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Is Virginia’s Authoritarian Governor Overstepping His Powers?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
AP Photo/Steve Helber

Governor Northam has ordered local businesses to stay closed through May 8. He is operating under authority that he believes he has under Virginia law. 

Virginia’s emergency disaster law grants a Governor broad powers “to protect the public peace, health, and safety, and to preserve the lives and property and economic well-being of the people of the Commonwealth.”


Governor Northam, like many other leftist authoritarian governors, used his emergency powers to shut down businesses in his state in order to “save” people from coronavirus. Did he act within his powers?

Coronavirus, as of April 15, resulted in 195 deaths and 6,500 people testing positive in Virginia. We do not know how many of those cases are symptomatic, but based on research from the Princess Cruise, half of those testing positive for Coronavirus will be symptomatic, so we can predict that about 3,250 people in Virginia are actually sick from coronavirus. The coronavirus infection fatality rate in Virginia is 3%. 

According to the Virginia Department of Health, the 2019-2020 flu season has resulted in 1,424 flu deaths in Virginia and 11,875 people infected. Virginia had a 12% infection fatality rate based on these numbers. We can extrapolate that Virginia had at least 23,750 flu infections if we account for the 50%  asymptomatic flu rate. This number will be even higher if you include those who were sick but didn’t go to the doctor to be tested for the flu.

Comparing the two, it is evident that coronavirus has been only a fraction of the risk to Virginians that the flu has been. Coronavirus deaths compare as only one-fourth of Virginia’s flu deaths and the coronavirus fatality rate is one-half of Virginia’s flu fatality rate. 

Moreover, coronavirus is not expected to increase in threat to Virginians. According to Professor Yitzhak Ben-Israel of Tel Aviv University, who compared coronavirus infection patterns throughout the world, all regions experienced seemingly identical coronavirus infection patterns, with the number of infected peaking in the sixth week and rapidly subsiding by the eighth week. There are competing models that shout cataclysmic predictions in Nostradamus-style fortune-telling, but they have been proven utterly unreliable. Professor Ben-Israel’s findings are based on reality, based on what is actually happening without any attempt to soothsay. 


Considering these issues together and in context, we can say that coronavirus is a lesser threat to Virginians than the flu. 

A counter-argument likely forming in your mind at this very moment is that the stay at home order and business closure order has helped to mitigate the infection rate, right? Well, not so, according to Professor Ben-Israel‘s research. According to his review of the Wuhan Virus infection rates around the world, the virus maintains a fixed pattern that is not dependent on level freedom or quarantine. “There is a decline in the number of infections even [in countries] without closures, and it is similar to the countries with closures,” he wrote in his research paper. Irrespective of whether the country quarantined like Israel, or went about business as usual like Sweden, coronavirus peaked and subsided in the exact same way. There is no reason to believe the Wuhan Virus in Virginia will behave anomalously to the rest of the world. In fact, a Virginia-tailored model from UVA also predicts a decline in infections in Virginia. There is no reason to believe coronavirus is an impending threat of catastrophic or emergency proportions. Coronavirus is no friend, but nor is it the plague that we were fooled into believing either. 

If coronavirus is not wreaking havoc on Virginians, certainty not any more ferociously than the threats already among us, such as the flu, then how are we in the level of danger where we lose our American freedoms? And, does not Northam’s duty to Virginians also include the “economic well-being of the people,” as the Code of Virginia clearly states? 


Northam and Trump were initially acting under the rushed impression that a catastrophic death rate was imminent. But now we have learned that the prediction was astoundingly inaccurate and that even strict quarantine didn’t change the behavior of the virus. We learned that we didn’t even need to flatten the curve. This knowledge cannot be brushed away as an inconvenience. After all, the decisions that Northam is making are directly detrimental to the economic well-being of the people of Virginia: he is ordering businesses to close, for schools to close, and for people to remain sheltered — all under threat of criminal charges

On April 15, after all of the above was known, instead of announcing a reduction of his emergency controls, or a plan for moderate social distance policy, Northam doubled down on the tall tale and extended his rigorous control order for three more weeks. Northam ignored the data that showed his response was over-reactive and incommensurate with the threat from coronavirus. He just steered the course. Why? To stick it to Trump. Trump wanted governors to ease restrictions, to start getting our country back to normal. Northam played his power card against the man who he sees as an archenemy.  

Is Northam in violation of his authority? I believe so. Northam has a duty under Virginia law to act in the economic well-being of Virginians even during emergencies, and on April 15 he proved that economic well-being is of zero concern to him. Instead of tailoring reasonable, protective provisions — for example, requiring masks be worn by those in food preparation industries — Northam broadly ordered people to stay at home and for businesses to remain closed. The fact that many businesses will not be resurrected from the dead once he is through playing with their destiny was of no concern to Northam. He discarded business owners as a problem the feds might take care of, a dereliction of his duties.


Northam is carelessly forcing poverty on the small business owners of Virginia.

Coronavirus has sickened people throughout the world. So has the flu. So have many other viruses, diseases, and ailments. Yet we do not cease to be free and the world goes on, sick in tow. Do not err and assume I care not for the sick; I do, greatly, but my compassion does not overcome my reason. My emotion does not cloud my judgment. 

There will inevitably be pandemics in our future that threaten large portions of the world’s population, the likes of the Black Death. We will need to exercise all police powers to protect human health and safety in those situations. But coronavirus isn’t on a risk magnitude that necessitates the mandated poverty and economic destruction that would be reasonable sacrifices for the likes of a Black Death. There are more tailored, more reasonable, and less general ways to protect the people of Virginia. The least restrictive means need to be exercised at this time to protect the people, nothing more.

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