Even by the usual dismal standards, this was a doozy of a weekly briefing. Gov. Phil Scott acknowledged that his policies haven’t been effective against the Delta variant, he had no idea why, yet he would keep doing the same things he’s been doing and just hope it starts to work. Definition of insanity, anyone?
His opening remarks were heavy on “personal responsibility,” which sounds like good old Vermont plain talk. But the underlying message is that it’s our fault his policies haven’t worked. If only we’d all take personal responsibility, everything would be just fine and his genius would be revealed for all to see.
Pushing vaccination was the sum-total of his policy. Vaccines and boosters. Boosters and vaccines. No hint of a fallback policy if we never achieve herd immunity because even in Vermont, some people are anti-vaxxers or Covid skeptics and some will never become eligible. Good public policy doesn’t depend on every single person being personally responsible; it tries to make up for and/or rein in our weaknesses and misbehaviors. I mean, if everyone took personal responsibility, we wouldn’t need prisons or police. Or laws.
That’s why vaccination plus a sensible masking policy has worked so much better than vaccination alone. It would work here too, but Scott is too stubborn and/or beholden to business interests to even consider any mask mandates or limits on travel or public gatherings.
His administration proudly trumpets the percentage of eligible Vermonters who’ve gotten at least one vaccine shot. It’s now an impressive 88.9%. Which obscures the fact that the percentage of all Vermonters with at least one jab is more like 70%. You never, ever hear that figure at the Tuesday pressers.
In fact, a recent tweet from Scott’s official account completely obliterated that key difference:
That, children, is what we in the business call “a lie.”
Meanwhile, take a gander at this map from the New York Times.
Yeah, that’s right. “Extremely high” risk in Essex and Washington Counties and “very high” risk in every other county save Addison, where the risk is merely “high.”
If that’s not a reason to change course, I don’t know what is.
Maybe that’s what he meant by a brand-new phrase: “transition from pandemic to endemic.” That’s the fancy way of saying “We’ll just have to live with Covid.” Which, yeah, at some point we will. But that doesn’t mean we should blithely accept a map like this. Scott’s talk of living with Covid is just another way of not taking responsibility to do everything he can to limit the spread of the virus.
DFR Commissioner and Predictive Panjandrum Michael Pieciak reeled off some truly depressing numbers. He acknowledged that Covid cases have risen by 39% over the last two weeks — thirty-nine percent! — but noted that last week’s increase was “only” 10%, so whoopee, the rate of increase is slowing!
He also acknowledged that hospitalizations have gone up, while deaths remain about the same. Which in itself is not great, since Vermont’s death rate has been distressingly high since Delta became the dominant strain of the virus.
Pieciak also trotted out some carefully curated stats to “prove” that travel and tourism have nothing to do with our Covid troubles. The number of out-of-staters who got sick here has been steady at about 9% over the last four months, he said, not enough to skew our stats. Ignoring, as did the governor last week, that non-Vermonters getting sick is only part of the problem. The real issue is, how much do they contribute to the in-state spread?
In truth, the administration is desperate to keep the borders open and the tourism industry unhampered by pesky mask or vaccine mandates.
Finally, for the third consecutive week, Pieciak had to admit that the forecast for the near future is completely unclear. ““We’re in a similar place as we have been for the last two weeks,” he said. “The confidence intervals, the models really have a wide disparity between them, showing almost every likelihood that’s possible. Cases and hospitalizations and deaths improving, staying similar or getting worse.”
There was more bad news masquerading as good from the Joe Shlabotnik of the Scott cabinet, Education Secretary Dan French. He reported bits of progress on the “test to stay” program. You know, the one he started to implement after the beginning of the school year. The one that Massachusetts implemented in July, for God’s sake.
French reported that 17 independent schools and 62 school districts have “expressed interest in taking part.” Which sounds highly speculative, and also means there are a lot of educators who aren’t interested in a new daily testing and contact program with no staff to do the work. He added that 10 independent schools and 13 districts “are ready to go live.” That’s a pitifully small number, considering the school year is almost two months old.
Oh, French offered one way to lighten educators’ workloads. He announced much looser standards for contact tracing: No CT for outdoor spaces, no CT for school buses because “our information shows low risk.” The definition of a close contact is whittled from six feet to three. These measures, he said, will “make contact tracing more precise and less labor-intensive.” In other words, we’ll be doing a lot less of it.
Not a single administration official made a reference to the worst day of the pandemic to date: Saturday, October 16, when the state reported 347 cases. Not a single one expressed condolences for those who have lost a loved one. Despite Pieciak’s report on the modeling, Scott continued to express his belief that things are about to get better.
Well, sooner or later he’ll be right. In the meantime a lot of people are getting sick, being hospitalized, and dying. And for that, we are all to blame. All except our wise and glorious leader.