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How well have governments handled the COVID-19 pandemic?

And when should Virginia get back to business?

Richmond, VA  |  May 8, 2020 12:00pm  |  By Tom Lappas

Nearly two months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Virginians are beginning to show splintered views about whether the state should continue stay-at-home measures or begin to re-open the state.

In the inaugural survey of Richmond Power Poll voting members, we wanted to know what our community leaders thought about the virus and the manner in which local, state and federal leaders have handled it – as well as when they believe companies in the state should be allowed to get back to business.

(The Richmond region is the most recent one to join the Power Poll network. Each month, Power Poll affiliates in 15 markets nationwide, including Atlanta, Louisville, Miami, Nashville, New Orleans and Oakland, survey local leaders about local, regional or national topics of interest.)

Overall, the 32 survey respondents rated the efforts of Metro Richmond localities most favorably, followed by Gov. Ralph Northam’s response at the state level and then President Donald Trump’s effort at the federal level.

About 63 percent of respondents characterized the responses of localities and Northam as “above average” or “excellent.” But the localities overall were viewed more favorably than Northam; 97 percent rated their efforts as average or better, compared with 78 percent who rated Northam that way.

Asked how they would characterize the job that President Trump has done handling the pandemic, almost 60 percent said “terribly” or “poorly.” Nearly a quarter, however, termed his efforts “excellent” or “above average.”

So when should Virginia reopen for business? Northam’s current executive order doesn’t allow “non-essential” retail businesses to open until May 15 at the earliest, but a majority of respondents think that date should be pushed back.

About 44 percent said they would wait until the total number of cases of the virus in Virginia had declined for at least 14 straight days, or until a proven treatment or vaccine exists. The 14-day standard is one that the Centers for Disease Control has recommended to states and one to which Northam has referred regularly in press briefings.

But only 19 percent of respondents believe that’s actually when the state will reopen. A vast majority (almost seven in 10) think the re-opening will take place this month or next.

More than one-third of respondents want the state to re-open for business now or sometime this month, but only one-quarter believe that will happen.

The topic of how Richmond-area localities have planned for and implemented distance and online learning programs for their students has been the topic of much debate in recent weeks. Richmond Public Schools largely have earned high marks for their easy-to-follow online program, which arranges lesson plans by grade levels, then large, easy-to-click calendar-style dates, then subject matter. Most topics include video lessons from school system teachers.

Hanover, Henrico and Chesterfield each have implemented their own online plans too, and those call upon a variety of online resources but also permit teachers the flexibility to adopt and create plans for their own classes on an individual basis.

Half of the respondents in this month’s poll said they didn’t have children in any of the local school systems; among those who did, about 16 percent rated their school district’s efforts as excellent or above average, while about 15 percent said “average” and another 15 percent “poor.”

The complete poll results appear below:

How would you characterize the way President Trump has handled the COVID-19 pandemic?
Excellent – 4 (12.5%)
Above average – 4 (12.5%)
Average – 5 (15.63%)
Poorly – 8 (25%)
Terribly – 11 (34.38%)

How would you characterize the way Gov. Northam has handled the COVID-19 pandemic?
Excellent – 4 (12.5%)
Above average – 16 (50%)
Average – 5 (15.63%)
Poorly – 5 (15.63%)
Terribly – 2 (6.25%)

How would you characterize the way Metro Richmond localities have handled the COVID-19 pandemic?
Excellent – 2 (6.25%)
Above average – 18 (56.25%)
Average – 11 (34.38%)
Poorly – 1 (3.13%)
Terribly – 0 (0%)

How would you rate the distance learning options and communication provided by your child’s school system?
Excellent – 2 (6.25%)
Above average – 3 (9.38%)
Average – 5 (15.63%)
Poor – 5 (15.63%)
Terrible – 1 (3.13%)
Not applicable – 16 (50%)

When do you believe Virginia should fully reopen for business?
Now – 6 (18.75%)
Later this month – 5 (15.63%)
Sometime in June – 6 (18.75%)
July or later – 1 (3.13%)
Whenever the total number of cases has declined for at least 14 consecutive days – 12 (37.5%)
Not until there is a proven treatment or vaccine – 2 (6.25%)

When do you believe Virginia actually will reopen for business?
This month – 8 (25%)
Sometime in June – 14 (43.75%)
July or later – 4 (12.5%)
Whenever the total number of cases has declined for at least 14 consecutive days – 6 (18.75%)
Not until there is a proven treatment or vaccine – 0 (0%)