Northam relents, lifting executive order banning elective medical procedures

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A week after denying a request from hospitals, citing volumes of open bed space, to let them get back to business as somewhat usual, and a day after UVA Health said it is losing $85 million a month, Gov. Ralph Northam is finally relenting.

Beginning on Friday, scheduled medical procedures, which have been off-limits due to Northam’s COVID-19 lockdown, will be allowed to resume.

“I want everyone to remember where we were six to eight weeks ago. Our case counts and hospitalization rates were rising. We were worried that our hospitals would be overwhelmed by a surge in cases, like we were seeing in Italy, and in New York,” a defensive Northam said at his Wednesday presser.

Even as he made it clear that he will continue to proceed with all deliberate speed with respect to the reopening of the economy at large, Northam, a doctor who owns a pediatric medical practice in Norfolk, seems to finally be getting it, that the lockdown is having a bottom-line impact that can’t possibly be sustainable.

He sounded almost like a used-car salesman as he pitched people on getting back in touch with their doctors.

“Hospitals and dental facilities are prepared to restart non-emergency procedures safely,” Northam said. “They have worked for weeks to prepare to reopen, and they are ready, and I want to emphasize and underline the word, safely. As I said on Monday, our hospitals or clinics or dental offices, these are safe these are clean places to go, and so while we have been through this pandemic, I want to encourage all Virginians that your healthcare is important. And I encourage you to resume that healthcare, and we will together do it in a safe manner.”

Get the message? That hospitals and dentist offices are safe? And that UVA Health can’t afford to lose a billion dollars this year, which is what $85 million times 12 would work out to, not to mention what the other hospital systems across the state have been losing?

According to data from the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association, 29 percent of the state’s hospital beds, and 80 percent of the ventilators available in Virginia hospitals, are unused, and those numbers have been holding consistent since the beginning of the Northam shutdown.

The only thing that has changed is the forecasting from the models used by the governor as he implemented the lockdown order.

The early projections, which assumed full social distancing measures in place, had the state’s hospitals at risk of being overrun with COVID patients.

Northam tried again on Wednesday to credit the lockdown for that not being the case.

“Because everyone has worked together, we have avoided that. Our efforts to slow the spread of this virus are showing success. Our hospitals have not been overwhelmed,” he said.

It’s fair to point out that the early models were dramatically overstating what the impact of COVID would be on Virginia, and that while it was clearly prudent for Northam at the outset to proceed with the high level of caution that he exercised, his caution is now proving to be costly, literally, in the context of what we know from the fiscal impact on UVA Health, and presumably other health providers in the Commonwealth.

And, of course, elsewhere, outside of the healthcare business.

Story by Chris Graham

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