Opinion: Commentary: Battling the Coronavirus – Efforts Must Be Expanded

Opinion: Commentary: Battling the Coronavirus – Efforts Must Be Expanded

It has been four months since the Centers for Disease Control confirmed the first case of coronavirus disease, called COVID-19, in the United States. As of May 11, over 800 Virginians have died, 3,200 hospitalized and over 25,000 Virginians have tested positive for this virus. Only about 1.7% of Virginians or 147,000 have been tested. Our hospitalization rate has continued to climb with over 1,500 people currently in the hospital. The rate of infection has slowed, but this virus has hit our community very unevenly.

While nearly every Virginia locality has seen infections, infections have mostly been concentrated. While Northern Virginia has the highest raw number of infections, outbreaks on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Shenandoah Valley and Northern Neck are proportionally more severe than they are here. Several of our prisons, local jails and juvenile detention facilities have experienced outbreaks and four inmates being held for non-violent offenses have died.

Disproportionate Impacts

The Hispanic community has been disproportionately, adversely affected. Neighborhood Health operates a clinic on U.S. 1 on Beacon Hill. Although only 50% of their patients are Latino, 90% of their positive tests have been Latinos and 74% of those tested lack health insurance. The Northern Virginia zip codes with the highest concentrations of positive tests also have largest numbers of Latino residents including the U.S. 1 Corridor, Manassas, Herndon, and Bailey’s Crossroads.

This week, I will be working with other legislators who represent significant Latino constituents to ask our state and local governments to target more resources on these communities. For example, one recent study showed we could reduce infection rates by 80 percent if everyone simply wore a mask. We can deploy mobile clinics and can also improve communications.

Unemployment has also been uneven. Friday’s unemployment data showed that the unemployment rate in the Latino community is 18.9%, 16.7% among African-American workers and 14% for White and Asian workers. However, for people with a high school degree or less, unemployment is between 17-21% while for people with a college degree, it is 8.4%.

While over $12 billion of Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loans have been approved for Virginia businesses, the funds for those loans will be exhausted by mid-June and with consumer spending declining, our economy will likely struggle to recover.

All pandemic experts say that we cannot have economic stability without controlling the virus and we cannot control the virus without sufficient testing and contact tracing. Daily testing in Virginia is averaging up, but was mostly below what Gov. Ralph Northam says we need. Virginia has hired only 325 of 1,275 needed contact tracers.

Although I feel it is premature to reopen our economy at this point, the Governor issued an executive order lifting a few restrictions on May 8. Personal care services such as barber and hair styling can proceed with limitations. Restaurants, craft breweries and wineries can allow outdoor seating, and farmer’s markets can reopen with restrictions. Gyms and recreation facilities must remain closed although outdoor activities can proceed. Pools can open but only for lap swimming. Beaches remain closed except for fishing and exercise. Summer camps, schools and colleges must remain closed except for distance learning.

I believe hospitalization numbers should be consistently declining plus adequate testing and contact tracing in operation. It appears that the Governor may give regions the authority to keep existing restrictions in place and that is likely to be announced by the time this goes to print so check the news.

Information and Tests

You can continue to see real time updates and links to the Governor’s newest orders on my blog – The Dixie Pig – at scottsurovell.blogspot.com. You can locate a clinic to be tested for COVID-19 on the Virginia Department of Health COVID-19 website, https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/. There are seven locations in the 36th Senate District that offer testing.

Thank you for your patience as we continue to respond to this evolving threat and its consequences. Please look out for your neighbors and those in our community who need help. Please consider others and wear a mask if you are in public.

In the meantime, if you have any feedback or have any questions, please send me an email at scott@scottsurovell.org.