Friday’s Scott-free* Covid briefing featured multiple questions about the CovidCruiser, which took a busload of Vermonters down to Washington for Wednesday’s pro-Trump rally turned riot. And the answers revealed a surprisingly laissez-faire attitude toward the dozens of participants who were clearly shown violating public health guidelines. During a 10-hour one-way trip in an enclosed space, which seemed ideal for superspreading.
*The governor was not present. His absence had been planned for days; it was not an attempt to duck questions about the Trump-encouraged D.C. riots.
Essentially, the state wagged its finger at the travelers.
Health commissioner Dr. Mark Levine labeled the trip as “a high risk enterprise,” and said the state issued very clear guidance on testing, mask wearing, social distancing and quarantining requirements upon returning to Vermont. But, he added, “we don’t really have the regulatory power to enforce somebody being quarantined when they are not yet a [Covid-19] case… But we’ve been very strong with the information about quarantining and testing.”
He didn’t specifically say he was concerned or disappointed, but he was obviously following the Susan Collins approach to non-ideal developments.
Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling was asked if the state had obtained a list of travelers, for purposes of communication and possible contact tracing. “We do not have a comprehensive list of the folks that were on the bus,” he replied. He said the state had no intention to get such a list. He added that the state did contact the bus company, which “graciously agreed to make an announcement to all of the folks that were on the bus to reinforce the quarantine guidelines.”
In all, a remarkably passive response to a clear superspreader threat. I mean, you’ve got a busload of people who were clearly shown on video riding in close proximity with nary a mask in sight. I’d think that would warrant a more robust response. Not mandatory quarantining, but getting that list and closely following the occupants for signs of illness. And something more than a mere suggestion to get tested.
Speaking of non-compliance, Schirling explained that the state’s oversight of interstate transportation was essentially nonexistent. Capacity guidelines are not enforced on long-haul buses, trains or passenger aircraft.
A few minutes later, he returned to the podium with a clarification. “Charter buses do have a 50% restriction, so that charter should have had only 50%,” he said. Well, the online videos — since taken down by amateur videographer Gregory Thayer of Rutland — clearly show that most of the bus was packed. The last few rows seemed to be empty. And participant Ron Lawrence told True North Reports that 51 of the 55 available seats were full.
In violation of state standards. One more reason not to trust these people with voluntary compliance.
What will Schirling do? “We will reach back out to the bus company and have an educational conversation about that,” he said.
Maybe there’s not much more the state can do. (Although if so, I think it’s time to revisit the law.) But at the very least, this is one more good reason to go beyond the state’s “Trust Vermonters, they’ll do the right thing” approach.
There’s a damn good chance that a bunch of those people will catch the Covid and spread it to others in their homes, workplaces and grocery stores. If there was ever a time for proactive, preventative measures, this would be it.