Facebook Live 6/17- Answers

I wanted to do an update on a couple of things. We’re going to be putting an opinion piece up on Facebook that coalescences and references a lot of the data that is out there about the risk of COVID, and how that applies to what we should be doing about opening the economy. The conclusion of that opinion piece is that it is time to open the economy. We’ll get that up for you, it’s an editorial from the Wall Street Journal. I think it makes a lot of sense based on what we know about COVID. It’s time to get back to work, and it’s reasonable to do so.

I want to go over COVID. Looking at Virginia in the last few weeks, we’ve seen that our percent continues to decrease, it’s at the 7% range. Any number under 10% is considered a success. We are looking at decreasing numbers of deaths, and that is fantastic. Generally, we’re seeing less hospital utilization than we thought, and there is more than sufficient hospital capacity to handle COVID-19.

We heard this week in the press conference from the Governor that we’re not ready for phase 3. This is extremely unhelpful. I keep asking the Governor’s office for some constructive information so we can anticipate opening. I’m looking specifically for a date that we will enter phase 3 if all else goes well, with an understanding that it is not a guarantee, and that there may be confounding variables that could prevent us from getting there. Based on the evidence we have now, we are well on our way to phase 3, if we stick to the same 3-week window, we’d be looking at phase 3 next week. This is very hard on businesses to prepare and hire more staff if they don’t know in advance.

One of the most consistent frustrations throughout this is once we got past the stay at home and sheltering initiatives, the way to move forward has been very obscure. This takes me to a conversation about schools.

I want to review some COVID data that is Virginia specific. From all the cases we’ve had of someone having a positive test, there have been 3,338 people aged 10-19 who have tested positive. Out of all the people who have tested positive in Virginia, there is a very low number of children who have tested positive. Of those nearly 3,400, 53 have been hospitalized. Some of those have been at my hospital, they weren’t extremely sick, it was more of a precaution. There have been no deaths in the 0-19 age group. Kids do not seem to have any significant issues responding to COVID-19, like any other childhood virus.

We have the instance of Kawasaki disease, which is an inflammatory response to a virus. There are many viruses that can elicit this response in kids. We don’t know the extent of this, but we’re trying to get information on this. From the information I’ve seen, there are fewer kids that have had that response than have had the flu or other things. There are risks, but the question is whether the state needs to protect us from that risk. I believe it does not.

This brings us to schools. I am focusing on schools with the idea of wanting constructive guidelines from the state about how we go forward. We’re going to lump together K-12 education and higher ed, but we’re still waiting on some additional information. We have a constitutional obligation to deliver high quality K-12 education in Virginia for free. We have to do that, it’s part of the Virginia Constitution, it’s part of our contract with the federal government for the services we provide. That means kids have to have access to it, and we have to measure the outcome. We have to make sure we’re succeeding in educating children, and it has to be high quality. What we have from the state is the idea that schools can move forward with opening back up, but they have to submit a proposal for how they’re going to do that. They want every single school to do that. We have 2,182 public K-12 schools, with 1,113 private K-12 schools. That’s 3,200 schools. Every school is going to have to submit its own plan, and somehow those plans are going to be reviewed by the state. Those plans are due by July 6th. We’re going to have someone at the state reviewing those processes.

What does this mean? Without good guidelines, there’s been a lot of information coming from the Department of Education. With all of that information, all those schools are going to have to figure this out for themselves. It would be so much more beneficial for the state to say what the general template is, and how each school will have to modify that for their own unique challenges. Or, this could be done by district. There are 132 school districts in Virginia. I’ve had many teachers from Henrico and Hanover reach out about reconciling their obligations as teachers with their obligations as a parent because they don’t know when people will be in school. This leads to predictability. When there is some sort of structure from the state for schools to use, there is some sort of predictability, school’s know what to expect. This works the same way for businesses. This is sound economics. We’re asking our schools to invent the wheel for themselves instead of providing a framework. I have appointments to meet with the Superintendents from my two districts, and I will be able to give more explanations for support after that.

One of my problems for how complicated this is, how expensive and unpredictable this will be, is that when we look at the medical risk of COVID, for the 0-19 age group, there have been 0 deaths and 53 hospitalizations. In the overall analysis, that is a very small number. When we look at the analysis of risk for that age group, I can’t reconcile the uncoordinated response we have, with the health risk. I will keep fighting for answers. We are going to reconvene in August, but that is too late for schools. However, I will keep asking the state to provide structure that is appropriate for the risk for our children.

Let’s talk about the risk for kids because this is not a blind situation. I was on a call this morning with someone deeply involved in childcare provisions for essential workers. In those childcare centers, over 1,000 have been open. They’ve been providing for children through the worst of this crisis. There has not been one single outbreak in a childcare center in the state of Virginia. There are over 1,000 centers. There have been outbreaks in jails, in community living centers, and in nursing homes. But this gets back to appropriate risk analysis, what we know about COVID now. We know that the highest risk groups are the older populations with preexisting conditions. If kids have confounding health issues, then we should be able to provide them with virtual education at home. The state is behind on that, we can talk about that too. For right now, we need to make sure kids that need to be protected are protected, and we need to protect the continuity of families for how to pursue their work, childcare, and for when their children will be in school. We don’t need to be scared to do that because the data is astoundingly low compared to the risk.

Let’s talk about teachers. This may cause some stress for teachers who are in a high risk group. There are some things we can do to abate that. There have been conversations over the last several weeks about protecting healthcare workers. Is Workman's Comp appropriate here? Workman’s Compensation for being in school and getting COVID may be something we need to talk about for teachers. This may be very practical and helpful for teachers to know that they are covered. This may help with risk assessment for returning to school. If teachers are returning to school, let’s make sure they know we have their backs. Of course we are going to implement best practices, but when it comes to childcare centers, not only is it not appropriate for children not to interact because age appropriate interaction is important, not having it is impractical. The idea that children are going to be 6 feet apart and not touch is completely unrealistic. We have to use pragmatism based on information we already know. The direction we’ve gotten from the state doesn’t help at all. I’m going to reach out to our local Superintendents and see how we can constructively help them figure this out, and make sure we have in place processes that won’t make it an insurmountable task. I will also look how we can be helpful for the state to bring some reason and pragmatism into the guidelines that are being put out.

I also want to look at higher ed. Higher ed is also in flux, all of the higher ed institutions have to present a plan of action of how they’re going to be safe on their campuses. This is still an incredibly low risk population, but how they’re going to be safe on campuses, and this has been so confusing. We’ve had a lot of universities come out and say what they’re going to do. They’ve announced their plans for testing because kids can’t take the SATs right now. Other schools have raised issues about starting in person or starting online. We’ve made a table with a link on Facebook before we started. Schools have to submit their individualized plans by July 6th. K-12 has to submit to the Board of Education by July 15th. When we get that information back, we’re going to try and break that down. If you look at the table on Facebook, most public institutions have announced their plans for this fall. We will add to that table as we get more information. The table is available on our website. It outlines which schools have already decided to have in person instruction, which are having hybrid classes, which are waiving the SATs and ACTs, and other specific information.

I’d like to keep this conversation going, and to continue answering your questions once COVID is over. However, I have some upcoming conflicts. If you could, please Facebook message or email me what works best for you. On Wednesday’s once a month I have an important meeting about data analytics for Virginia. I have worked on this the past 3 years and I’ve worked on legislation to help set up an ability for Virginia to share it’s information and data to help make better informed decisions and to better serve you. This meeting is very important, but it interferes with Wednesday’s once a month. There are also other things I’d like to bring with you, such as guest speakers, such as those childcare workers I was speaking of earlier and the Chief of Police from Henrico and Hanover to answer questions. I’d like to do these things once a week, or maybe more than once. I can meet in the morning before work, during lunchtimes, Wednesday’s work best, or in the evenings. Let me know what works best for you. I’d love to continue this conversation and to make this more interactive.

One last comment on data: I’ve been closely tracking reports of new spikes in other states, and they do not have spikes. We have to change the outcome measures we use moving forward. The new outcome measures are percent positive and hospital capacity. These other states are fine on these demarcations. It’s all about perspective, we’re moving into a time of looking at policy changes where data and pragmatism have never been more important. We’ve got to hold everyone accountable for working toward the right outcomes. Use data wisely, don’t be overly emotional from what you see in the media, and always bring it back to the facts.