We were going to spend some time today talking about higher education this fall in light of COVID and everything that's changing. However, phase two was announced this week, so we’re going to displace that conversation to next week which will give us a chance to get you more information. Many different colleges are doing different things, and we want to make sure we can map that out for you, and that we can give you an idea of any overreaching plans or consensus that’s being built, which will take us a while to figure out.
After today, we’re going to start doing these once a week because demand is down. We will always answer your questions via email, please send those to us. If there’s a real need, we can increase the number we do.
Thankfully, Phase Two is coming this Friday. I did have a conversation with the Governor’s office last week. They told me that the fastest they can go from one phase to another is three weeks. The reason that is their conviction is because we know this virus has a two week incubation period. If they’re looking to see if there’s an increase in infections or hospitalizations, they need to have at least two weeks and a few days, and in that case they’d only have a few days of actionable data. That was their explanation. They did not tell me that we are moving into Phase Three three weeks later, and we’ll talk about that.
For Phase Two, we can now have indoor dining. Richmond and Northern Virginia will not go into phase two when we do, they are two weeks away from us. They did not enter phase one until the 29th, but we are moving into Phase Two this Friday. Restaurants can have 50% capacity with spaced tables and people should demonstrate appropriate distancing. Gyms can reopen to 30% capacity as long as their volume stays low and equipment stays clean. You don’t have to wear a mask while exercising, but other policies remain in place. Some outdoor gatherings and entertainment facilities can begin to open at 30% capacity. The max number of people allowed at a social gathering is up to 50, but precautions must be taken. Current religious guidelines remain the same. Overnight camps are not allowed, and most indoor entertainment facilities remain closed in phase two. There are specifics listed on the website.
I’ve had many conversations with businesses about some sort of predictability. Businesses need to be able to anticipate what their next step is. Restaurants won’t hire back all of their wait staff at 50% capacity because it won’t be profitable. This won’t happen until phase three. The Boy Scouts have also reached out about their overnight camps, so I’m asking the Governor to give us a tentative date. We understand things can happen, but a tentative date can be very helpful.
What numbers can we look at to make sure we know what is happening in the state and to see when things are going well?
Answer: There are two websites, we can put them up today. One is the Virginia Department of Health, the first page you go to shows the number of deaths in Virginia, if you check a specific box that can show you the curves. The downward trajectory of the curve can be seen, one that we’ve seen since April. For more information, there is a page titled Key Measures that shows Testing Measures, which shows the curve for the number of tests being done and how many of those tests are positive. We have to have percent positive tests decreasing in order for us to do well.
The other website is the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association (VHHA). This website tells you how hospitals are doing in terms of occupancy and how many beds are available.
Question 2: Can you speak to the unequal enforcement of the Governor’s executive order, specifically about gatherings of more than 10, in light of the protests we’re seeing. It seems like a double standard that mandates are only for law-abiding citizens?
I understand that is frustrating. I don’t have an answer for that, and technically there have been no changes in the guidelines. Right now you’re not supposed to gather in groups of more than 10. I can only assume this is being interpreted as a freedom of speech issue. They’ve stated that masks should be worn and individuals should practice social distancing, but it’s not being enforced.
I also want to take a moment to talk about all of this. We talked about Mr. Floyd on Monday, and how deeply saddened the people of America were in seeing this. It made us do a little bit of soul searching, and for me, it has really re-convicted me to make sure we make sure we fix some of the problems we have in our system. We have zip code data, which is the scientific evidence that shows that the system has perpetuated restricting some people from achieving the American Dream. If you’re born into one zip code in Richmond, you’ll die 20 years sooner than if you’re born in another zip code. That has to do with systemic poverty, lack of opportunity for economic growth, and lack of education. Getting a good education is the way to level the field for everyone to achieve the American Dream, and we are failing in many ways. We are failing in the same places again and again. I am committed to fixing this, and I’m going to keep talking about this moving forward. For me, this fits into taking care of the whole person. If you want someone to have a chance to succeed they have to be able to access that information and education, and absorb it and apply it. The systems we have in place do the bare minimum to prevent people from suffering terribly, but I don’t think they’re working, and I don't think they’re giving people a chance to reach the American Dream. That is my goal.
We’re going to be talking more about K-12 education which is an important part of that. We can’t wait until we have all the money in the world. The state needs to innovate. Many of our social programs have been in place since the 1960’s and they’re not working. We need to do something better than that. We need to do something that helps every valuable human being. There is more of that to come.
Do you think the current protests are going to set us back in terms of the spread of the virus and the percentage positive rate?
Answer: I don’t know. In two weeks from now, if we see a spike in the number of instances of illness or death, if we can do contact tracing, perhaps we can trace it back to people being exposed at protests. However, I’m worried it could reflect poorly on how we are approaching Phase Two. I do think we’ll be able to tell a difference because Phase Two really doesn’t start until Friday. Any change in the percent positive or in the death rate has the potential to push us back in phase three.
These riots are distracting us. Every legislator should be focused on our challenges, and what we can do to make the system better. We should focus on what we can do to fix any implicit biases that we have. That is a real, honest, robust conversation. We have so much more in common with those we disagree with. There are important things we need to talk about and solve together. Unfortunately, the riots are distracting us as a matter of safety in terms of the things we need to fix.