Today is more of a dive back into COVID, to go over several things, so we can keep abreast of the latest information you are seeing. This is to make sure you have factual information that will help you sort through the insanity that is being thrown at us from all sides so we can make good decisions.
Let’s start with Virginia. I’ve just reviewed Virginia on the VA Department of Health site, and we are in great shape. Death rates are way down. We have evidence that our percent positive rate is staying well below 10%. That ticked up a bit, but we are still hitting our benchmarks. Our hospital capacity is outstanding, we have the ability to take care of a lot of patients if they get sick. The important things to look at in Virginia are going well. I would also suggest that the panic over what is happening in other states may be a little overblown. We’re going to go over some state information in a little bit.
I want to take a minute to talk about K-12. I’ve been doing a lot of work for K-12 over the last week. I’ve connected with the movement of parents across the state that have been advocating for returning to school for five days. For a synopsis, I’m talking to a lot of people at the state level, superintendents across the state, and talking to others deeply involved in this, let’s review.
Most all private schools are submitting plans to the state to return to school 5 days a week. They’re submitting plans that allow them to do that, and to do that in a safe way. Almost no public schools are entertaining that. The few that are, are going to address that head on with the state why there are so many snags for the phased reopenings for schools that the state has sent down. Basically, the state has said that school boards can figure out how to open 5 days a week on their own, and the state hopes they do that, but if the state is in phase III, the state wants to know how schools will reopen and follow guidelines. That’s just not possible. What we’ve learned from superintendents and school boards is that their legal counsel has told them that they must follow the guidelines from the Department of Health for schools, and if they don’t, they’re going to lose their immunity. Not only as a school board, but also as individuals. This has put them in a terrible vice to provide their constitutional requirements of education, and to meet these criteria. School boards are calling for the state to change its criteria, and I think that’s the right thing to do.
Let’s talk about why this is such a mess. The state tells me that they fully expect we’ll be past phase III and all this planning will be for naught, this is basically a contingency plan. In my mind, that is how this should have been presented. They should have said schools should plan for phase IV, but have contingencies for phase III because they’ve created a panic among parents who are trying to figure out how to get a better education for their kids, but also get back to work themselves.
This is an overstep of the state. If you look at the constitution, the obligation for education rests solidly with the school boards without interference from the state. I’d say the Governor has vastly overstepped his powers in an emergency situation. Right now, looking at the actual language in the code regarding emergency situations: “A public emergency is only triggered when the Governor must act quickly because the Assembly is either not in session or cannot be summoned in sufficient time.” We got time. We are willing and ready to meet the needs of the state, and do things only the legislature can do constitutionally, which includes appropriation. The Governor is overstepping the guidelines to work unilaterally. The guidelines for schools are an overstep for what the school boards are allowed to do, and that’s put them in a terrible vice. The private schools are able to work around that and reopen, and that puts our kids in public schools in an untenable disadvantage.
Furthermore, if you look at the science, there is so much scientific data coming in right now that shows that kids are far less of a vector than others. Looking at the age group of the people who got the virus and how many people they contaminated, kids are not giving it to other people. It is a very low acuity and transfer rate. All the kids in Virginia that have been sick, only 55 have been hospitalized, and they all went home and were fine. Most kids don’t get hospitalized at all. We know from a scientific standpoint that it is okay to go back to school and make this work. We now have the American Academy of Pediatrics coming out and saying that kids need to get back to school. At home with anxiety and developmental issues is far more risky for our children than being at school with the risk of COVID. That is an entire academy of subject matter experts saying that it is okay to send kids back to school. We better send kids back to school because the price they’re paying is too high if we don’t. Everything about K-12 education screams that this is a mistake by the state, they’re interfering with the school board’s ability to correct the mistake, and something’s got to give here.
Many of you were told that parents should blame school boards if their school does not go back 5 days a week. I’m going to tell you that your school boards have been given an unsolvable riddle and we have to have the state fix this. Some of the fixes I’m advocating for is that the state needs to withdraw its recommendations on this phased reopening for schools. There needs to be a special session, legislators need to be involved in this decision making to help solve the problem. We need to provide immunity for the schools so that they can not worry about being sued. They should be focused on how they can help our kids. They need to do what they do best, which is educate our kids. I will point out that if there are any students, parents, or teachers who feel unsafe going back to school, we have a robust virtual education program that kids can take. Pediatricians say that it's better for kids to be in school, but if you have an extraordinary circumstance, please stay home. We don’t want you to run the risk, but life is not risk free. The overall risk for this virus for children is very low. We’re getting more data that supports that the rate of kids transferring it to teachers is very low. We need immunity for schools, and Workman’s Compensation for teachers if they do get sick so they know they are protected.
I’m really frustrated by the way in which the press is reporting on COVID, how the state is handling COVID. Doctors watch for patterns because it informs causation. The problem we have with our state government is that they are making erratic and unfounded decisions unilaterally, and they aren’t being called out. It took us forever to enter phase I of reopening, we had a last minute withdrawal of people who were able to participate in economic reopening, especially in Richmond. This was after they made economic decisions, and after they rehired staff. We had the business community create a plan for the Governor for how to reopen safely, including beaches and other places. That was not included. There was poor communication of the guidelines for our business community. They were outraged, so then the Governor stepped in and opened the beaches. Now we’re dealing with this situation with schools, and this is incomprehensible. We should have, as a state, provided a template that schools could have used that would make this easier on them, made it easier for our families, and they haven’t.
That pattern is being repeated again. Today we are entering phase III, but with phase III we have the Governor at the last minute deciding that bars weren’t opening. Bars and restaurants had already hired staff that set up, and we’re switching again. This is so unpredictable, and this is not how you make decisions that help your economy, and help people in crisis. There must be a consistency and a reasoned approach that is predictable. That is my gripe right now with the Governor and how agencies are doing this. One way to fix this is to abide by code and recall the legislature.
Let’s talk about phase III and how it’s a little different from phase II. Nonessential retail was a 50% capacity, they can now open up. Restaurants and beverage services were at 50% capacity, they can now be totally open. Entertainment venues were regulated, now they can open at 50% capacity. Both King’s Dominion and Busch Gardens have been in constant contact with the Governor, they are an outdoor venue. They have an ability to protect individuals, they’ve put together protocols and plans, but the Governor keeps pushing guidelines that make it impossible for them to open. These are big economic engines for our economy, and they are big for jobs for our kids. Consistently inconsistent information is what is going on.
Beaches are open, now gatherings of 250 are allowed in phase III. We are encouraging teleworking, we’re asking everyone to wear face coverings, childcare is open, personal grooming and campgrounds are open. Overnight summer camps are closed. State parks are open.
I know there is a lot of controversy about masks, and I know a lot of people aren’t wearing masks. But the fact of the matter is there is data that shows that masks lower the rate of transmission. We do not want anybody to close Virginia down again or curtail the opening. If the compromise for that is everyone is going to wear masks, that is a good compromise, and there is data that shows that helps. Let’s keep our head in the game, and stay focused on reopening the economy and going back to school for our kids.
I also want to talk about the states. I want us to stay focused on the data that matters, which is percent positive, which should be under 10%, hospital capacity, and deaths per 100,000 population. That is what the press is not talking about. I’ll point out that the last time I checked, looking at Italy, France and England, they were at about 62 deaths per 100,000 population. The last time I checked the U.S. was at 32 per 100,000.
Let’s look at Florida. Florida has been a hotbed, and I’ll point out that some areas and counties have had problems, and others have not. Overall, their percent positive has increased to 16%. That is why they are taking measures to reduce the risk of transmission. They have about 70% of their state hospital beds occupied, about 79% of intensive care units are occupied. They are not at risk right now of having more sick patients than they are of having capacity. It’s not an issue right now that they’re in crisis. Deaths per 100,000 in all of Florida is at 16.
In Texas, they have had a spike in percent positive of 14.6%. Both of these states were below 10% last week. They have about 97% of base level ICU beds occupied, but there are more beds coming online. Some of these states are just beginning to reach a spike. In Texas they’ve had 8.4 deaths per 100,000.
For perspective, Virginia has had about 20 deaths per 100,000. Most of those have been either in nursing homes or in Northern Virginia. More than 60% have been in nursing homes for Virginia.
In Arizona, they’re up to 22.9% percent positive, that’s higher than last week. They’re the ones I’m worried about, they’re at 89% of their hospital capacity. They’ve had 22 deaths per 100,000. They have a genuine spike, but this looks like their original spike, unlike Virginia.
Alabama is at 13.2% positive, with 82% hospital occupancy.
In North Carolina, with all the noise, they’re at 7.9%, and they’re at 71% bed capacity, and they’ve had 12.8 deaths per 100,000.
West Virginia has a 9% positive.
Georgia is at 13.3% positive, 40% ICU utilization.
In Virginia, we’re at 6.1%. This is why the Governor has to go to phase III. Our numbers are good, and we have vast capacity in our hospitals. We did suffer early though, and we did have almost 21 deaths per 100,000 in Virginia. Those are more relevant facts. We may just update this week over week. This is what I’m watching and because they bring up so many states and so many statistics, I wanted to go over these so you have them.
The last thing I want to talk about is July 1. July 1 is when all the new legislation that was passed this year becomes law and is implemented. We’ll post on our website and Facebook a list of all those new laws. We have a list from legislative services. I have some information about mine specifically. We talked about the success rate in the last campaign. This is important only in the fact that this conveys to you that I am building consensus and working on legislation that people agree on, and that I am able to build bipartisan support even though I’m in the minority.
When we look at the legislative session, we saw 3,600 pieces of legislation. I had 22 bills, 4 joint resolutions, and 8 resolutions. I was able to get 10 of those bills signed into law, 3 joint resolutions, and 7 resolutions all passed and were signed into law. We had some losses, and we were able to get virtual education. That got through the Senate again but failed in the House, and that was a big loss. We’ll put up there what we carried, what we changed, including pharmacies’ ability to provide you services instead of having to go to the doctor’s office. We looked at making sure nursing homes were able to store CBD and THCA for patients that were using that now that we have pharmaceutical grade marijuana in Virginia. We had lots of other things that happened. There were some concerning things that went through, minimum wage did increase. I did support an increase in the minimum wage, not as much as it did, and I did support that it be regionally relevant, and that did not pass. I think especially now with so many businesses in jeopardy that is something that is concerning to me. I’m particularly concerned about collective bargaining, when you talk about some of the things we’ve seen like with Mr. Floyd. When you look at police departments where police officers have repetitive concerning behaviors get to stay, those are police departments that have unions and collective bargaining. It is very hard to fire someone in those situations, and when we talk about real change that we need to have going forward, we need to have a conversation about that as well. I’m happy to say that right now we do not have collective bargaining in Virginia, we’re able to protect the right to work, but we’ll need your voices so that the right to work is protected long term, and that we curtail or remove the collective bargaining allowances passed in the legislature this year. We’ll post this stuff so you can see how it affects you.
Next week we’re going to talk about another way the Governor has overreached and created chaos for you in Virginia. It’s one we haven’t talked about, but there are new regulations from the Department of Labor that despite all of these necessary businesses being open for 15 weeks with little to no outbreaks or spikes, with rare exceptions, the Governor has instituted new regulations that extend beyond anything at the federal level. Businesses are absolutely miserable and in an uproar. We’re going to have an expert on those regulations, as well as a local businessman and we’re going to talk about what this means for businesses, and what this means for you if they’re finalized. This is a consistent pattern of overreach which causes crises for the community. We need a special session to curtail this.
I did have a question come in:
How are teachers' feedback playing a role in the decision for in-person versus online. I’m hearing that teachers don’t want to go back, is this affecting the decision?
I’ve talked to a lot of teachers, and there are two opinions I’m hearing. They either want to go back 5 days a week and either want to teach in the classroom or at home, but there are problems in certain counties like Fairfax where they have more collective bargaining where teachers are threatening to make a unilateral decision. But in Henrico and in our counties teachers are making decisions in their own best interest. If they don’t want to go back to school, they can elect to become an educator through Virtual Virginia, and schools are assessing now what that looks like, and how many brick and mortar teachers they’ll have. But no one is going to be forced to do something. We do want to make sure that the teachers who do go back look at the evidence and they see what’s in their best interest. Teachers care about the development of your kids. It depends on the teacher, their health risks, and who’s in their homes.