The topline of yesterday’s Covid presser was all about the schools. Id est, how the Scott administration is imposing policies and expectations on the schools but refusing to lift a finger to help them handle the additional workload.
But there were several other statements we shouldn’t allow to pass unmocked. So here’s a sampler, a Children’s Treasury if you will, of dumb stuff said by the governor plus a couple of entries from Finance Commissioner and Number Cruncher Extraordinaire Michael Pieciak.
We’ll start with Scott playing pure politics, something he likes to accuse other people of doing. As he continues to resist calls for tighter anti-Covid measures, he was asked what he’d do if the Legislature passed such measures and sent them to his desk.
“I don’t think it’s necessary,” he said. “If they want to come back into session and they want to introduce a mask mandate, they want to limit travel, they want to shut down bars and restaurants, they want to limit gatherings, they want to cancel Christmas, I mean, that’s up to them.”
The deliberate exaggeration of opposing views is classic passive-aggressive Phil Scott. But cancel Christmas? When did the governor start watching Fox News?
A short while later, Scott was again defending his stand-pat position on Covid. VPR’s Peter Hirschfeld pointed out that September was the second deadliest month of the entire pandemic, and isn’t that grounds for a tougher policy?
“The data and the science doesn’t back up any mitigation changes,” Scott replied, ignoring the crucial data point just offered up. “What we’re doing is working. It’s unfortunate, the number of deaths.”
It’s… unfortunate? Wow. Write that on a sympathy card and send it to the grieving spouses and families. Better yet, show up on their doorstep and say that.
For the second week in a row, Scott professed ignorance of a possible anti-Covid policy choice. Last week, it was the option of issuing a public health order. This time, it was a little something called the Medical Reserve Corps. A reporter asked if he might call out the National Guard or the MRC to help staff vaccine and/or testing centers.
Scott demurred on the Guard; he said they’ve already been engaged in the effort, and that more engagement would mean calling civilians to active duty. “But the Reserve Corps is a great idea,” he went on. “I haven’t heard that, but we might talk about that. So thanks for the suggestion.”
Shouldn’t he maybe know about this already, without having a reporter suggest it to him?
Plus, as it happens, the Medical Reserve Corps has been playing a key role for months and months. This popped up in my Twitter feed, plus I got an email from a reader who’s a volunteer with the Corps. “The state vaccination clinics have been majority-staffed by the MRC since the beginning,” she wrote. “Idk why he doesn’t already know this.”
Yeah, Idk either. Also, Idk why one of his officials didn’t step forward to pass along that information. Are they not paying attention? Or do they enjoy seeing their boss flailing in public?
Finally, the governor had a creative explanation for our stubbornly high Covid case rate, and it’s an ever-popular bugbear for Vermonters: Those damn flatlanders!
“What I have seen trending at times is, uh, is more from NH and NY,” he said. “And they seem to come to Vermont to get tested even though they live there. Maybe it’s just accessibility. It’s maybe closer for them. But I have seen at times 13, 14, 15 cases from out-of-state residents.”
Yeah, right. I can believe there’s a handful of Granite Staters who might find it easier to whip over to White River Junction or Brattleboro than find a clinic in Lebanon or Keene. But New York? There is no convenient way to get from anywhere in New York to a testing center in Vermont. Now, some of these out-of-stater positives are probably tourists. But I question how often Scott sees a daily out-of-stater count in the teens. And even if he’s right, it only makes a small dent in our high case counts.
One final note on the governor. Go back a couple weeks, when the daily counts were at their highest, and Scott talked about coming up with new statistical methods to show how the pandemic really wasn’t that bad. Well, we haven’t heard boo about that since. Maybe they failed to devise a formula to put lipstick on our pandemic pig. Or maybe it became less of a priority as the case counts inevitably ticked downward.
Speaking of stats, Michael Pieciak did his usual massaging of the numbers. He highlighted statistics that made the situation look better. He cited the decline in daily case counts… which is easy to accomplish from a disturbingly high base. And then, after rattling off a bunch of positive-sounding numbers, he acknowledged that it doesn’t really mean anything yet. “There’s still a 50% confidence interval there that shows cases might stay stable, they might go up, they might go down,” he said.
Well, isn’t that a relief.
Finally, Pieciak was asked about the agreement between Bill Stenger and federal prosecutors that will allow several Shumlin administration officials to avoid testifying under oath. Pieciak, who was deputy finance commish under Peter Shumlin, is one of those let off the hook. And yep, he tried to lipstick that particular pig as well.
He began by asserting that he had advocated for release of EB-5 documents long withheld by the Attorney General’s office. Then he pivoted: “If you read in totality, the state was investigating actively from March 2015 till the end. We made the referral to the FBI in June 2015.”
That may be true, but it’s not the question. The issue is whether the Shumlin administration tried to cover up the scandal. They clearly did, no matter how heroic Pieciak may have been. Not that I actually expected him to stand there and admit that Team Shumlin tried to pull the wool over all our eyes. But I would argue that he has a responsibility to tell us what he knows about the entire affair, not just answer a single question at a press conference. As do all of the other former officials. And, above all, Shumlin himself. Preferably under oath. Would the Democratic Legislature care to hold hearings and call these former officials? Hmm?
Not holding my breath on that one.
Nothing else from this week’s Covid briefing aside from one general observation: It seems to me that the defensiveness quotient is continuing to rise. I’d guess that as long as the numbers are high and people’s confidence is shaken, Scott and his people are fumbling around for a convincing narrative.