We hear incoming Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin is telling those in his inner circle he’s concerned about the pace of his transition. With just a few days to go before his inauguration and with less than half of key positions filled, he thinks things may be moving too slowly.
That doesn’t mean all the nominees for all the positions have to be announced before Inauguration Day. It means he needs to have enough of his team in place to begin work on the issues of importance to Virginians immediately.
Of these, one of the most important is COVID-19 management. Mr. Youngkin has one opportunity to break with the policies of his predecessor and inaugurate a post-pandemic, post-panic approach. That begins by recognizing that most everyone who wants a vaccine now has one and that it’s past time to move back to normal.
His predecessor paralyzed Virginia’s schools, businesses and families in an impossible quest to stop the inevitable. Fifteen days to flatten the curve have lasted more than two years. Team Youngkin needs to change the focus from testing the healthy back to treating the sick, where it belongs.
He can take three steps immediately that will put Virginia back on track to where it should be. First, we now know from experience that early treatment saves lives. So, follow the model used successfully by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to make easily accessible, non-hospital treatment available throughout the commonwealth by establishing infusion centers as needed. Regeneron treatments have shown to be more than 75% effective in preventing hospitalization and death in delta cases.
The omicron variant complicates things, but the PCR tests most Virginia labs already have can differentiate between the two strains. Report the data from these tests to a central clearinghouse that can then contact those testing positive for delta to get Regeneron treatment as soon as possible.
Those testing positive for omicron who are in high-risk groups should be given priority for Paxlovid and/or sotrovimab supplies, which the commonwealth needs to guarantee is accessible to physicians. Virginia doctors should be given an incentive to consider fluvoxamine scripts, inhalers or other existing treatments for symptoms instead of telling patients to “go home, do nothing, and head to an ER if you can’t breathe.”
Second, Mr. Youngkin needs to order better data collection and reporting. Only North Dakota and Iowa currently differentiate between people hospitalized for COVID-19 and people hospitalized for another condition who incidentally test positive in their daily reporting.
This matters — and the federal government could fix it, but the Biden administration and HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra don’t seem to care. Virginia could take the lead for the nation by ordering honest reporting, including the total census, COVID-19 primary census, COVID-19 incidental census presented in a historical context. Real numbers will drive better outcomes, not panic.
Finally, Mr. Youngkin can make sure Virginia’s hospitals have all the frontline workers they need by overruling the ridiculous Biden policy that unvaccinated health care workers on the frontlines lose their jobs. These doctors, nurses, technicians, therapists and orderlies have worked through the pandemic for two years and experienced multiple COVID-19 exposures. If they want to work unvaccinated, let them, especially since the existing vaccines have little protection against the omicron variant.
Instead of letting health care workers go, Mr. Youngkin should use leftover federal CARES Act dollars to pay hiring and retention bonuses to ensure those who know the most about effective COVID-19 treatments remain on the frontlines. Make Virginia the place health care workers everywhere want to be. These three things will change COVID-19 management in Virginia for the better. Mr. Youngkin should start the ball rolling on them on day one before the judgment begins.
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