On November 13, 2020, Attorney General Mark R. Herring successfully defended Virginia’s new red flag law, when Judge Glen E. Conrad in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia agreed with Attorney General Herring and dismissed the case.
“Virginians voted overwhelmingly for gun violence prevention last November and the General Assembly delivered by passing proven-effective measures, like this so-called ‘red flag’ law,” said Attorney General Herring. “In Virginia, we have already seen how this ‘red flag’ law has been used to save lives by keeping firearms out of the hands of someone who could use it to harm themselves or others. Too many Virginians have lost loved ones at the end of a gun, and I am proud that my team and I were able to successfully defend this important law that will continue to save lives and keep communities safe.”
The suit was filed in July against the Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney and Chief of Police by a man who claimed Virginia’s new red flag law was unconstitutional. Attorney General Herring represented the Commonwealth’s Attorney and successfully argued that the case should be dismissed. In his order, Judge Conrad explains why he agrees with the Attorney General that the case should be dismissed, concluding the order by saying, “the court will grant the motions to dismiss filed by the defendants. The complaint will be dismissed without prejudice for lack of standing.”
This summer, Attorney General Herring was successful in defending Virginia’s one-handgun-a-month law against the gun lobby’s attacks in Goochland County Circuit Court. In that case, Judge Timothy K. Sanner found that the gun lobby was unlikely to succeed in convincing the Court that the law was unconstitutional.
Additionally, in July, a judge largely upheld Virginia’s expanded background check law when he agreed with nearly all of Attorney General Herring’s arguments for the law’s constitutionality. Attorney General Herring is currently appealing the judges ruling and fighting to ensure the law is upheld in its entirety.
This year, the General Assembly passed historic gun safety legislation that Attorney General Herring fought for during his time both as a state senator and as attorney general. In addition to reinstating the one-handgun-a-month law, the legislation included universal background checks, an Extreme Risk Protective Order, a mandate to report a lost or stolen firearm, among others.
American Rescue Plan funding to increase support for victims of crime, provide hazard pay for law enforcement and correctional officers
Governor Ralph Northam announced on July 29, 2021, that Virginia plans to direct more than $114 million in federal and state funding to support public safety initiatives across the Commonwealth. The Governor’s proposal includes $62 million in hazard pay and compensation for public safety officials, $35 million to address COVID-19 in correctional facilities, and $17 million for crime reduction and prevention programs and services for victims of crime.
“We are grateful for Virginia’s public safety officials who have worked overtime throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Governor Northam.” This critical investment will give us more resources to recruit and retain law enforcement and correctional officers, bolster our efforts to reduce gun violence, and help ensure the safety of families and communities across the Commonwealth.”
The proposed investment includes state funding as well as federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan (ARP). The Governor’s plan provides hazard pay for local and state law enforcement and correctional officers who served during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as funding for recruitment and retention. The Governor’s plan includes $20 million for Virginia State Police, $10 million for the Department of Corrections, and $11 million to address critical staffing shortages at local and regional jails and sheriff’s departments. This also includes compensation for medical contractors, cafeteria and janitorial workers, and other support staff. The two-year budget that Governor Northam submits in December will include an additional $20 million to address pay scale compression for the Virginia State Police.
“The last year and a half have been tough on everyone, and this investment in public safety will provide much-needed relief to local and state law enforcement agencies and help localities to continue supporting victims of domestic and gun violence,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran. “This funding is in recognition of the critical jobs they perform.”
“Recruitment and pay compression issues have led to an increasing number of vacancies at State Police over the past several years—these issues were only magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Wayne Huggins, Executive Director of the Virginia State Police Association (VSPA).” VSPA is encouraged that this issue is being addressed in an ongoing and comprehensive manner. We appreciate the Governor’s support and commitment.”
This investment also includes $35 million to address COVID-19 within facilities operated by the Department of Corrections and Department of Juvenile Justice. Funding will allow for rate increases for medical contractors and staff positions to support COVID-19 management. It will also provide testing supplies, personal protective equipment, ventilation modifications in correctional facilities, quarantine spaces, and tents to enable outdoor visitation.
“Today’s announcement shows that we are dedicated to protecting Virginian’s families and keeping our communities safe,” said House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn. “I am proud of our strong investment in crime prevention measures and the commitment to supporting survivors of domestic violence.”
“This has been a difficult year, and it is crucial we use the available ARPA funds to support Virginia’s COVID-19 recovery,” said Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw. “Law enforcement compensation has been a long-standing issue, and I am pleased we are able to address it now.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the demand for domestic violence and sexual assault programming and support services for crime victims in the Commonwealth. Since 2019, the number of individuals seeking shelter and contacts to the Virginia Statewide Hotline has risen significantly. The funding proposal includes $12.2 million in new resources for victims of crime and survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, elder abuse, and child abuse. An additional $1 million will be dedicated to the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Victim Fund, which will provide funding for prosecution and victim support.
The funding proposal designates $2.5 million for gun violence reduction initiatives within the Office of the Attorney General and more than $500,000 for the Department of Forensic Science to increase capacity to analyze firearms evidence. An additional $800,000 for the Department of Criminal Justice Services, which will administer a one-time grant to the City of Hampton to support an employment program for court-involved youth and adults facing barriers to employment, expand services for those participating in or at risk of participating in gun violence, and provide counseling or mental health services for those exposed to violence. These programs will work in conjunction with the Governor’s proposal to invest ARP funds in community-based services and substance abuse treatment.
“I am proud of this substantial investment in gun violence prevention in our Commonwealth,” said Senator Janet Howell, Chair of the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee. “I have been a strong advocate for violence prevention measures and know this funding will provide critical services to impacted community members.”
“This funding will help address current public safety needs, including first responder staffing shortages and support for victims of crime, and help us to prepare for the future,” said Delegate Luke Torian, Chair of the House Appropriations Committee. “Throughout this difficult year, Virginia has shown that smart investments pay off for the public.”
“Handling the issue of salary compression and hazard pay for our local and state law enforcement officers and the Department of Corrections will help us to recruit, train, and retain more qualified and diverse officers,” said Delegate Lamont Bagby, Chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus. “All Virginians will benefit from this comprehensive public safety funding, which includes necessary financial support for law enforcement offices and assistance for victims of violence.”
Governor Northam announced that there will be no mask mandate; mask recommended but not required
On July 29, 2021, Governor Northam announced that there will be no mask mandate. Northam did say that wearing masks in public indoor settings with a higher risk of coronavirus transmission “is not a requirement, but a recommendation.”
The Governor’s Twitter account also sent out the following:
The Governor said that more information would be released soon.
New funding commitment supplements $833 million going directly to Virginia higher education institutions through American Rescue Plan
On July 29, 2021, Governor Ralph Northam visited Virginia Tech where he announced that Virginia plans to use $111 million in American Rescue Plan funding to increase access to financial aid for low- and moderate-income undergraduate students. The proposal designates $100 million for public higher education institutions through the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia, and $11 million for private institutions eligible for the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant program.
“The economic uncertainty of this pandemic has led many to question whether a college degree was still an affordable reality,” said Governor Northam. “Our Administration has worked hard to make higher education accessible to every Virginian, and this targeted investment represents a significant stride towards that goal. Increasing access to financial aid will help create more equitable pathways to opportunity and put a world-class education within reach of even more students.”
“In order for Virginia to be the best-educated state in the nation, we must continue to invest in financial aid and improve access to affordable higher education,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “It is critical that we dedicate federal relief funds to build on our past investments in financial assistance and bolster our education and talent pipelines.”
This proposed investment supplements more than $833 million that will be made available to Virginia colleges and universities through the American Rescue Plan Act’s Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund III. These funds will be received directly by institutions of higher education and must be used for financial assistance for students as well as for qualifying institutional purposes.
“Virginia’s colleges and universities rank amongst the top in the nation, and we must do everything in our power to ensure that all Virginians have equitable access to these institutions, regardless of wealth or income level,” said Senator Mamie Locke, Chair of the Senate Finance and Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee. “I am proud of the work that we have done in recent years to address the affordability of higher education. The dedication of these federal funds continues those efforts and is particularly impactful during these challenging times for students.”
The Governor’s proposal also commits $10 million to enhance the Online Virginia Network, which facilitates online coursework and degrees from George Mason University, Old Dominion University, James Madison University, and community colleges.
“Over the last year, we saw students delay or pause their pursuit of higher education during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Delegate Betsy Carr, Chair of the House Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee. “This funding signals our dedication to ensuring that students in need of financial aid are able to access it, especially as we confront the ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“Today, we are following through on our commitment to Virginia’s students and investing not simply in financial aid but in the Commonwealth’s future,” said Delegate Chris Hurst, member of the House Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee. “This funding will open the doors for higher education to low- and middle-income Virginians across the Commonwealth.”
“Higher education faced numerous challenges over the past 16 months, and it was an especially difficult time for our students,” said Timothy Sands, President of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. “For many who were already facing financial strain, the impact of COVID-19 threatened to push their higher education dream out of reach. We are grateful to the Governor and General Assembly for these additional funds to support financial aid at this critical time, and for their continued investment in the future of our students and the Commonwealth.”
In May, Governor Northam and General Assembly leaders released a joint statement outlining shared priorities for allocating the $4.3 billion in federal funds available to the Commonwealth from the American Rescue Plan. Throughout this week and in advance of the August 2nd special session, Governor and legislative leaders are highlighting proposals for allocating these funds and have announced $250 million for school modernization and air quality improvements in school buildings, $411.5 million to reduce water pollution and increase access to clean water, $935.6 million to replenish the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund and accelerate critical upgrades to the Virginia Employment Commission, and $485 million to strengthen Virginia’s behavioral health system.
Governor Northam announces $485 million funding commitment to strengthen Virginia’s behavioral health system
Governor Ralph Northam announced on July 28, 2021, that the Commonwealth will commit $485 million in federal and state funding to address pressing challenges in Virginia’s behavioral health system. The plan includes targeted investments to alleviate pressure on state mental health hospitals, strengthen community-based services, and increase support for substance abuse treatment and prevention programs.
The Governor made the announcement at the Arlington County Community Services Board and was joined by Senator Adam Ebbin and Delegates Mark Sickles, Patrick Hope, and Alfonso Lopez for a tour of the Crisis Intervention Center and a roundtable with behavioral health leaders. The announcement is part of “Investment Week,” during which the Governor and legislative leaders are highlighting proposals for allocating the $4.3 billion in American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding available to the Commonwealth in advance of the August 2nd special session.
“Every Virginian should have access to the behavioral health care and treatment they need, either in their home communities or in a state-operated facility,” said Governor Northam. “The pandemic has led to increases in depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, and other mental health issues in Virginia and across the country, which has added to the strain on our behavioral health system and the valued people who work within it. This funding package is a down payment that will significantly increase support for our state hospitals, community-based providers, and substance abuse prevention and treatment programs so they can best help those who rely on their services.”
The Governor’s plan solidifies the Commonwealth’s ongoing commitment to increasing access to community-based services and ensuring the safety of staff and patients in Virginia’s 12 state hospitals and centers. Additional capital investments will support improvements to state facility infrastructure, including water treatment, ventilation, and sewer systems.
“COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on both the mental and physical health of Virginians,” said Secretary of Health and Human Resources Daniel Carey, MD, MHCM. “These investments will mean Virginians will receive the care they need in the communities where they live.”
The $485 million investment includes state funding as well as federal dollars from the ARP and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act and is broadly focused on three areas—state mental hospitals, community-based services, and opioid and substance abuse treatment.
Virginia’s mental health hospitals have faced high census levels for a number of years and the pandemic has made the situation more challenging. The funding package has nearly $200 million for staffing at state behavioral health facilities and intellectual disability training centers. This includes $45 million to continue staff bonuses and an additional $154 million in the two-year budget Governor Northam will submit in December for salary adjustments.
“State hospitals are in desperate need of help,” said Senator Louise Lucas, Chair of the Senate Education and Health Committee. “This funding will mean that Virginians can access the quality care they need, when they need it, without placing a burden on our community services.”
“These measures outline a significant step towards ensuring state hospitals remain operational for the immediate and foreseeable future,” said Delegate Mark Sickles, Chair of the House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee. “We have to take action now to address these critical issues.”
The funding proposal also includes $150 million to increase access to community-based crisis services and child and family support services, and provide dispatcher training for the Marcus Alert program, a new statewide mental health alert system designed to ensure behavioral health experts are involved in responding to individuals in crisis. An additional $5 million dollars will be dedicated to providing permanent supportive housing in Northern Virginia to assist with bed shortages.
“Over the past eight years, we have worked to restructure our mental health system and to better fund services, but we still have much to do to best help Virginians with mental health needs,” said Senator George Barker, member of the Senate Finance Committee and the Behavioral Health Commission. “The federal dollars will help meet needs now, and we will continue to build the best mental health system in the 2022 legislative session.”
“Today’s announcement is a down payment toward our long-term commitment to improving Virginia’s behavioral health system,” said Delegate Patrick Hope, Vice-Chair of the Behavioral Health Commission. “It is only through a sustainable investment in community-based care will we truly recognize the lasting benefit and I am committed to a fully-funded community safety net to meet all our behavioral health needs.”
“Expanding community capacity ensures patients are cared for in an appropriate setting,” said Delegate Rodney Willett, Chair of the Behavioral Health Subcommittee. “I am grateful for the partnership between the Department of Behavioral Health and Development Services, the Administration, the General Assembly, and the private sector to ensure equitable behavioral health services across the state.”
The plan also allocates $103 million for opioid and substance abuse treatment services. In 2020, Virginia saw nearly 2,300 overdose deaths, a 41 percent increase from the previous year, and the 2021 number is projected to be even higher. This funding will support community-based prevention, peer counseling, and harm reduction services.
CDC updates mask wearing guidelines
On July 27, 2021, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) updated its mask-wearing guidelines as follows:
- If you are fully vaccinated, you can participate in many of the activities that you did before the pandemic.
- To maximize protection from the Delta variant and prevent possibly spreading it to others, wear a mask indoors in public if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission.
- Wearing a mask is most important if you have a weakened immune system or if, because of your age or an underlying medical condition, you are at increased risk for severe disease, or if someone in your household has a weakened immune system, is at increased risk for severe disease, or is unvaccinated. If this applies to you or your household, you might choose to wear a mask regardless of the level of transmission in your area.
- You should continue to wear a mask where required by law, rules, regulations, or local guidance.
The CDC has the level of Community Transmission in Warren County as high.
The Virginia Department of Health reports the following:
Dr. Rochelle Walensky and CDC officials held a briefing on July 27, 2021, to provide updated guidance on mask-wearing for vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
“In areas with substantial and high transmission, CDC recommends fully vaccinated people wear masks in public indoor settings to help prevent the spread of the Delta variant,” Said Dr. Walensky.
Here is the transcript from that meeting:
Dr. Rochelle Walensky: As you have heard from me previously, this pandemic continues to pose a serious threat to the health of all Americans. I have said, throughout my tenure at CDC, that our guidance and recommendations will follow the science in our efforts to protect the health of as many Americans as possible. And today we have new science related to the Delta variant that requires us to update the guidance regarding what you can do when you are fully vaccinated. The Delta variant is showing every day its willingness to outsmart us and to be an opportunist in areas where we have not shown a fortified response against it.
This week, our data showed that Delta remains the predominant variant circulating in the United States. Eight in 10 sequence samples contain the Delta variant. In recent days, I have seen new scientific data from recent outbreak investigations showing that the Delta variant behaves uniquely differently from past strains of the virus that cause COVID-19. Information on the Delta variant from several states and other countries indicates that on rare occasions, some vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant after vaccination may be contagious and spread the virus to others. This new science is worrisome and unfortunately warrants an update to our recommendations.
First, we continue to strongly encourage everyone to get vaccinated. Getting vaccinated continues to prevent severe illness, hospitalization, and death, even with Delta. It also helps reduce the spread of the virus in our communities. Vaccinated individuals continue to represent a very small amount of transmission occurring around the country. We continue to estimate that the risk of a breakthrough infection with symptoms upon exposure to the Delta variant is reduced by seven-fold. The reduction is 20-fold for hospitalizations and deaths. As CDC has recommended for months, unvaccinated individuals should get vaccinated and continue masking until they are fully vaccinated.
In areas with substantial and high transmission, CDC recommends that fully vaccinated people wear masks in public indoor settings to help prevent the spread of the Delta variant and protect others. This includes schools. CDC recommends that everyone in K-12 schools wear a mask indoors, including teachers, staff, students, and visitors, regardless of vaccination status. Children should return to full-time in-person learning in the fall with proper prevention strategies in place. Finally, CDC recommends community leaders encourage vaccination and universal masking to prevent further outbreaks in areas of substantial and high transmission.
With the Delta variant, vaccinating more Americans now is more urgent than ever. The highest spread of cases and severe outcomes are happening in places with low vaccination rates and among unvaccinated people. This moment and most importantly, the associated illness, suffering, and death could have been avoided with higher vaccination coverage in this country. COVID-19 continues to present many challenges and has exacted a tremendous toll on our nation. We continue to follow the science closely and update the guidance should the science shift again. We must take every step we can to stop the Delta variant and end this pandemic. Now I’m happy to take your questions. Thank you.
What does this mean for vaccinated Americans? Who are these guidelines trying to protect if vaccinated Americans are not commonly hospitalized or dying from COVID and transmission is not as common? Are these guidelines mostly trying to protect them or the unvaccinated? And if it’s the latter, then how do these guidelines protect vaccinated and if this is the latter, then how do these guidelines protect the unvaccinated?
I think the most important thing to understand is the vaccines continued to do an exceptional job in protecting the individual who is vaccinated from severe illness, hospitalization, and death, and even, I guess, mild illness as they have indicated.
But your point is well taken and what is different with the Delta variant than what the Alpha variant is that in those cases, those rare cases that we have breakthrough infections, we felt it important for people to understand that they have the potential to transmit the virus to others.
Now, importantly, to convey in all of this is that of the transmission that is happening in the country right now, the vast majority of transmission occurring is occurring through unvaccinated individuals. But on that exception that there might have a vaccine breakthrough, we thought it was important for people to understand that they could pass the disease onto someone else. And that is important in the case, for example, of a vaccinated individual who might be going to visit an immunocompromised family member. We wanted to make sure that they took the precautions necessary to not pass the virus to them.
Is there a better way to think about the situation with Delta now? What are you telling your vaccinated friends and family when they go out for dinner, for example?
I think we still largely are in a pandemic of the unvaccinated. The vast majority of transmission, the vast majority of severe disease, hospitalization, and death, is almost exclusively happening among unvaccinated people which is why we so very much want to double down on making sure people continue to get vaccinated.
That said if you have vaccinated individuals who are in a place that with substantial or high transmission, there are contacting a lot of people, one in 21 in 10 of those contacts, could potentially lead to a breakthrough infection if you have an effectiveness of 90 to 95%. And so that’s why we’re saying in areas of substantial or high transmission, even if you are vaccinated, that we believe it’s important to wear a mask in those settings.
One, you said that you are seeing some who are fully vaccinated contribute to the spread. Can you say exactly how many people you have seen from this data that are vaccinated that are spreading this?
And secondly, when it comes to having everyone, regardless of vaccination status wear a mask in school, can you explain the thinking behind that? And are you worried that it will take away the incentive for some parents to get their children who are eligible to be vaccinated, vaccinated?
First, with regard to your first question, we are now actively conducting outbreak investigations of what is occurring in places that are having clusters and many of you have heard of many of those clusters.
What we’ve learned in that context is that when we examine the rarer breakthrough infections, and we look at the amount of virus in those people, it is pretty similar to the amount of viruses in unvaccinated people. We are now continuing to follow those clusters to understand the impact of forward transmission of those vaccinated people. But again, I want to reiterate, we believe the vast majority of transmission is occurring in unvaccinated people and through unvaccinated people. But unlike the Alpha variant that we had back in May, where we didn’t believe that if you were vaccinated, you could transmit further, this is different now with the Delta variant, and we’re seeing now that it’s actually possible if your rare breakthrough infection that you can transmit further, which is the reason for the change.
With regard to school, when we released our school guidance on July 9th, we had less Delta variants in this country. We had fewer cases in this country. And importantly, we were really hopeful that we would have more people vaccinated, especially in the demographic between 12 and 17 years old.
Next week, we have many school systems that are starting around the country and I think we all agree that children 11 and less are not going to be able to be vaccinated and with only 30% of our kids between 12 and 17 fully vaccinated now, more cases in this country and a real effort to try and make sure that our kids can safely get back to full in-person learning in the fall, we’re recommending that everybody wear masks right now.
Some people have asked me, why change math guidance to protect people who decide not to get vaccinated, even though they can. Can you say something about the role, the unvaccinated person who gets infected, even if they have mild or no illness, can play in the development of the next variant of concern, with that variant potentially going on to have a higher chance of potentially infecting those of us who are vaccinated.
The first thing I think we all need to acknowledge is there are some people who are not able to be fully vaccinated, like children, and some people who are not able to be fully protected even though they are vaccinated like immuno-compromised people.
So part of the reason for this guidance is to make sure that we can protect those and that people who are seeing immuno-compromised people, for example, know how to protect them, even though they themselves may be fully vaccinated.
But your point is well taken about those who have made the choice to not get vaccinated and the amount of virus that is circulating in this country right now. So for the amount of viruses circulating in this country, largely among unvaccinated people, the largest concern that I think we in public health and science are worried about is that virus and the potential mutations away we are from a very transmissible virus that has the potential to evade our vaccine, in terms of how it protects us from severe disease and deaths.
Right now, fortunately, we are not there. These vaccines operate really well in protecting us about severe forms of severe disease and deaths. But the big concern is that the next variant that might emerge, just a few mutations potentially away, could potentially invade our vaccine.
I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about the data showing that some vaccinated individuals have similar viral loads to unvaccinated. And if you could talk about whether the CDC is looking at expanding the mask guidance to maybe require masking indoors, in public spaces, in all circumstances or other being indoors in public spaces, in all circumstances or other public health measures, given the spread of Delta?
So, as I mentioned, in these outbreak investigations, we are able to stratify the clusters that we are seeing. Unfortunately, because we have so much disease right now, some of these clusters are large, and we’re able to stratify them by a smaller proportion that is vaccinated and breakthrough infections, and a larger proportion that is unvaccinated. And so, when we look at their Ct values, or otherwise their viral load, and what we’re seeing is that they’re actually quite similar. That leads us to believe that the breakthrough infections, where they are, have the potential to [inaudible] transmit with the same capacity as an unvaccinated person. So the burden is less because there are fewer of them people-wise, but the amount of virus is the thing between those two strata.
In terms of otherwise updating our guidance, we’re not looking at that right now. What I will say is if you are in a place that doesn’t have very much disease out there, obviously I should mention, it’s always a personal choice as to whether someone chooses to wear a mask or not, and that should not something that is stigmatized or otherwise. But in terms of our guidance, if you have a vaccine that is 90 to 95% effective and you don’t have very much disease around, the chance of you getting infected should you meet somebody, is already pretty low, but then the chance that you’re going to meet somebody who is infected is also pretty low. So the potential for this to be a problem is much, much lower in areas with low amounts of disease, which is why we really need to work hard to get these areas in the country that have substantial and high amounts of the transmission right now, down to lower amounts of transmission, to protect the unvaccinated and get them vaccinated, and also to protect the vaccinated.
Dr. Walensky, can you tell me whether or not you are intending to start collecting and releasing data on the breakthrough cases? I mean, a while back, the CDC announced that they were not going to be reporting on this data, but it looks like the Delta VarianT is changing the equation in a lot of ways. When will we start to see those data?
I would like to correct a misperception that is out there. The first thing I want to say is we are collecting passive reporting data on people who are hospitalized and who have died, but we recognize that epidemiologically, that is not going to give us the best information with regard to rates of breakthrough infection because passive data collection is generally underreported. In order to counter that. We have been collecting data through more than 20 cohorts of people. These include tens of thousands of people who we are following nationwide, and they include healthcare workers, essential workers, long-term care facilities, and in some of these cohorts, we’re collecting PCR data from every person in them weekly. So we are absolutely studying and evaluating breakthrough infections in many different sites, many different people across the country. We are looking at those data on a weekly to bi-weekly basis, and we will be reporting on those soon.
Can you just sort of define how you assess substantial and high transmission? If someone reading, one of our stories wants to know if this applies to them, how are they supposed to know what their community level of transmission is, and in turn when they should be wearing a mask, and then maybe if rates fall, when they can kind put them back away?
So the CDC COVID Data Tracker tracks the amount of community transmission by county and is updated daily. It’s color-coded, so substantial is orange and high is red, and in fact, most departments of public health and local jurisdictions track this pretty carefully as well. We can get you the link, of course, to find the data. But the important thing I want to continue is what it means. Substantial transmission in areas that have 50 to 100 cases per a hundred thousand over a seven-day period, and substantial are places that have more than a hundred cases in a seven-day period per hundred thousand. So I do want to sort of articulate that we have places in counties and states here that are now reporting over 300 cases per hundred thousand over a seven-day period, so really an extraordinary amount of viral transmission, which is what we’re concerned about.
I am wondering if given what you now know about the Delta variant and the transmissibility if the CDC is giving any thought to recommending vaccine mandates, for instance, of the federal workforce or the military, which President Biden could impose, or mandates perhaps for schools or employers?
So that is not something that the CDC has jurisdiction over. We certainly will be technical advisors to the government as they’re making these decisions. What I will say is that we are recommending that communities look to their community levels and really look to what would motivate their communities to help get vaccinated. If businesses believe that it would be a mandate, then we encourage them to do so. We’re encouraging really any activities that would motivate further vaccination. Not all communities are going to be responsive to a mandate, in the same way, so we’re really encouraging communities to look to their own areas and see what would be most motivational to get vaccinated.
High caliber masks, because in areas where there are low vaccination rates, one would expect that mask adoption would also be low. In order to sort of maximum personal protection, are you emphasizing N95 masks over cloth and surgical?
Right now, often surgical.
Right now, we’re really motivated to get people masked to prevent transmission. If people have a personal choice as to whether they have access to and want to wear an N95, we leave that to their personal decision, the CDC does have guidance as to what are the best masks to wear, a multi-layer cloth mask, a surgical mask. So we’re leaving that to the CDC guidance on masking
Doctor, given the definitions that you’ve had here of the high and substantial transmission, and I understand that you’re doing it county by county, will you consider much of the state of Missouri now as in high or substantial transmission and subject to the recommendations that the CDC is making this afternoon? And are some of the clusters that you are investigating also in the state of Missouri?
The state of Missouri, I’m actually just even looking, but my understanding is the state of Missouri is largely classified as higher substantial. It’s not entirely, but it’s largely classified as substantial or high with a few exceptions in the county. And we are collaborating with the state when they ask for our assistance related to outbreak investigation
One of the big outstanding questions here is how much compliance we might expect to get in terms of folks masking up indoors. Have you done any type of modeling work to get a sense of if you get certain percent compliance, whether that would be sufficient in helping to drive down cases at this time?
We work together. We worked together with numerous modeling groups. I don’t specifically know which ones might have examined that. So I think I should probably refrain from answering that right now, but I suspect that one of the modeling groups has examined the question. I really do believe that masking right now, especially for those unvaccinated, is a temporary measure. What we really need to do to drive down these transmissions in areas of high transmission is to get more and more people vaccinated and in the meantime to use masks.
I just have one sort of closing remark.
So I just want to indicate that this is not a decision that we or CDC has made lightly. This weighs heavily on me. I know at 18 months through this pandemic, not only are people tired, they’re frustrated. We have mental health challenges in this country. We have a lot of continued sickness and death in this country. Our health systems are, in some places, being overrun for what is preventable. And I know in the context of all of that, it is not a welcomed piece of news that masking is going to be a part of people’s lives who have already been vaccinated.
So this new data weighs heavily on me. This new guidance weighs heavily on me, and I just wanted to convey that this was not a decision that was taken lightly. Public health experts, scientific experts, medical experts, when we have shown them these data have universally said that this required action. I thought and I felt that when I saw the data myself. So I just wanted to perhaps close and say that this was not something that we took lightly and something that I know weighs heavily with me and with all of America.
Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH, is the 19th Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the ninth Administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. She is an influential scholar whose pioneering research has helped advance the national and global response to HIV/AIDS. Dr. Walensky is also a well-respected expert on the value of testing and treatment of deadly viruses.
Dr. Walensky served as Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital from 2017-2020 and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School from 2012-2020. She served on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic and conducted research on vaccine delivery and strategies to reach underserved communities.
Dr. Walensky is recognized internationally for her work to improve HIV screening and care in South Africa and is nationally recognized for motivating health policy and informing clinical trial design and evaluation in a variety of settings.
She is a past Chair of the Office of AIDS Research Advisory Council at the National Institutes of Health, Chair-elect of the HIV Medical Association, and previously served as an advisor to both the World Health Organization and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.
Originally from Maryland, Dr. Walensky received her Bachelor of Arts from Washington University in St. Louis, her Doctor of Medicine from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and her Masters in Public Health from the Harvard School of Public Health.
Judge dismisses legal challenge seeking to block DOE’s newly implemented “Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students in Virginia’s Public Schools”
Attorney General Mark R. Herring has successfully defended the Department of Education’s “Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students in Virginia’s Public Schools” in court against legal attacks from conservative activists. Earlier this spring, two lawsuits were filed, that were eventually consolidated into one lawsuit, seeking to block the newly implemented policy. Judge J. Frederick Watson in Lynchburg Circuit Court dismissed each of the consolidated cases, following arguments from Attorney General Herring’s Office.
“Every single child who goes to school in the Commonwealth deserves a positive, safe, nurturing learning environment, without the fear of discrimination or harassment simply because of who they are,” said Attorney General Herring. “We must do all we can to ensure that transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming students feel supported and protected, and this model policy gives school divisions the roadmap to doing just that in their schools. I am incredibly proud of the work my team did defending Virginia’s model policy for transgender students, and I hope that today’s win shows young people all over the Commonwealth that they will be supported here.”
Attorney General Herring has made protecting and defending members of Virginia’s LGBTQ community a top priority during his time in office. Earlier this month, he again successfully defended the Virginia Values Act, a landmark piece of civil rights legislation that protects LGBTQ Virginians and others from discrimination, against another legal attack by conservative activists. He created the Office of Civil Rights in order to expand, enhance, and centralize his ongoing work to protect Virginians from discrimination and to secure and expand the rights of all Virginians, including combating LGBTQ and gender-based discrimination.
Attorney General Herring also successfully argued that Virginia’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples was unconstitutional and should be struck down. Additionally, he championed legislation that updated Virginia’s definition of a hate crime to include gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability, and he has supported numerous federal laws and regulations that put more protections in place for LGBTQ Americans.