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Responding to Sen. Chap Petersen’s Latest Criticisms About Virginia’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

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See below for video and key points from Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax)’s latest musings about the COVID-19 pandemic and what to do about it – this time on Trumpster radio (“The John Fredericks Show”) yesterday. Following each bullet point, my response to Sen. Petersen’s criticisms is in parentheses, in blue. Note that I’m taking Sen. Petersen’s criticisms very seriously, as he’s saying what presumably a lot of people – even if they’re a minority – are thinking or saying. But, serious or not, I’d argue that most of Sen. Petersen’s points are misguided and/or incorrect. See below for why I say that.

  • “…as soon as it starts warming up it’s gonna become harder and harder to justify keeping people in place…” (It’s not at all clear that warmer weather is going to mean that COVID-19 lets up. If anything, it looks like it won’t help – see this article, for instance, which says, “Although some pundits have suggested that the COVID-19 pandemic will dissipate with coming warm temperatures and high humidity in the Northern Hemisphere, the virus is unlikely to be seasonal in nature, according to a paper published yesterday by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.”)
  • “I think we were all on the same page, through probably the first few weeks, certainly into early April, and then it becams apparent that this thing was not going away anytime soon…On the flip side, you know, we had canceled school, which I got to be honest kind of took me aback that we would just cancel school for the year and do it in and what I thought was kind of a very quick fashion.” (Actually, if I recall correctly, at the time, parents and others were screaming that the Northam administration hadn’t closed schools yet and *really* pushed for an immediate closure. As for canceling school through the end of the school year, I mean, the reality is that this pandemic is not going to be over for many more weeks, if not months, to come. So…not sure why you *wouldn’t* cancel schools through the end of this school year. The big question is whether schools will start up again in September, or continue virtually, or what?)
  • “I think as we got sort of into April and deeper into April, I said, well hold on, you know everyone talked about flattening the curve, and if we flatten the curve, then you’re pushing the curve further down the road. I mean, by definition. what could have been a 60-day process becomes a 180-day process or a 360-day process. And if that’s the case, well then how are we going to function? Are we going…to have a court system? Are we going to have a school system? Are we going to have an economic system? And nobody was stepping forward with those answers.” (I mean, that’s what “flattening the curve” is, the point being to avoid overwhelming hospitals, which could be utterly disastrous, as we’ve seen in Italy. How are we going to function, have a school system, economic system, etc? Well…yes, but it’s not going to be easy, and we’re going to have to adapt, including a mixture of social distancing, PPE, technology, etc.  The Northam administration, fortunately, is highly competent and very much on top of this. For instance, see here for its “Forward Virginia” blueprint for how we start moving towards reopening the state, including crucial metrics and potential timelines.)
  • “I want to be positive and I want to be supportive of the administration. As you know, I’ve known Ralph Northam a long time and he’s someone that I’ve trusted his judgment. And he is a physician. But at some point, look, this is more than just making medical judgments – you’re talking about millions of people’s lives. And I’m in the commercial world every day. Most of my clients are small businesses; I represent restaurants, I represent auto shops, I represent you know businesses making between a half million to five million dollars a year, which is sort of at the very heart of the small business community. And I’ve got people all over the place that are shut down and are going to be filing bankruptcy and they’re not coming back. And this is alarming to me…” (Yep, I think the Northam administration and most anyone serious understands that this “is more than just making medical judgments,” that we’re “talking about millions of people’s lives.” The problem, of course, is that if we rush to reopen, we’ll end up with BOTH more people getting sick and dying AND a ruined economy. So…let’s do this right, not waste all the efforts we’ve already put in to get us this far, and proceed with science, prudence, etc.)
  • “I’m concerned that I still don’t see any type of vision for where are we going with this and if this is going to be if we have quote/unquote flatten the curve, such that this is going to be with us for the next few months, few years, then what’s the long-term plan?” (Actually, there is a “vision” – see here for the Northam Administration’s “Forward Virginia” blueprint for how we start moving towards reopening the state, including crucial metrics and potential timelines.)
  • “And, you know, I think everyone sort of assumed that the social distancing was the right answer, but it really just in my opinion…deferred the issue, it didn’t address the issue.” (In fact, social distancing was/is/will be a crucial part of the strategy to keep the pandemic from spreading, even as we start to reopen things back up.)
  • And as best I can tell…and I wasn’t halfway smart enough to go to medical school…there’s two different ways you can address a pandemic: one is you come up with a vaccine…and the second is eventually you just developed herd immunity, and…Sweden is basically doing that, in which you let people just go ahead and be exposed to it and it passes through their body and then from that point forward that eventually you reach a level of immunity. And so that’s the, you know, the fork in the road that we’re at.” (Sure, we could try and shoot for “herd immunity,” but…a few problems. For instance, as this Vox article explains, achieving herd immunity via infection “would not be ideal since it would involve millions getting sick from Covid-19. The United Kingdom was pursuing this approach back in early March but backed off its herd immunity strategy of limiting restrictions on movement and allowing people to be exposed. The country changed course when forecasters revealed that millions would likely contract the virus, overwhelming the UK’s health system. Sweden has adopted a similar approach and is now facing vastly more Covid-19 cases than its neighbors.” Also, the WHO now says that there’s “no evidence shows that having coronavirus prevents a second infection.” Finally, as this Time Magazine explains, “trying to build immunity to the coronavirus through exposure rather than waiting for a vaccine to be developed could have deadly consequences…’To get to 70% of the population being immune through natural protection, you’re talking hundreds of thousands of deaths, so not a good idea’.”)
  • And, you know, if someone was to make a very compelling argument saying, Chap, here’s why herd immunity is not going to work and here’s why social distancing is the best option, I’m all ears…” (Addressed in the previous response.)
  • This is not an indefinite situation, and that’s my issue with what we’re doing right now.” (Right nobody wants this to be indefinite. Again, see here for the Northam administration’s “Forward Virginia” blueprint for how we start moving towards reopening the state, including crucial metrics and potential timelines.)
  • “This is what’s frustrating to me…and I’m not saying the decision to close the schools was necessarily wrong, I just think it was done too quickly…if this had been a pandemic that was affecting children, I would have a radically different response right now, okay. And I’m not saying one life is more valuable than another, but the children, you know, they’re the ones that are least able to protect themselves, they’re put into situations where they can’t control their own destiny. And my worry is that…I have our own statistics in Virginia that of the COVID illnesses…only 3% or so are children…so you’re talking about an extremely small percentage of just the illnesses…but the point is that we need to have them getting educated, we need to have them out…going through structured activities, they need to be exercising, they need to be out and about. And again, I don’t see how closing the schools is helping us get to a solution here. And I understand that, yes, children can you know potentially become carriers and that’s something we need to talk about if they becoming, you know, infected themselves. But we also need to realize we’re learning from the statistics, and this has to be a response based on reason and science. And…reason and science is saying the children are, at a minimum, far less susceptible to this. And we need to work that into response and think of a way that we can again re-engage them in the school system and not just treat a five-year-old like an 85 year old – that that makes no sense at all.” (Yes, kids need to be educated, and also are far less vulnerable to dying from COVID-19 than older people, but, of course, to reopen schools would mean that teachers, staff, administrators, etc. – all of whom are adults – *would* be exposed to COVID-19. Also, the kids could infect their parents, grandparents, etc., who would be at much higher risk of getting seriously ill and/or dying. So…need to be very careful here.)
  • “Again, this is my frustration, that we haven’t said, you know, we’ve put these dates out there which are not in my opinion…based on science…they’re arbitrary.” (No, they’re definitely not arbitrary, but instead are based on CDC’s science-based guidelines. Again, see here for the Northam administration’s “Forward Virginia” blueprint for how we start moving towards reopening the state, including crucial metrics and potential timelines.)