Covid-19 and VA Governance

Covid-19 and VA Governance

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To understand the mind of a teacher, those of us who do other things for a living must attempt some mental gymnastics.

Let’s imagine a professional passion so acute that when the coronavirus shuttered classrooms, they pivoted with little warning or rehearsal to digitally link dozens of children from home and continue daily instruction remotely.

Close your eyes and comprehend a devotion to students so strong that you spend your personal money to supplement classroom supplies as eclectic as sanitizing wipes and Elmer’s glue, crepe paper and whiteboard markers.

Now, as days start shortening and summer bends toward autumn and a new academic calendar, imagine balancing your innate yearning for the classroom with a well-reasoned fear of a monstrously contagious, potentially deadly virus that medicine still can’t control and science doesn’t fully understand.

Finally, overlay that against the backdrop of political conflict and chaos that multiplies by the day.

Virginia prison system says active COVID-19 cases down to 22
Virginia Mercury, Ned OliverJuly 13, 2020 (Short)

The Virginia Department of Corrections says it’s down to 22 active cases of COVID-19 among inmates in the 40 prisons it operates around the state.

Gov. Ralph Northam’s secretary of public safety, Brian Moran, touted the figures Friday, which include six hospitalized prisoners and 16 still being held at various correctional facilities. He emphasized the latter number in a presentation to lawmakers.

“We have 16, let me repeat, 16 active cases in all of our correctional facilities,” he said during a joint meeting of the Senate’s judiciary and social services committees. “That’s out of 28,000 inmates, 40 correctional facilities. Sixteen — one six — active cases.”

Virginia is refusing to release information on COVID-19 outbreaks at poultry processing plants on the grounds of privacy concerns, despite a June decision to provide such data for long-term care facilities.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Mercury in June after Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration began releasing facility-specific data for nursing homes, the Virginia Department of Health said it would not provide the same information for poultry processing plants “in order to ensure that VDH is able to preserve the anonymity of individuals whose medical records have been examined during the investigation of COVID-19.”

“VDH is considering how to make the information you have requested available at the health district and/or regional level,” wrote VDH Deputy Commissioner for Governmental and Regulatory Affairs Joseph Hilbert in an email.

Neither a followup request to Hilbert nor an inquiry to the governor’s office about the justification for releasing such information for nursing homes but not poultry plants were answered.

Dr. Sterling Ransone is a family physician in Deltaville and current member of Virginia’s testing task force, a workgroup assembled in late April to boost the state’s once-sluggish COVID-19 test rates.

Twice now, in teleconferences, he’s heard what he described as “proclamations” from state officials on the number of days Virginia has gone without reported shortages of personal protective equipment.

“Quite honestly, that really concerns me,” Ransone said. “And each time, I’ve had to speak up, because the reason they’re not getting reported shortages of PPE is because we have been asked to reuse disposable equipment.”

Ransone has two N95 respirator masks, disinfected through one of the state’s Battelle decontamination systems, that he rotates throughout the week. At his office, surgical masks are reused unless they’re dirty or wet. Disposable gowns are gingerly removed and saved for future use.

Within a week after Canterbury Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center in Henrico reopened its doors to new admissions, the nursing home accepted a handful of what medical director Dr. Jim Wright referred to as “unknowns” — residents who had been transferred from the hospital without being tested for COVID-19.

The facility, which had just weathered one of the deadliest nursing home outbreaks in the country, had established its own strict testing program for patients in response. When the newly admitted residents were tested onsite, one came back positive. Luckily, Wright said, Canterbury already had a separate quarantine unit set up for new arrivals. But he still described the positive result as a “pretty tense time” for the facility, which lost a total of 51 residents to the disease.

“I am very hesitant now to accept any patient who has not had at least one test,” he added. “You just want to know what’s coming through your door.”

A little more than a month after Gov. Ralph Northam implemented a statewide mask mandate, the Virginia Department of Health has fielded more than 3,000 complaints related to the order.

Follow-up, though, has been almost universally limited to “outreach and assistance,” according to VDH and more than a dozen local health districts that fall under the department’s jurisdiction. The agency has not pursued misdemeanor charges for violations or pulled a permit for any of the businesses it regulates. “Local health districts may have provided written or given verbal warnings, which we would characterize as education,” spokeswoman Marian Hunter wrote in a Tuesday email.

Multiple districts told the Mercury that there had been few occasions of businesses refusing to comply with the order. But many said that fielding and responding to the complaints have become a significant task for local health departments, which have fielded anywhere from “10 to 15-ish” complaints, in the case of Richmond-Henrico, to “close to 100 business-related Executive Order compliance complaints” in the Central Virginia Health District where most revolve around a lack of face coverings or inadequate social distancing, according to the district’s director, Dr. Kerry Gateley.

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