COLUMN — Virginia wasn’t ready for vaccine distribution

Published 8:50 am Friday, February 19, 2021

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Three issues have been causing turmoil for a year: unemployment, schools and vaccines.

Gov. Ralph Northam closed down the state with power not seen since colonial times, successfully driving folks into frenzies often asking for our help.


Closing businesses and schools has done damage to small local businesses that some will never recover from. Forced closures left many businesses with no choice but to lay off employees. As the ranks of unemployed overwhelmed the system, there was no backup plan to help families. When folks could not get help from the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC), many called legislators. Each of us tried to help but usually to no avail. Occasionally, we had success, but usually we received no more information.

Then, this week we find that the VEC was not only non-responsive to those that needed help, but it also was being conned by crooks. It paid an estimated $40 million to prisoners locked up behind bars. At least it was not as irresponsible as the head of the Washington State Employment Commission who gave out $600 million in benefits to international scammers.

It does point out that my efforts to bring the agency into the 21st century are valid. Most people looking for jobs go to any number of private companies that match qualified folks with jobs at no cost to the job seeker. Directing folks to those companies would allow the agency to allot the proper time to focus on those who need help.


The decision to close our schools made sense last March, but Gov. Northam decided that Virginia would be one of the first states to not reopen for the rest of the school year. Most families were unhappy, but they were also afraid for their children’s safety. They made do with, in some cases, life-changing decisions. Some had to put their careers on hold. Others had to find child care in locations that were overcrowded and understaffed.

We now know from data that the virus has had little effect on school-age young people and practically no effect on grade schoolers. What we do know is this — only exceptional students have been able to maintain successful academic progress. Many students, those most in need of help, are getting left behind. Many do not have the technology available to be taught virtually. Most have lost a year’s education. The decision will have to be made soon as to how we handle that. Do we promote them without them learning the basics needed for promotion, or do we require them to repeat their current grade level?

Academics are not the only issue involved. Young people develop better when they can socialize with others their age in the classroom, in the cafeteria or on the playing fields. People are motivated in different ways. For some, being on a team and competing is a great motivation. For others, interacting with others that are their age and with their same hopes, goals and fears makes the here and now more acceptable. We are now starting to understand the number of young people who have committed or attempted to commit suicide is alarming. In San Francisco, for example, the children’s hospital has had a 66% increase in suicide attempts by children and a 75% increase in hospitalizations for youths for mental health service. The General Assembly is pushing for opening schools.


We then arrived at the time we started to receive the vaccine. Some states were ready and hit the ground running. They believed President Trump when he said the vaccine would be available in the late fall. Other governors were caught flat-footed. Once they received the first shipment, then they started trying to figure out what to do. First, they sent it to hospitals without guidance, then they provided it to local health districts with little guidance, now they are planning to provide it to CVS pharmacies, but none in our region.

When people tried to make an appointment in most rural districts, they were not set up for the calls much less for the shots. If one called the state, they were referred to local health office websites. Few such districts have websites. Now, thankfully, the governor has concluded a statewide registration system is needed. They expect it to be available this week, almost 10 weeks later.

Frank Ruff Jr. represents Charlotte in the state Senate. His email address is