Yesterday, 6/24/2020, Fairfax county reported just nine new COVID-19 cases, which is a record low for the post-peak period. The last time Fairfax reported that few or fewer was exactly three months ago, on 3/24/2020. And, as you can see above, yesterday’s low count wasn’t due to a glitch in data reporting. Today’s new case count is just 23.
If you read the news of late, you’ll be reading that re-opening was a bad idea. This is due to the states where the epidemic now seems to be getting out of hand.
As you read those articles, remember that Virginia in no way met any criteria for “re-opening”. Case counts were still high and rising when the Governor decided to start lifting some of the stay-at-home rules. Here’s that same graph, ending on 5/15/2020, the start of Phase I re-opening for most of Virginia:
You have to start asking what we owe our good fortune to. (So far, at least.). I’ve been studying the states that are currently “spiking” (however defined), and And to me, it boils down to three big, identifiable factors.
Good sense/relatively low proportion of wackos.
First, the Governor’s decision to couple re-opening of Northern Virginia with a mandatory mask ordinance seemed like the smart thing to do at the time (Post #702). If anything, I’d say it was a little late.
In hindsight, as more evidence accumulates, that mandatory mask order has only gotten smarter. if you go back a few months, systematic reviews of controlled trials of mask use would only go so far as to say that it appeared beneficial. But as time moved on, and people seriously studied what happened among persons and groups observed to wear masks, (so, not controlled trials), the results appeared far more favorable to mask use. Now, report of a cross-national study out of VCU that estimates a huge beneficial impact of population use of masks during this pandemic. That’s data-based, but it’s tough to infer something like that from observational data.
And if you aren’t the type to be persuaded by systematic analysis of the evidence, we now have one spectacular anecdote (Post #721). It’s the story of 140 people who didn’t get coronavirus, and the only plausible explanation for that is mask use.
I mean, it’s only been three-and-a-half months since the US CDC recommended that everyone wear masks in public public. And yet, thanks to the Republican politicization of this issue, you still have states and areas where they still haven’t gotten the message. States where the governor not only would not take action, but literally barred cities and towns from passing their own mask ordinances.
But really, all you have to do is note that when these states get into real trouble, then … and only then … do they consider a mandatory mask order. That really reveals everything you need to know. If masks didn’t work, why would they do that? And if masks do work, why aren’t they doing that already?
Anyway, that’s the level of stupidity we have avoided, merely by having a Governor with good sense.
But it also requires having an opposition party that, by and large, understands that the public health is more important than political grandstanding. Our state Republican party consists of reasonable people, mostly. That’s in stark contrast to the national Republican party, or to the Republican parties in some states. I like to say that I voted for the old Senator Warner (John, R), and I voted for the new Senator Warner (Mark, D), and I think they both have done a great job for Virginia and for the USA.
And it’s not just the Governor’s office where the quality of Virginia government has come through. Our Supreme Court has, by and large, rejected efforts to tear down the public-health-based restrictions that the Governor has imposed. So let’s be thankful that we didn’t have a Wisconsin-type event here (Post #709).
Couple that with a sensible, go-slow approach, and all of that works in our favor. We actually have a government working for us, rather than against us, in this crisis.
Other states are not so lucky. And I’m almost at the point where I’m willing to predict which “spiking” states will and will not get this back under control, based on the level of stupidity of their respective governors. E.g., in Idaho, faced with a spike, they took a step back in their re-opening plan, and among other things closed all the bars. In other states (Texas), the Governor has pretty much said there’s no going back. Based on that, I’d bet that Idaho gets it under control before Texas does.
I looked at the seasonality of other coronaviruses (Post #714). But that seasonality data is for Stockholm, Sweden. Here in the US, there are a lot of mitigating factors. And the foremost of those has to be air conditioning, and the livability of outdoor spaces during the summer months.
Even at the end of June, it’s still pleasant enough around here that you could reasonably expect to sit outdoors and eat an evening meal. So, as far north as we are, there are livable outdoor spaces suitable for socializing. And I think this matters, in a period during which the “spikes” of coronavirus appear to be driven by young adults socializing without precautions.
But today it’s predicted to reach 110 F in Phoenix. I don’t know this for a fact, but I’d guess that relatively few people choose to dine outdoors in that heat. And, coincidentally or not, Arizona is the worst of the states right now, in terms of the current Coronavirus spike.
In that climate, indoor air-conditioned spaces would seem to be the sole option for restaurants and bars. Whatever socializing young adults are going to do there, pretty much all of it will take place indoors. And that’s exactly the situation you want to avoid, for further spread of COVID-19.
So, Arizona can have as much good government as it can muster. Or not. What it has, in the summer, is nowhere to go but inside. Not so, here.
In so far as I know, in Virginia, nobody made death threats against the Virginia Department of Health, based on a mask ordinance. As occurred in California. Nobody has shot a store clerk for having the temerity to require a mask. (By contrast, the one no-mask-no-service exchange that I witnessed — at the Merrifield Home Depot — was a model of civility). We didn’t have an private army storm the state house, which I think was a Wisconsin thing.
I don’t think we’ve even had any prominent public figures trash-talking mask use. (I just did a quick search, and only found the usual right-wingnut bloggers.)
We’ve had a couple of lawsuits to try to repeal parts of the COVID-19 restrictions. But all of those that I followed seemed to me to be at least somewhat reasonable (or irrelevant, affecting a very small population).
And, more to the point, at least in this area, compliance with that mask order has been good. In fact, compliance with all of the COVID-19-related orders has been pretty good. We had one pastor on the Easter Shore cited for defying the limits, but it was a nonsense case — there were 16 people in an otherwise-empty church, when the limit was 10. And that got tossed out in court — again, a sensible decision.
We had one guy, back in April, flagrantly defying any limits on the size of his church assembly (which were at that point merely guidance, not law). But in a fit of irony, or perhaps the hand of God, he died from COVID-19. This providing a great example, if nothing else.
So, in general, Virginians seem to be pretty reasonable about this whole thing. So far. Mask use is good enough, around here, that anyone in the grocery store without a mask really stands out. And, really, that’s about the best you can hope for.
Source: NY Times, as of 6/24/2020.
In summary, it strikes me that you have to have at least these three factors in place to avoid the fate that (e.g.) Arizona is now facing.
First, your state government can’t be stupid. You can’t (e.g.) do nothing, ban mask ordinances, pretend there’s no problem, politicize mask use, throw out public health restrictions based on legalisms, and so on. Any attempts to engage in that behavior are likely to earn you a major coronavirus penalty.
Second, you’ve got to able to keep people from crowding together indoors. (And, to a lesser extent, outdoors.) Because people have cabin fever, particularly young adults. If you live in a place where people are not going to choose to do their dining, drinking, and dancing outdoors, then you are always going to be running the risk of mass spreading events.
And where indoors is the only realistic option, you’ve got to have major players that have good sense. This includes restaurants and bars, sure, but to a very large degree it also includes churches. To the extent that you’ve got a lot of big, mainstream churches — all of which have issued sensible guidance, including restrictions on singing, mandatory mask use, and so on — then you’ve got a leg up. But if you’ve got large churches that ignore good sense, then that’s going to be your cross to bear.
Finally, your citizens need to have some common sense, and a willingness to obey the law. The common sense of the average American is certainly a slender reed upon which to hang recovery. But the fact is, if the bulk of your citizens disobey an ordinance, there is little that the government can do. You simply don’t have enough cops and courts to enforce a rule that affects literally every adult who is out in public, if that rule is ignored by most. This is very much a case of mob rule, and you have to hope that you’re in with a reasonably smart mob.
I see the states that are spiking now as two sorts. One is the states that are failing along one or more of those dimensions. Pick the state, I’ll tell you where I think they are failing.
But there’s a second contingent that has simply been surprised by this spike, and is now moving as fast as possible to contain it. I’d put (e.g.) Idaho and possibly Utah in this category. My guess is, they’ll get their act together sooner rather than later, and it will not get out of hand in those states.
Regardless of whether you buy that argument, I think we can all be thankful that Virginia isn’t one of the “spiking” states. And let’s keep it that way.