Yeah, we hit a single-day total of 189 Covid cases on Saturday. Yeah, our seven-day total is nearing the peak levels of March. Yeah, as schools reopen around the country, we’re getting reports of Covid outbreaks. Yeah, Covid cases among young children are peaking. Yeah, it looks like vaccines are less effective than believed at preventing severe illness. Yeah, the Centers for Disease Control says that universal masking should be practiced in schools. Yeah, a single teacher who briefly umasked apparently spread Covid to a couple dozen kids. Yeah, Vermont schools are reopening with no mask mandate. Yeah, Vermont has the highest proportion of childhood Covid of the 50 states. Yeah, school boards across the state are being harassed by unruly anti-maskers. Yeah, there’s a story or three every damn day that gives you pause.
But please ignore the sea of red flags. Nothing to see here. According to the Scott administration.
I know, there’s plenty of evidence on the other side. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Delta variant dwindles away as projected. It’s quite possible we’re going to get through this with a minimum amount of damage. But what if we don’t? The situation seems to call for vigilance and an abundance of caution.
The most concerning thing for me, as a senior citizen with risk factors, is the news that vaccines are less effective at preventing hospitalizations than was previously believed. There’s also a study showing that vaccine protection isn’t as strong among the immunocompromised. That’s a lot of folks who may not be as safe as they thought.
For Vermonters as a whole, the big worry is the potential for widespread illness among children. With kids under 12 still unvaccinated, every elementary school and child care facility is an outbreak waiting to happen. Let’s run down some back-to-school bad news… after the jump.
Here’s a good one. A teacher in Marin County, California took off her mask to read a story to her class. Turned out she was Covid-positive. And 26 others followed, including 22 of her 24 students. The kids who sat closest to the teacher were most likely to succumb. The teacher was unvaccinated, of course. This is only one case, but it shows the consequences of letting your guard down for even a moment. Still, the Scott administration refuses to follow the CDC’s advice to mandate masks in schools.
Nationally, the number of Covid cases among children rose by 427% in a one-month period from late July to late August — just in time for back-to-school! Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine likes to call the Delta wave “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” That’s supposed to be reassuring, but “the unvaccinated” includes all children 12 and younger.
Among the 50 states, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, Vermont has the highest percentage of all Covid cases that were children. Now, Vermont has one of the lowest total numbers of childhood Covid, but it has the highest percentage of all its cases. Nationwide, children account for slightly less than 15% of all cases; in Vermont, that’s 23%. The likely explanation: We have a high rate of adult and teen vaccination, so our children constitute a large proportion of the unvaccinated. Which, again, ought to raise concerns about reopening schools without a mask mandate.
Meanwhile, according to VTDigger, the state is lagging in reporting Covid cases in schools. Several schools have reported positive tests among children, but there is no central repository for statewide figures. And there won’t be until mid-September. Until then, we won’t know how bad the situation is. By then, it may be too late to prevent serious outbreaks.
Finally, in the absence of state mandates, the onus has fallen to public school boards and child care providers. They’ve had to make the tough calls, and they’re taking the heat from small but very noisy groups of anti-maskers.
The situation cries out for leadership. Gov. Phil Scott claims he can’t impose mandates unless he declares a state of emergency, and he doesn’t believe the current situation constitutes an emergency.
And yes, we’re not in an emergency. Yet. Trouble is, we won’t know we’re in an emergency until it’s too late.