Briefly Noted

Editors’ Note: This town is about 50 miles from the site of the Tennessee refrigerated morgue trucks noted in our article of 12/7/2020 [].


In Big Stone Gap, VA, the ladies inside a local business on this small Appalachian town’s main drag weren’t aware that a COVID outbreak at a nearby nursing home had infected more than 200 residents and staff, and taken 33 lives.

Up the street, two local business partners are taking masking and social distancing seriously. But many are not. Said one of the partners, “There’s a lot of people who don’t take it serious, they think it’s not as bad as it is.” His  mother is in ICU at Big Stone Gap’s Lonesome Pine Hospital. “The magnitude has not hit,” said his partner. “The feeling I get from too many people is that it’s one or the other. Either I have to be carefree and prove that I’m not gonna let this control me, and do away with all precaution, or I’m gonna be very safe and stay holed up in my house. There’s many more options than that.”

According to the director of two local health districts having some of Virginia’s highest community spread rates, the virus is nearly impossible to keep out. “Community spread is high in southwest Virginia and contributes to the introduction of (COVID-19) into many settings, such as workplaces, schools, and churches. The biggest tragedy occurs in nursing homes.” 

Still, as elsewhere, emotions run high regarding masks. Said one woman doing some quick shopping–masked, “I think some people realize about the nursing home, and I think some people just don’t care. I think the people that don’t wear the masks should at least get fined.” But 15 minutes up the road, a local funeral home director said he thought COVID-19 was essentially equivalent to the flu. And a local elected official from a nearby town said publicly that elected leaders shouldn’t encourage mask-wearing.

Poor leadership and example-setting nationally contributed to the nonchalance of many. Denying reality such as the results of the 2020 election do not immunize against COVID.  .


According to a little-known Fox News contributor, Gov. Ralph Northam “overstepped his role” when he told citizens how to worship amid the latest coronavirus restrictions. What Northam said was:

“This year we need to think about what is truly the most important thing. Is it the worship or the building? For me, God is wherever you are. You don’t have to sit in the church pew for God to hear your prayers.”

That was clearly too heretical for the folks at Fox. “Northam is just flat-out wrong when he pretends to be a theologian who can instruct people on how they should be worshipping,” the commentator, a senior editor of The Federalist who lives in Virginia, said. She went on, “Northam is articulating an actual theological stance that is “false” and “rejected by many sacramental Christians. It actually is essential to be gathered to receive the means of grace, the Lord’s supper,” she said. She was joined in her criticism by the president of CatholicVote, who condemned Northam’s remarks as both “shameful ignorance” and “gross anti-religious bigotry.”

It must be noted that the criticism cited that Northam’s caution is rejected by “many sacramental Christians,” but not by every sacramental Christian. Right-wing orthodoxy, especially when characterized as theological, is, by definition, fallible. Thus, according to the theological political writers at Fox, worshippers who pray at home are wasting their time and, perhaps, are anti-religious. What is one to do?


Virginia’s relationship with menhaden over a period of several months occupied the piscatorial interests of VoxFairfax in several brief posts. Now, however, we are treated to a different species.

Blue Ridge Aquaculture in Martinsville, VA–the largest producer of indoor-raised tilapia in the United States–is building a new nursery facility to support its existing farming operations and future growth. The company has invested approximately $2.5 million in the project.

The filtration system will constantly filter and disinfect the culture water, and allow up to 95% water reuse. The nursery was designed to create the ideal conditions for raising tilapia. By reducing stress and creating ideal conditions, Blue Ridge is able to raise tilapia without the use of antibiotics or hormones. The company currently produces 5 million pounds of live tilapia per year. 

Do calm fish taste better? Truly feed the brain?


Only in Virginia: A state senator sits on a committee charged with recommending judges for reappointment. In this case, one of the senators on the committee had just appeared in the judge’s courtroom, as a defendant in a misdemeanor criminal case. Said the senator, Richmond’s Joe Morrissey, at a hearing, without a hint of irony, “I’d like to strongly endorse Judge [David] Hicks for reappointment.” “I’ve only heard positive comments about Judge Hicks’s performance on the bench from people I’ve been in touch with, and I hope people will get behind his appointment.” A motions hearing on Morrissey’s case–involving improper conduct in a polling place–is set for Jan. 8. Morrissey rejected the idea that the case raises any conflicts of interest for himself or for Hicks.

The interaction has raised eyebrows in Richmond. It casts a light on the sometimes chummy way business is conducted around the state Capitol, where lawmakers pick judges. And it draws attention to Virginia conflict of interest guidelines that largely leave it up to public officials to self-police. Virginia is one of only two states — along with South Carolina — where judges are selected by the legislature, a practice that dates to the Colonial era.

In an interview, Hicks, who is Richmond’s chief general district judge, acknowledged that he took Morrissey’s case after another judge cited the defendant’s role in the General Assembly as grounds for recusal. Several lawmakers who declined to comment publicly on the situation said it was common for judges to step aside when a case involves a lawmaker from their jurisdiction — though usually that lawmaker would be a participating attorney, not a defendant. Stephen Gillers, a legal ethics expert at the New York University School of Law, said the situation called for recusal. “The judge, seeking reappointment, never should have presided at the arraignment and must immediately remove himself,” Gillers said. 

Common and legal and ethical sense appear to have prevailed as Hicks recently did recuse himself. And elected officials wonder why the public confidence is stressed by their behavior.

Questions of ethics in Virginia politics are certainly not new (see previous VoxFairfax articles, and Appearances matter.






Categories: Brief Cases, coronavirus, crime and punishment, elections, Issues, Local, politics, prosecutors, State

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