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New COVID-19 ‘restrictions’ sure don’t seem like much: Why that’s a good thing

coronavirus researcher
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Gov. Ralph Northam on Thursday announced a new set of COVID-19 public health restrictions that, honestly, amount to a whole lot of nothing.

He didn’t even live up to the expected 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. “curfew” that his Democratic governor friend down in North Carolina, Roy Cooper, put in place in the Tar Heel State earlier this week, opting instead for a midnight to 5 a.m. curfew because, OK, no, we don’t exactly know why it’s midnight to 5 a.m.

A reporter asked Northam at his Facebook Live COVID-19 show to explain the reasoning behind the curfew.

He actually said these words:

“I’ll use two words to summarize it: it’s called common sense,” Northam said. “I’ll also say something that my parents taught me when I was younger, and that was that nothing good happens after midnight.”

Ah, science.

There was also something about a universal mask requirement that sounded like the universal mask requirement that he talked up last month, a 10 p.m. cut-off for on-premises alcohol sales in restaurants, and a reduction in the size of social gatherings from 25 to 10.

The cut-off for alcohol sales can be enforced by the Virginia Department of Health and Virginia ABC, but the others are, at best, guidelines.

How you can tell this isn’t a serious effort: none of this takes effect, such as any of it can take effect, until 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 14.

“New daily case numbers are higher than they have been at any previous point in the pandemic, and while the trends in Virginia are better than most of the country, we are taking action now to slow the spread of this virus before our hospitals get overwhelmed,” Northam said.

“We already have strong public health measures in place, and with these additional steps, we can turn this around. Virginians, if you don’t have to be out, stay at home. Whenever we are around other people, we all need to wear a mask, indoors and out.”

Look, Northam is between a political rock and a hard place here.

Positive test numbers are indeed up; VDH reported 3,915 new positive COVID-19 tests on Thursday, which, as Northam noted today on his Facebook show, is roughly four times the number of positives we were seeing in May.

Left unsaid there: the state has averaged 27,441 new COVID-19 tests conducted per day in the first 10 days of December.

We averaged 6,374 new tests conducted per day in the first 10 days of May.

That’s roughly – and actually, greater than – a four-fold increase in testing.

But you’re not supposed to know that, certainly think to even look for it.

The news reports highlight the number of new positives, tell you that the hospitals are filling up.

That last one, also not true. Today’s overall hospital census, which the VDH dashboard reports is 13,394, is 381 higher than the 13,013 reported back on July 10, and that number has been within a few hundred either way over the course of the past five months, even as the number of COVID-19 patients has doubled in just the last month.

This is actually good news, that hospitals are holding up well in spite of the case numbers.

Yeah, but the way news works, good news isn’t what gets people to click.

The stories about the number of cases get clicks, and they seem to require action – if a “nothing good happens after midnight” curfew counts as action.

This is also actually good news. Nothing about that curfew or items related to masks or on-site alcohol sales being cut off at 10 p.m. that had already been in place is going to lead to the mass layoffs that resulted from Northam’s mid-March orders.

This is where the politics kicks in.

There’s another election coming up in 2021. Virginia is electing a new governor, and though it can’t be Northam, since he can’t run for re-election, due to our quirky state constitution, you know that Northam wants his successor to be a Democrat, if only so that a Republican doesn’t undo everything he thinks he’s accomplished the past three-plus years.

Thus, the splitting of hairs, inaction disguised and trumpeted as action.

With vaccines ready to get pumped into shoulders any minute now, the bet is that we’re getting closer by the moment to whatever the post-COVID dawn looks like.

Northam is trying to hold on here.

I’ll give him credit for the trying.

Story by Chris Graham

augusta free press
augusta free press