Gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe stumped at the Ashby Ponds retirement community Friday morning to highlight his call to the owners of nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other residential facilities serving seniors to require COVID-19 vaccinations for employees.
In recent weeks, the Democratic nominee has made similar calls for vaccine mandates for health care workers, K-12 school divisions, and colleges.
The vaccination requirement is one element of his nine-point plan to support senior citizens in the commonwealth. His plan also includes efforts to lower medicine and medical costs and to promote opportunities for residents to age in place.
McAuliffe told the residents who filled an auditorium on the Ashburn campus Sept. 10 that he supports President Biden’s requirement for federal employees and contractors to be vaccinated.
“Listen folks, this is all about safety. The FDA has approved this vaccination. There is no reason now—if you have a legitimate religious or health issues, I get that, that’s a very tiny percent—but anyone else should get vaccinated. That’s how we keep each other safe,” he said.
He said the rapid spread of the Delta variant and the threat of vaccine-resistant strains developing increase the urgency to stamp out the virus.
“I’m very unhappy with these people who have chosen not to be vaccinated,” he said. “What’s the deal? It’s safe. I don’t want someone who is unvaccinated working in this residential facility and getting you sick, and then you can turn around and give it to your grandchildren who are under 12 and can’t get vaccinated.”
McAuliffe said vaccine mandates are among the issues that separate him from his Republican opponent Glenn Youngkin.
“The guy I’m running against, he does not believe in any of this,” he said. “He doesn’t believe in that people should be mandated to get the vaccinations. That’s a real difference this governor’s race. I’m trying to come with common sense.”
During a campaign event in Lansdowne earlier in the week Youngkin did not address vaccine mandates, but Ben Carson, a retired surgeon who served as the secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Trump administration and who faced a bout with COVID, laid out a case against them.
“You have government encroachment. This whole concept of mandates. This is a problem,” Carson said. “Because it’s a slippery slope and if the people like sheep gently follow their leaders and just do whatever they say, believe me there will be more and more mandates as time goes on.”
He advocated natural antibodies—generated through infections—as providing stronger immunity than vaccines and raised concerns about previously infected people having reactions to the vaccines. While he said elderly people should get vaccinated, he opposed mandates for children.
During a question-and-answer session with Ashby Ponds residents, McAuliffe repeatedly highlighted actions taken during his four-year term as Virginia’s 72nd governor in making the case for his return as its 74th.
He characterized Republican efforts to add abortion restrictions and oppose LBGTQ rights as hampering work to attract new businesses to the state.
“You can’t recruit the businesses of the 21st century if you are putting walls up around your state,” he said. “My point always was, I want to show people that here in Virginia we’re open and welcoming. We respect everybody no matter who they love, or who they pray to, or the color of one’s skin. And because of all that, our economy took off.”
He also highlighted his work to expand Medicare, to reform the Standards of Learning program in Virginia’s schools to discourage teach-to-the-test lesson plans, and to begin a shift to green energy with the approval of solar farms and offshore wind turbines.
Asked about the controversy being spurred here and around the country about Critical Race Theory in schools, McAuliffe said it was a non-issue and was not being taught in Virginia classrooms.
“This is something that Youngkin and others are doing to try to divide people and I really hate it,” McAuliffe said. “… I hate it when people try to create racial tension between the black and white community, the brown community. I hate it.”
Rather than undermine confidence in public education, he said it was important to strengthen it.
“When I was governor before, I put a billion dollars into education. I wanted us to have the greatest education system in the country,” he said. He credited that investment into helping to land nationally recruited businesses including Nestlé, Gerber, Amazon, and Costar.
“Why? Because we’re ranked the number one education system in America for higher ed. We’re ranked number four for America for K-12. We’re ranked the number one state for business two years in a row—the only state in America to get that. We’re doing pretty good here in Virginia,” he said.
When he was asked about Youngkin’s proposal—currently being promoted in a run of TV ads—to eliminate the sales tax on groceries, McAuliffe said his opponent doesn’t understand Virginia’s government. While Youngkin has suggested using the commonwealth’s current $2 billion budget surplus to make for revenue lost through his proposed tax cuts, McAuliffe pointed out most of that money is already encumbered, with a constitutional requirement to replenish the state’s Rainy Day Fund and water quality improvement funds.
“He’s clueless about state government,” McAuliffe said, noting that Youngkin also had floated ideas to eliminate the state income tax—the chief revenue source for the General Fund—and to limit real estate tax, which is controlled by localities.
But McAuliffe said something like eliminating the grocery tax wouldn’t be off the table.
“Anything I can do, like I did last time, to put more money in people’s pockets, [improve] quality of life, that’s what I’m about,” he said.