Wow. Gov. Phil Scott’s weekly press briefing was a nonstop festival of blame-shifting, convenient rationalization and, well, telling us a shit sandwich is prime roast beef.
Scott took the podium amid a blizzard of bad news — high case counts beyond his administration’s projections, unclear forecasts of Covid’s near future, high numbers of hospitalizations, inadequate contact tracing, and outbreaks of cases in public schools. He had explanations for all of it, few of them convincing.
He began by doubling down on his policy of encouraging vaccinations and little else. “This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” he said, pointing to numbers that show the vast majority of severe cases are among the unjabbed. True enough, but just because the odds are better for the vaccinated doesn’t mean the risk is acceptable.
Scott’s message: The blame shouldn’t fall to administration policy, it’s with the stubbornly unvaccinated. If you all would just get your shots, everything would be peachy. There’s truth in that, but he’s doing nothing to get more people vaccinated besides the same old earnest advice. IF he’s putting all his chips on vaccination, he might want to enact policies that incentivize vaccination and disincentivize stubborn resistance.
Scott again insisted that any tougher measures would require a state of emergency, which he again refused to consider. This, despite the fact that rates of cases, hospitalizations and deaths are equal to or greater than levels last seen in the winter of 2021 — when Scott was happy to continue a state of emergency.
He also dipped a toe into the murky waters of surrender. “Covid-19, like the flu, is going to be here for a while,” he said, ignoring the fact that Covid-19 is far more dangerous than your average flu. Unless he meant the deadly Spanish Flu of 1918.
After the jump: Please ignore the facts.
Scott also told us all to stop paying attention to those disappointingly high daily case counts. “That was the best way to evaluate the pandemic, but now, the risks are changing,” he said, adding that his administration is developing better (read: Scott-friendly) ways of evaluating the data.
Finance Commissioner and Pandemic Prophet Michael Pieciak again fudged the difference between his consistent projections and reality. He talked of the 7-9-week window seen in other jurisdictions, then did some hemming and hawing about how long we’ve experienced the Delta surge before finally acknowledging that really, it’s been 10 weeks — and that current projections paint an unclear picture of what will happen next.
Pieciak also pointed to the Labor Day weekend as a possible wellspring of cases, although he admitted the record of past three-day weekends is mixed. Sometimes there’s a surge, sometimes not.
Then there was a contortionist-worthy performance by Education Secretary Dan French. He said the state is shifting resources away from contact tracing and into surveillance testing. “We used to consider contact tracing and surveillance testing to be complementary strategies,” French said. “We now see them as competing strategies.”
Why the shift? Well, French tried to make it sound like a change in philosophy. In reality, it’s an admission that the administration has failed to provide enough resources to do both. They are “competing strategies” because available resources are insufficient.
The governor was asked what might convince him that it was time for a state of emergency. “Health care capacity,” he said. “We want to protect the system we have in place.”
Trouble is, our hospitalization rate is higher than it’s been since the bad days of last winter. Scott ducked and dodged that inconvenient fact. “It’s not going to be case counts, it’s a number of factors,” he said, and then added, “Not all the stress is due to Covid.”
Well, yeah, there are people with injuries and non-Covid illnesses and those needing major surgery. But Covid is the wild card. It’s the thing that’s different right now.
All in all, it did not inspire confidence. It sounded less like a science-driven approach than a desperate attempt to move the goalposts and gin up some less depressing statistics. Out of whole cloth if necessary.
He might still get away with this. The Delta surge has got to end sometime — right?
Probably. He just has to hope it happens before too much more damage is done and he loses his hard-won eputation for sound pandemic management.