Remember the childhood game “Hot Potato,” when you’d pretend something you were passing back and forth was a hot potato, and the objective was not to be holding the potato when time was up? That’s what I’m reminded of watching Governor Ralph Northam and the political leadership of Northern Virginia parley back and forth about the timeline for lifting COVID-19 restrictions.
Recall that, for weeks, Gov. Northam steadfastly maintained that Virginians would come out of the lockdown together …. until he cautioned they wouldn’t because Northern Virginia politicians said they weren’t ready to release their residents from quarantine.
Yesterday, the County Chairs of Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William and Arlington joined with the Mayor of Alexandria and sent a letter to the Governor asking him not to open their region until certain metrics have been met. At his press conference today, Northam acknowledged that different regions face different challenges. He said the letter demonstrated a “unified approach” to re-opening Northern Virginia that is “responsible and data driven.” [If you haven’t read the letter, you should. I would not call it “responsible and data driven.” In fact, it raises more questions than it answers. And of the six metrics cited, the Northern Virginia Health Directors were “unable to assess” half of them! It really is a shoddy piece of work supposedly intended to convince the Governor that Northern Virginia simply isn’t ready to emerge from the lockdown.]
When asked how long Northern Virginia will delay re-opening, the Governor predicted, “That’s to be determined.” Last week, he asserted that he will make the final decision about any locality’s opening. [See what I mean about the hot potato game?]
Stay tuned for Wednesday’s press conference! Local officials will be joining the Governor to talk about testing. It’s not clear who those local officials will be, but now is the time to contact yours if you live in Northern Virginia to let them hear from you, unless you’re comfortable in the lockdown.
Other highlights from today’s presser include —
DMV closures will be extended for at least through next week, with apologies from the Governor to all those new teenage drivers who are anxious to get behind the wheel.
The VA Dep’t of Health now includes positive antibody test results with its reported “Total Cases” of COVID-19. In answer to a question about mixing the two test results together, Dr. Carey (Secretary of Health and Human Resources) opined that, “in retrospect, we may have chosen a different path,” but whined there was no guidance for reporting. He stated, “We’ll look at how we untangle that.” Northam’s Chief of Staff Mercer quickly stepped to the podium to say some other States are reporting the way Virginia does, as if to legitimize the methodology.
Another reporter asked about point prevalence surveys that determine the number of residents with COVID-19 at nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Dr. Furlano (who heads the nursing home task force) said she can provide those survey results, and that the majority are in long-term care facilities. She also stated that she “hasn’t turned down any requests for surveys.” [This left me wondering just how Furlano views her job as head of the task force. Shouldn’t she and her team be surveying locations known for outbreaks, rather than responding to requests for surveys?]
The Governor was asked if the consulting firm McKinsey were going to be helping with COVID-19 testing and tracing. He deferred to his Chief of Staff who confirmed that third party vendors will be helping, but declined to name McKinsey; the contracts are not yet signed. And speaking of contact tracers, apparently this is the new gravy train funded by the CARES Act (for how long, we don’t know). Dr. Carey confirmed the State will be hiring up to 1,000 contact tracers and another 200 people with supervisory experience. He hopes to have everyone in place by June. But Chief of Staff Mercer added that it’s challenging to hire contact tracers when people are collecting generous unemployment payments.
The Virginia Employment Commission also is hiring to keep up with the deluge of unemployment claims.
Asked to clarify his orders about wearing masks, Northam replied that restaurant employees are required to wear them now, but that other individuals are encouraged to wear them but not required.
The Governor is “hopeful that Phase 1 won’t last more than 2-3 weeks.” He and his team are working with “retail stores to increase testing capacity and partnerships,” but he didn’t elaborate. [Drip … Drip … Drip]
In closing, Gov. Northam warned again, “The virus is out there until there’s a cure or a vaccine.” So you need to keep staying 6’ apart from each other, washing your hands, and avoiding touching your face.