Unmasked: Northam faces criticism for uncovered stroll down Virginia Beach Boardwalk

Literally the last thing that Ralph Northam talked about at his Friday COVID-19 presser was the mask mandate that he was planning to hand down in the coming days.

Northam can tend to sound at his pressers like a Chamber of Commerce president reading Dr. Seuss to a group of kids in pre-K for a photo op.

Like he hasn’t seen the words in front of him, doesn’t know where the story is going, can’t wait, like the rest of us, to find out what happens when he turns the page.

He sounded almost giddy, talking about how he was giving Virginians homework for over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, and how he and his team were going to be working hard on their end.

It was all a show, of course, because that’s what politics is, performance art.

We know this specifically in this case because, this was Northam working hard with his team over the holiday weekend.

You don’t want to begrudge the governor a nice walk outside. And the Boardwalk on Virginia Beach is among the better walks outside on the planet.

And on Memorial Day weekend, nice temperatures, sun in abundance.

This is why we go to the beach in the summer.

The issue is: no mask?

A spokesperson offered as CYA that Northam wasn’t expecting to be within six feet of anybody, so, you know, sorry, won’t do that again, bringing to mind the word preposterous, considering the situation.

You know, a governor going for a stroll down the Boardwalk, sunny Saturday, roughly 24 hours after stressing how masks were part of Virginians’ homework.

He had to figure – somebody in his entourage had to figure – hey, might run into somebody, maybe we should have masks handy, just in case, since we’re stressing this as the most important thing, getting ready to roll out this big new initiative.

Can you imagine the value of the photos that got social media’d out all over the place the past couple of days if he’d posed for snaps with a mask on?

See, this is important.

Dude is practicing what he’s been preaching.

The worst thing his critics would have been able to say after would have been, c’mon, this was staged, those citizens posing for photos are plants.

The effect would have been reinforcing.

This mask thing I’m getting ready to roll out, it’s important.

Instead:

The critics are making this into a do as I say, not as I do moment, but it’s not that.

It’s deeper than that.

Two months ago, when we didn’t know much about COVID, except that China was telling us that the case fatality rate was 3 percent, and a model developed by British researchers warned us that millions would die if it ran through the population unchecked, we talked ourselves into the quarantine strategy used in China as being the only possible solution.

That was assuming a lot of things.

That COVID hadn’t been here before late February, which we now know isn’t the case, that it was here at least in January, and the more we find out, we’re not going to be surprised to learn that it might have been circulating even earlier.

Even what we know now, the virus was circulating unchecked for weeks, almost two months, unchecked, as people in big cities rode subways, as we flocked to football and basketball games, concerts, movies, dined out, shopped in big box stores.

We assumed our hospitals would be overrun, and they weren’t, not even close.

That we’d need tens of thousands of ventilators, which turned out to not only not be the case, but we’d come to learn that ventilators didn’t really help.

We also didn’t know even the first thing about how the virus could ravage nursing homes, where in Virginia, as of the latest data from the Virginia Department of Health, 57.2 percent of the state’s 1,236 COVID deaths, 702, have taken place.

The virus has proven particularly lethal in nursing homes, more generally among seniors – 76.7 percent of the deaths have come in the 70+ population.

Younger demographics are generally spared the worst – 36 deaths, total, among Virginia residents under 50, for a case fatality rate of .15 percent, according to the VDH data, which then translates to an infection fatality rate, from the modeling of the UVA Biocomplexity Institute, closer to .02 percent, a fraction of the fatality rate from the seasonal flu.

By and large, this all trends in the direction of, great news.

We’ve isolated the problem, largely, and hopefully we can figure out how to keep people safe in nursing homes as we ease back to normal everywhere else.

The school year is shot, but there’s another one coming ‘round in a couple of months.

Meanwhile, we can focus on getting the hundreds of thousands of Virginians – among the 30 million-plus Americans – who were sent to the unemployment lines in the lockdowns back to work.

Which won’t be easy, but the hard part to the pols isn’t the heavy lifting that they’re going to need to do there.

The difficult thing to them is feeling the need to justify everything.

Thus the deliberate speed on the easing back to normal, the overhyped attention on the supposed progress toward a vaccine, which is just patently ridiculous, except as messaging cover.

The mask homework from Northam falls in that territory.

Look, it’s not going to be the biggest deal in the world, having to wear masks in public for a few weeks.

The messaging from the news media and pols that has a third of America thinking that their heads are going to spontaneously combust from COVID the second they stick their heads outside their homes isn’t going to be easily undone.

The mask has little – not nothing, but really, ultimately, only a little – to offer in terms of limiting the spread of bad things, the good in terms of keeping particles out of the air being weighted against us constantly adjusting them, constricting our own breathing, exposing ourselves by overusing dirty masks.

But if it’s a wash in terms of public health, there’s a benefit, at least in the short term, for peace of mind for the skittish.

It’s more performance art.

Northam won’t present it as such today when he finally rolls out the program that he teased last week at his Tuesday presser.

It will be a matter of life and death, as he flips the page in front of us, sounding as if he’s reading the words for the first time, which, who knows, he might be reading them for the first time.

If we do this, he’ll tell us, again sounding astounded at his own words, this can help us get back on the road to normal.

We’re going to need your cooperation on this to get to that next step.

This is him trying to sound dictatorial, but he’s the guy in a suit reading somebody else’s words.

We know this because this is what happens when the script isn’t in front of him:

Story by Chris Graham


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