We Seem to be Turning the Wrong Corner

A startling admission came Friday from Finance Commissioner and Lord High CoronaDamus Mike Pieciak. After weeks of confident predictions that the Delta variant would peak and then decline, Pieciak told Seven Days’ Anne Wallace Allen that actually, he has no idea what’s coming next.

It’s too early, he said, to predict whether Vermont’s COVID-19 infection rate will decline, remain stable, or rise.

Pieciak’s agency produced a chart that underlines his statement.

Yeah, that just about covers the available turf. And leaves completely in the dark about the near future.

I hope Pieciak isn’t in too much trouble with his political masters for this belated bit of honesty. And I hope he faces some tough questions at this week’s gubernatorial press briefing. I’d suggest something along the lines of “WTF, Commissioner?”

Really, there’s too much evidence to the contrary for Pieciak to keep on the sunny side. But it’s a dramatic volte face for the administration. It remains to be seen whether Gov. Phil Scott will finally acknowledge that maybe, possibly, he might have failed to take Delta seriously enough.

There’s abundant evidence that the Scott administration has been far too confident in its Delta policy – or should I say, lack of policy. Let’s start with the weekend Covid counts, which are downright depressing. Three straight days over 200? Dramatically higher 7-day rolling count and weekly total? Ugh.

But wait, there’s more!

The number of hospitalizations has hit levels last seen in the worst days of Winter 2021. The number of deaths during the Delta surge is much higher than the administration had projected. (In August, 18 Vermonters died of Covid; the same number died in April, at the tail end of the winter outbreaks. Total cases in August were not very far short of January 2021, the worst month of the entire pandemic. We’re on pace to shatter that monthly record in September. Our test positivity rate continues to be at or above 3%, higher than Vermont’s past standard.

The latest available figures on contact tracing reflect the administration’s failure to plan in advance for the Delta surge. In June, 86% of cases were interviewed within 24 hours; in August, that figure plummeted to 28%. That number is likely to be even lower this month, given the dramatic rise in case numbers and the administration’s lagging efforts to up-staff the system. And its complete failure to provide contact tracing for the schools, where no one under age 12has been vaccinated.

Whenever we compare the current situation to last winter, bear in mind that far more Vermonters are vaccinated now. On April 1, 212,000 had received at least one dose. Now, that number is around 450,000. This speaks to the persistence of the Delta variant, and also to the administration’s overly optimistic reliance on vaccination. We’ve achieved the fairly remarkable figure of 87% of eligible Vermonters having had at least one shot. That’s far above the standard for herd immunity.

Or is it? The number of Vermonters who aren’t eligible includes every kid under 12, plus the immunocompromised. Until the “eligible” population increases, we’ll be hard-pressed to achieve herd immunity no matter how many people are finally convinced to get the jab. Which means the next outbreak is always just around the corner.

And let us not forget the administration’s recent troubles with basic data-gathering. Daily case counts have turned out to be artificially low, more often than not. Last Thursday, when the state reported an all-time high of 314 cases in a single day, the administration quickly issued a press release saying that number was likely the result of a software glitch, not a true record.

Well, two things about that. First, why the hell isn’t the reporting system working better? They’ve had a year and a half to get it straight. I suspect that the administration cut back on its data-processing before the Delta variant hit, just as it did with contact tracing. I don’t have direct evidence, but that’s clearly what it looks like.

And second, it doesn’t really matter what the Thursday number was. Unless the system has been spitting out false positives, those 314 cases happened sometime last week. The total number of cases was still far higher than expected.

Back on August 3, state officials predicted that case numbers would continue to rise for four to five weeks. That was seven weeks ago.

Things have obviously gone off the rails since then, but Gov. Scott continues to stick by his strategy. That’s looking less like confidence and more like arrogance with each passing day.

Remember on August 24, when House Speaker Jill Krowinski and Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint called for tougher action — and Scott accused them of playing politics?

Now, after almost a month of failed predictions, it looks more like the governor was the one playing politics.

It’ll be interesting to see how he will react at his Tuesday press briefing after a full week of bad news. Will he finally accede to some measure of reality, or will he keep on whistling past the graveyard?


1 thought on “We Seem to be Turning the Wrong Corner

  1. Greg Dennis

    This is an excellent piece. It’s way past time to call bullshit on Scott’s lack of a meaningful response to the Delta variant. The figures on covid hospitalizations and deaths noted here are truly troubling.


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