 infections in the Commonwealth.
Long Term Care Facilities (including nursing homes) account for the majority of COVID-19 Outbreak Cases. (Outbreaks are defined as locations with at least two laboratory confirmed cases.) As of May 21, there have been a total of 6,872 Outbreak Associated Cases in Virginia. Of those cases, 63% have been in Long Term Care Facilities, followed next by 19% in Congregant Settings, and 16% in Correctional Facilities.
By way of example, in the Fairfax Health District (Fairfax, Fairfax City and Falls Church) as of May 21, there have been 1,309 Outbreak Associated Cases. Although the VDH website does not list the number of Outbreak Associated Cases by facility type in Health Districts, it does list the number of Outbreaks by facility type. In the Fairfax Health District, Long Term Care facilities have had 49 outbreaks, far outnumbering Correctional Facilities (1), Healthcare Settings (2) and Educational Settings (1).
Now let’s consider overall Cases and Deaths in the Commonwealth. As of May 21, there have been 34,137 COVID-19 Cases in the Commonwealth. Hospitalizations tally 4,093 (12% of the total). Deaths have been 1,099 (3%). We can conclude that COVID-19 recoveries are the untold story.
Taking the Fairfax Health District again as an example, as of May 21 there have been 8,677 COVID-19 Cases reported. Hospitalizations tally 1,181 (14% of the total). Deaths have been 317 (4%).
Let’s dig a little deeper. Other counties joining Fairfax in asking for a delay in their re-opening are: Alexandria, Arlington, Loudoun, and Prince William. What are their Health District numbers as of May 21?
Alexandria: 1,627 Cases. 171 Hospitalized (11%). 37 Deaths (2%)
Arlington: 1,763 Cases. 346 Hospitalized (20%). 89 Deaths (5%)
Loudoun: 1,700 Cases. 147 Hospitalized (9%). 49 Deaths (3%)
Prince William: 5,149 Cases. 491 Hospitalized (9%). 88 Deaths (2%)
Do these numbers justify Gov. Northam’s re-opening extension given to Northern Virginia?
It’s also instructive to look at the Cases, Hospitalizations and Deaths by Age Group. Most COVID-19 Cases in Virginia are among the 40-49 age group. Most Hospitalizations are among the 60-69 age group. But most Deaths by far have occurred in the 80+ age group.
Unfortunately, VDH does not report comorbidities (underlying conditions) with Hospitalizations and Deaths statistics. Nationwide, such comorbidities are proving to be a significant factor in COVID-19 related deaths.
Given this data demonstrating that: most COVID-19 infected people recover, most unfortunate deaths are among our 80+ year-old population, and most outbreaks have been in Long Term Care facilities, why is Gov. Northam struggling to release his 8.5+ million Virginians from personal and economic bondage?
I cannot read the Governor’s mind, nor do I have insights into his Administration. But let me offer two considerations that may be influencing his decisions: political contributions and the insulation of State/Local government employees from layoffs.
First, political contributions. According to the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP), so far this year the Health Care Industry is the fourth largest contributor to VA political candidates and committees. And within that Health Care Industry, Nursing Homes are the second largest contributor behind Dentists. Why are Virginians in lockdown when most of the COVID-19 outbreaks are in Long Term Care Facilities? Is our attention being diverted?
Second, Virginia’s State government employees have avoided the unemployment lines, except for hourly employees who can file for unemployment. According to the VA Department of Human Resource Management, there have been no layoffs. I live in Fairfax County, and so I asked the Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors about furloughs and layoffs. He replied, “Now more than ever, the work of local government is critical. It is my hope that no one is furloughed or laid off during this pandemic.” (And they haven’t been.) Think about that. Chairman McKay hopes no County employee loses his/her job. But many of the taxpayers who fund those jobs are out of work.
So where does all this leave the majority of Virginians who depend upon employment to prosper and to feed themselves and their families? We’ve been locked down for going on three months while most COVID-19 outbreaks have been confined to Long Term Care Facilities and most deaths to the 80+ year-old population. The human cost of suffering job loss is unfathomable.
Governor Northam’s data are clear. It’s time to Re-Open Virginia.