Good afternoon. How are you? I hope you’re all doing well in this holiday season. I’m just going to let a few more people get on. Hi everybody. We'll go ahead and get started. It’s great to connect again and I hope you’re doing well. I hope you’re staying safe. A couple of things that we wanted to talk about today. The first is looking at COVID and the influx that we’re seeing. It is always worrisome when you’re trying to make sure that you and your family members are safe and there’s definitely an increase in cases. There is an increase in hospitalizations. The death… I think that was my son calling from Fayetteville but I'll check on that in a minute. The death rate is up and down, up and down. Not a huge spike but definitely more prevalent. The best way for me to describe my analysis of what’s happening with the data that’s something you’re not hearing about when you look at the media is that we are looking at a seasonal change. So, when you look at the flu season you know that you get your shot in September, October and it carries over until May because that is the season in which the flu hits and is spread and indeed causes so much illness and death. That’s because there’s are a seasonal component to viral transmission. When we saw the first curve of the virus, when it came through, there was an exposure to a community that maybe hadn’t seen it before but had maybe had seen similar things. We saw a big, unusual, non-seasonal uptick in viral illness and death. We saw that subside in the summer months when more people were outside and there was less transmission because of behavioral patterns.With seasonality moving indoor, we’re now seeing a flux again. It’s interesting to note that there is virtually no flu that is being diagnosed or picked up. It’s as if COVID has kind of replaced the viral illness that we're seeing in this seasonal flux. That is a most significant part of what’s happening as opposed to behaviors changing somehow or people getting together in unusual ways. I think people are still being cautious. It’s just that there’s more transmission because more of those activities are indoors where we’re putting the virus on doorknobs and spreading it that way.
So, one of the things I haven’t heard talked about very much that is a real imperative and we need to reemphasize this again, we talk about masks all the time, is really cleaning and Lysol-ing your home. This is probably one of the most important things you can do. Be really careful about that risk of transmission on doorknobs and on countertops and on other things. I think we were all really good about that in the spring. That is an equally important component, probably more important component, than wearing masks. The other thing I’ll mention is not touching your face and that’s ironic. I know for me I touch my face more to reposition my masks than I do when I don’t have a mask on. So you have got to be careful about touching your face. Those masks make your face itch and repositioning and all of those things. Really, really clean hands. Limited touching of the face. Really, really clean those surfaces.
What I do want to talk about is “how do we use the data to make decisions?” We’ve talked about this lots before because we’re making the wrong decisions. I’m really happy, again I'll say, that Virginia has not closed businesses. We need to be allowing our businesses to be open. Those are some of the most diligent practitioners of clean environments. They’re being very diligent and making sure there’s the least amount of transmission there. I think that we know the risk is more from homes and from gatherings.
When we look at that we need to revisit the idea of schools. I think this is a current,I know we’ve talked about it before, but it is a current and really, really important issue. We are seeing more and more data coming in that we all knew, inherently, kind of viscerally, was the truth but we weren’t seeing reported. First off all I saw a report out of Chesapeake that there had been a few cases in some of the Chesapeake schools but they contact traced that and none of those were transmitted in the school. Again, a place where really, really good cleaning is happening and people are practicing best behaviors to limit the transmission of the virus. Schools are not a place that you would transmit virus. The younger generation has far less risk of being ill with the virus. They actually have less risk of transmitting the virus to older age groups, even to their teachers. The idea that there is a higher community expression of the virus right now, or that there are more hospitalizations or god forbid deaths and my heart goes out to anybody who’s family member is sick with with this… I know I have neighbors and friends that have been sick and family members. They’ve all been ok but we are with you. We hope that your family recovers and is home for the holidays. We need to remember that we need to not let fear cause us to make bad decisions and that’s what’s happening. Let's talk about schools in a different way. Never forget that virtual education is a wonderful asset. We have kids that are thriving in virtual education. We have people who have health risks and they shouldn’t be back in community settings. Virtual eduction is an absolute necessity for us to have and to improve upon. We can make it even better. If we had made an investment in past years it would be better now but we will make that investment. The conversation we need to have is that for those that need it we must have in person school. That brings us to data out of Chesterfield and Fairfax. I’m pretty sure when we get data from other areas we’re going to find out there too. More kids are failing. They’re not hitting their benchmarks. We have higher issues with mental health concerns. Parents that can’t get treatment for their children. Parents that are struggling to get interaction for their kids. Remember, social-emotional development is a really important part of education for kids. We kind of absolutely ripped that away from them. So, that's why you’ve a lot of these pods and other things. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that the battlecry may not need to be open schools. It needs to be that in person schools must be available. There are people who need it. There are people who don’t have broadband. There are people who don’t have safe places to be. People who simply cannot learn at home. I'll tell you to emphasize this again, we have so many school districts that are open. We have Hanover Public Schools. I see those moms everyday. Their kids are thriving. They are so happy. Some of the kids have stayed home and choose virtual but many of the kids have chosen to be in person and they’re so grateful for being there. The kids are so happy. Our private schools are all open and functioning.I know people will say “yes, yes but that is a much smaller scale.” Well so is 40% of our public school population which is about the number of people who want to return to in person school. We need to be moving toward in-person school. I intend to focus on that extensively when we are at session. I know there are many others carrying legislation. I’ve seen many pieces of legislation. One is a budget amendment that I’ve been told will be put in that schools won’t receive their daily funding if they aren’t actually providing in-person education. Another one is for any schools that don’t have in-person education. Those parents will be able to get the average daily membership which is an amount of money that goes to a locality that is calculated on a bunch of variables so that those parents can afford it. I think that’s very appropriate. We will be carrying legislation to mandate that all school divisions provide in-person opportunities for kids because we need to have this. This is where we get back to an analysis of the data. If you create a scale in your mind, which is how I make so many decisions whether they be medical or personal, and you put on this scale on each side all of the variables that matter…you never have just one side to the scale and that’s all this administration and the media is talking about except for a few articles that have leaked through. The scale is all what is the COVID situation in the community. Not even drilled down and specified for our kids. That is how they’re making all their decisions. It's like they have blinders on or they’re in a vacuum. They’re ignoring all of the other information that is relevant to making this decision. You have to weigh on the other side of the scale the risk to children of not having that in person opportunity. That risk is far greater for the very people we have said we were worried about and those are those that have more economic challenges. We are creating a terrible void in opportunity by not having a safe place for kids to go get an education which is the ticket to opportunity in America. Not to mention they’d be screened for any risk factors that they may be confronting in their day to day lives that subject matter experts in these schools will be screening for. In-person schools has got to happen. We have to make this happen. We all have to shout very loudly. We have to be very focused on this as we go into this legislative session. You need to reach out to all of the legislators and mobilize. There are online Facebook groups that you can belong to. Virginia Back to School. We have got to really express to the legislators that they must support legislation to provide in-person school. I’m one voice up there and I can carry my message but unless they’re hearing from their constituents… and the way for you to get involved in that is to reach out on Facebook and become a part of those memberships and those groups so that you can support people. Obviously, I’m your legislator or you probably wouldn’t be on but there are other people that we need you to get to including the other people that represent Henrico and Hanover. That is something that I wanted to run by you.
Let me see if I can pull up some of the other stuff. My team is going to let me know if we have any information coming in on questions. It doesn’t look like we have any information on questions. Let's talk about the vaccine. There are questions coming in if y’all aren’t seeing them. Let's talk about the vaccine. The vaccine is now available at my hospital and I cannot wait until I am designated as next on the list to get the vaccine. The vaccine is really, really well developed. Let's talk about a few important things you need to know about the vaccine. The first is that it does not use the virus. There’s nothing live in it. You can’t get the virus from this vaccine. It uses a very small thread of messenger RNA which is literally a messenger substrate that the body uses to code for proteins. That allows your cells to put on proteins that help you develop immunity to the virus. I’ve looked at the side effects profile. It is incredibly small especially compared to other vaccinations that you may have gotten. It is mostly a response to the vaccination and not systemic. You get a little bit of an inflammatory response. A few people have had fevers. When you look at people who got the placebo versus people who got the vaccine the incidents of any of those side effects is very much the same in both groups. So, it's maybe the substrate and not actually the part that makes you immune. Having said that, you cannot get COVID from having the virus(vaccination). You do need two injections regardless which vaccination you get. Right now the Pfizer one is out but the Moderna one is coming. You would need to make an appointment to follow up and get the second injection. It’s as if the first injection readies your body and helps you begin to develop immunity but you really get your best immunity by getting the second vaccination.
One of the questions that came through here is that teachers would be at the second tier (for vaccination). I think they’re doing healthcare providers and really high risk populations first. So, teachers will be right at the top of the list and doesn’t that make sense. We can give the teachers greater confidence that they’re safe to be in schools. That’s one of the hurdles we have to overcome. Listen, that is how we solve problems. We don’t project onto other people. What we do is say “what is your problem about getting back to school?” One of those problems is that teachers are scared. Anyone would be scared if they’re not sure and we don’t have good data about what their risk of exposure is. For those who have a medical risk it's even greater. They should be allowed to teach virtual if they want to. No one should be coerced but there are plenty of people who want to go back to school. Let's get them vaccinated.
When will teachers be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine?
I don’t have a timetable on anybody. I just know that the hospitals were dispersed first but I hope within the next few weeks we'll be to tier two and we’ll be through the healthcare providers. My hospital is implying it has enough to vaccinate its workforce. I know that this is a very structured protocol but there is always a supply chain. Remember, that is why we closed down in the first place to maybe prevent spread but more importantly to get the supply chain in gear. This supply chain has been worked out over a period of time but as the second vaccination hits the market we should have much more supply to meet that demand.
How will schools be prevented from lowering expectations and benchmarks? Schools must still teach the skills that have been missed and make sure students retain the knowledge. I don’t want to see a dumbing down of standards.
Thank you for that question. Another piece of legislation that I will be carrying this year will be for the state to make sure every single of our kids gets an individualized student progress assessment. There is a body of knowledge that educators have that we have not applied in our schools yet and that is individualized education. That means you would have your child tested to see not only where they are but what their strengths are. We teach one way in schools. That is expanding a little bit. Teachers are doing a good job of bringing in small group work for example, but some kids learn from videos and some kids learn from play. Some kids learn by reading. Some kids learn by lecture. Our education system is predominantly lecture at this time. We have the ability, especially with the virtual education platform that can be used in the classroom for different teaching modalities, to individualize education for each child so that they learn in a way that is most organically natural for them and a natural way to learn the fastest. In order to really individualize how we teach a child we have to individualize how we measure that child. I have heard so many times in the years that I’ve been elected that parents are frustrated with SOLs because it doesn’t really help their child. I agree. SOLs were never designed to focus on individualized progress which is what we all want. If our child spends a year in that classroom we want to have the best teacher that makes sure that kid moves a full year's level of learning by the end of that year or more and not one of the weak links where maybe they don’t. Individualized education is a way to get at what we really want from education and make sure every kid gets a great education but we have to measure that first. I have already started reaching out trying to build bipartisan support for this. It just seems to make common sense, right? Every kid must be measured. Some kids will have thrived but some kids are going to be way behind. They may be even further behind than when we went to virtual education because they will have regressed. We need to turn around and individualize that education to help them rapidly accelerate back up to grade level. Our only hope of really getting out kids back where they need to be is figuring out what each one of them needs. That is legislation that I will be sending out. I will try to post this on Facebook. There is a site I have been sent that talks about the tiers of vaccination. I will give you the best information I have on tiers. It's not particularly individualized but I can show you what I have been sent from the people who have been coordinating that.
How are we going to make sure they don’t make it mandatory in schools?
I am guessing that means vaccinations. I don’t know how that will go. I’ll tell you right now how other vaccinations in schools work. In Virginia, there is a list of required vaccines to attend school. So, you don’t have to attend school. You can do something else. You can even do virtual in this case but if you want to be present in school there is a list of vaccines you need to have to participate. That is because vaccinating your own child doesn’t work if 20% of the population doesn’t vaccinate theirs because without herd-immunity vaccinations don’t alway work 100%. You can still get exposed and have the illness. People are at risk even if they are vaccinated. It's not a complete safety shield that you have in place. It’s more of an accomplishment of herd-immunity. That’s why schools require it. They’re trying to protect the public and make sure people are safe. In Virginia, if you don’t want to be vaccinated you can opt out. It currently requires a religious exemption or that you have a religious reason that you don’t get the vaccination but that has not been tested or tried. You can also have a doctor’s exception for why you don’t get it. I don’t think it’ll be different than any other schools. They’re not mandated. They’re required vaccination with opt outs. That's how we move forward. I expect that is what will be happening. I know there were some people saying we would have to mandate the vaccine. I don’t believe in mandating. I think people have control over their own medical decision making. We will hopefully have herd-immunity with enough people getting vaccinated.
Any other questions on that? There was something about counselors I saw. What was that? Let me see if I can breeze though here and see. Listen, we have been working on that. We are talking about the backlog of requests for counselors and appointments for students. I hope that we are going to fund… again we have been working hard to try and increase the number of counselors so their caseload is reduced. We’re trying to get that back to best national standards and there is no more important year than this. I will definitely be supporting making sure we have enough counselors in the schools. We need them more than ever. I have been working for the last several years with Medicaid and education and others to see if we can’t have some availability of medical access in schools as well be that mental health or be it other things we need to make available to kids in school. They’re there for 7 hours. Why would we not make it easy access for them to get all the things they need? We know, this is kind of big picture, long term, but we know that if we capture the early needs of children, whether it be dyslexia or autism or a health risk or depression, and we intervene early and wrap around them the services that help them compensate and heal from whatever issues those are, that kids have a chance. Kids are so resilient. If you give them what they need you have a chance of getting them on track so that they too can perform on par and on level. Just like we said, individualizing. Some of the individualization for kids is making sure we make up for the things that obstructs them from learning. That’s all part of that individualized education. I hope to see that as we go forward we are going to have much more robust access to services in schools as we go along. I'm going to talk to you next time. We’re going to have a Facebook live the first week of January, I think it's Wednesday January 6th. I am going to be with family. I can’t wait. All my kids will be home next week. After that I figure everybody will be a helter skelter still. On the 6th I'll go over legislation then. I have some stuff I want to talk to you about on dual enrollment. Many of you know I had an experience where my kids had dual enrollment. It was supposed to be college level classes and it never counted. We’ve worked really hard over the last 5 years in Virginia to make sure that there is a universal core curriculum that is at all of the community colleges and all of the 4-year colleges that is absolutely interchangeable at any school in Virginia. I want to make sure those are the classes we drop back down into high schools and that kids get into dual enrollment so that they are guaranteed whether they go onto a community college or a 4-year college that that’s going to count. I think that’s an important component of dual enrollment. There’s certainly other values of dual enrollment but I think we need to make sure there’s transparency that if you’re taking a college class that it's going to count for college. Well talk about that more next time and some of the other legislation I am looking at and kind of an overview of what you can expect other people to be carrying in legislation. Until then, if we didn’t get your questions answered today, email us. We’re always happy to respond to you and get that information back. Thank you so much. Have a wonderful, blessed Christmas. I know it's going to be a different Christmas. It’s going to be smaller groups but stay safe. Let’s be thankful for that vaccine coming and I am thankful for you. I look forward to seeing you in the new year on the 6th. Take care. Bye.