Va covid cases 8-2-21

COVID-19 cases in Virginia during the past 90 days.

Comment articles reflect the opinion of the writer(s), not the Rapp News. Comment below or by writing a letter to the editor:

This editorial ran last week in our sister newspaper, InsideNoVa/Prince William: 

There are enough conspiracy theories floating around about COVID-19 that the last thing we need is government officials withholding information. All that does is contribute to the conspiracy theories.

Flash back to last spring as COVID-19 raced through nursing homes and assisted-living facilities across the state, resulting in thousands of deaths. Time and time again, the state health department and Gov. Ralph Northam refused to release details about which facilities were affected by these outbreaks and how severe they were. This left families, employees and the community to wonder whether their loved ones were in a facility with an outbreak or whether a nurse in their facility had been exposed to an outbreak in another facility.

But finally, the health department capitulated and began reporting details on outbreaks at long-term care facilities. They dropped the first release of this information on a Friday afternoon – the just-declared holiday of Juneteenth, no less – perhaps in the hope no one would pay attention.

We did, of course, and quickly reported that over two-thirds of the deaths related to COVID-19 in Northern Virginia, for instance, were in assisted-living facilities and nursing homes – some of which had over 100 cases and double-digit deaths. The numbers were startling and disturbing. 

Yet as COVID restrictions were relaxed and college students returned to campuses last fall and some schools reopened – at least on a hybrid basis – the health department continued to refuse to release details on outbreaks at other facilities. Finally, at the urging of the Virginia Press Association, the Virginia Coalition for Open Government and other advocates, the General Assembly, meeting in special session last fall, passed legislation requiring the health department to release details on outbreaks during a declared state of emergency.

Begrudgingly, the health department prepared and updated a database showing the details of outbreaks at schools, colleges and universities, child-care facilities, health-care centers and correctional institutions.  But it took the most limited view possible of the legislation, still refusing to release details about outbreaks at private employers and many other locations. 

And when Virginia’s declared state of emergency ended June 30, the dashboard stopped being updated.   If, in fact, the emergency was over, we wouldn’t have a big problem with this. But the emergency is not over. COVID-19 is spreading more rapidly now than it was this time last year. Cases and hospitalizations are soaring – and deaths, a lagging indicator, will, sadly, follow.

Virginia’s public schools are reopening five days a week. College students are heading back to campuses. Businesses are talking about reopening offices. And the outbreaks are back. In fact, two weeks ago, according to the minimal outbreak data the health department does provide, 16 new outbreaks were reported at long-term care facilities around Virginia.  

But, once again, we don’t know where they are. Does the nursing home your mother or father lives in have an outbreak? What about the hospital or the child-care center your next-door neighbor works at?  What about the college where you just dropped off your son or daughter?  

Last Wednesday, Virginia Public Media reported that the health department plans to make this critical information publicly available again. We certainly hope that is the case. These details help us fashion an appropriate response. They help us know when and where to be extra careful. And they remind us that COVID is still with us – it’s in our neighborhood and at our schools.  

Just as importantly, withholding details fuels conspiracy theories. We are 18 months into this pandemic, and the Virginia public deserves better.


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