I Don’t Think You’re Happy Enough

It was yet another Covid briefing full of same-old, same-old. Carefully chosen statistics, evidence-free optimism, whistling past the graveyard, vigorous straw-man punching, self-pity, and not a lick of policy change despite the fact that new cases and hospitalizations continue to be distressingly high. Rather than trying to find a new theme in today’s performance, here’s a collection of random notes from a dispirited observer.

The question of the day came from the Vermont Business Journal’s Tim McQuiston: “Why should we care about kids getting Covid at all?”

Lest you think I’m unfairly plucking that out of context, here’s the rest of his statement (only slightly abridged):

There’s been a lot of difficulty in child care and finding workers for child care. The parents have to stay at home. Now with cases in schools, kids might have to be quarantined and stay at home. … Why should we care about kids getting Covid at all? It’s creating a lot of disruption for them. It’s obviously disrupting the economy. Cases and their symptoms are very low, but there’s a lot of effort still going on, still a lot of disruption.

Eesh. McQuiston works for a publication that caters to business, but that’s approaching Ebenezer Scrooge territory. Gov. Phil Scott replied that we have to keep cases down among children because they might spread it to more vulnerable people.

And then Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said something that shouldn’t have been remarkable, but it was. He actually mentioned long Covid!

I don’t think I’ve ever heard Levine (or any other administration official) refer to the phenomenon before. For that matter, I don’t recall any reporter ever asking about long Covid. Which is kind of remarkable, since long Covid is a major reason why we should be trying to limit cases even if they’re initially mild. Research indicates that long Covid is a frequent phenomenon that can hit just about any organ or bodily process and can remain indefinitely. Here, finally, Levine weighed in.

“There are possibilities for kids in that age range [under 12] to have a worse outcome, though we have not seen that widely in the US or Vermont, thank goodness,” said Levine. “But at the same time, there’s still evidence that some of the chronic things that can happen after Covid, like long Covid, can happen no matter what your age.”

I have to admit, it was nice to hear him speak the words “long Covid” out loud. And without prompting from a reporter, even. It still remains unaddressed in Scott’s Covid policy, which allows case counts to be much higher than they could be.

Speaking of reporters not asking stuff, no one asked why the administration persistently harps on one measure of progress in vaccination: The number of eligible Vermonters who’ve received at least one dose. That figure is a tick under 90%, which is nice. But — and I know I’ve written this before — what about the ineligible? What about those who have yet to get a second dose? And now that booster shots have been added to the regimen, how many Vermonters are fully up to date?

Inquiring minds want to know. But apparently none of those minds inhabit members of the press corps.

Also, in a week that saw Burlington and Hartford take action to displace homeless encampments and there’s still a group of activists camping out on the Statehouse steps, there was not a single question about housing or homelessness. Good to know that’s safely in the rearview.

There was a question about GlobalFoundries’ bid to set up its own utility, exempt from the Global Warming Solutions Act and a variety of other state laws and regulations. Gov. Scott said it was in the hands of the Public Utilities Commission, but made it clear where his sympathies lie.

“GlobalFoundries, formerly IBM, is, as I understand it, the single largest user of energy in Vermont,” he said. “Them becoming their own utility is understandable with teh amount of power and the expense surrounding that. …We want to give them a playing field where they can be competitive and will stay in Vermont.”

A few more notes about Covid. The overwhelming emphasis was on vaccines and boosters. Scott depicted his administration as “the victim of our own success” because Vermont acted quickly on vaccines and now their effectiveness is waning. His solution: Boosters for all! No need for mask mandates or anything radical like that.

As always, Scott parried questions about taking further steps by punching the “state of emergenc” strawman, as if there’s nothing he can do between current policy and a complete shutdown. When, in fact, there are many other steps he could take. He just doesn’t want to.

And on a day after a bunch of experts and officeholders called on him to take stronger action, he referred to them as “whoever the naysayers are.” Take that, public health experts! Take that, legislative leaders! You’re merely “whoevers” in the governor’s eye.

Finally, Financial Regulation Commissioner and Possessor of a Peculiarly Opaque Crystal Ball once again admitted that near-future projections are all over the place. They’re looking a bit better than before, but there’s still no clear direction. And as he noted, on at least two previous occasions we’ve seen numbers take a hopeful downward turn only to rebound.

In other words, no one in the administration knows what’s happening, but they remain resolute in continuing to do what hasn’t been working since the onset of the Delta variant. See you next Tuesday!

Note: For those unaware, the title of this post is an homage to Ren and Stimpy. Particularly to a song that comes to mind while I watch these briefings.

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