On January 12, 2022 – just 18 days from now – the Virginia General Assembly will begin its next regular session in Richmond, for 60 days, likely as we’re still in the midst of a surge in COVID-19 cases due to the highly contagious Omicron variant. How much of a surge are we talking about? According to today’s numbers, COVID-19 cases have increased 61,898 over the past 10 days…the highest since the pandemic began. Now, it’s possible that this will all slow down over the next 18 days, but more likely, the Omicron surge will still be raging as the Virginia General Assembly begins its next regular session on January 12, 2022 – with Republicans in charge (with a 52-48 majority) of the House of Delegates. Yikes.
Let’s just briefly review what soon-to-be Speaker Todd Gilbert, the leader of Virginia House Republicans, has said previously about COVID-19 restrictions.
- In July 2021, he criticized Gov. Northam’s school mask guidance, asserting (with no apparent evidence) that “there’s nothing to indicate that requiring an eight-year-old to wear a mask while taking a math test will substantially reduce the transmission of COVID, or any new variant that is emerging.”
- In August 2020, he claimed (hyperbolically) that holding the Virginia House of Delegates sessions virtually, to protect members and staff against COVID-19, represented “a dark day for the House of Delegates,” adding: “Our constituents deserve to have the business of the House done in public. They deserve the right to be heard in committee hearings.” (In stark contrast, Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn argued *correctly* at the time: “We’re talking about a pandemic, and we want to preserve everyone’s health and safety. And not just members — their families, their staff. There’s a lot of people involved here.”)
- In May 2020, Gilbert claimed (again, hyperbolically) that Gov. Northam’s mandate for Virginians to wear face coverings in public would have a “counter-effect,” adding that “by making this a mandate, [Northam] has effectively squandered his moral authority as a governor and physician, something that’s unique to him in the country that he could have asked people to follow his lead.”
So, bottom line: does this sound like someone who’s going to support the Virginia House of Delegates taking precautions to protect its members and staff against COVID-19? Nope, definitely not. Which means that, starting in just 18 days, we’re going to have 100 delegates – plus staff, press, the public, etc. – sitting together for hours indoors, in close confines, with many of the Republicans presumably not wearing masks, and possibly not even fully vaccinated. That includes both floor sessions as well as subcommittees and committees, where the public presumably will be allowed…quite possibly with no mask or vaccine mandates (and what are they going to do about members who test positive or who exhibit symptoms?).
Now, does any of that sound to you like a smart way to proceed as a deadly. highly contagious pandemic rages? Nope, didn’t think so. Also, if you’re a Democratic delegate or staff member, how are you going to deal with this situation, other than being fully vaccinated (including a booster shot) and wearing N95 (or equivalent) masks at all times? Are there are any other steps Democrats can take, now that they’ll be in the minority? And finally, is there any chance we get through the 2022 session without numerous delegates getting sick, and possibly even having to be hospitalized (or, god forbid, dying), due to inadequate precautions being taken? Sure doesn’t seem like it at this point…
P.S. I forgot to mention that there are numerous members of the Virginia House of Delegates who are older, who have had cancer, who are immunocompromised, who have “comorbidities,” etc, etc. That’s only going to make matters worse, particularly without regular testing, masks and vaccine requirements, etc.