Gov. Phil Scott is just as committed as ever to his Covid policy, Omicron be damned. He made that absolutely clear at this week’s Covid briefing, even as he acknowledged that “we don’t know what’s coming.” The thing is, if you accept his point of view, he’s actually doing a good job. So here are some words of conditional praise for the Scott administration followed by a lovely bouquet of caveats.
They have done a good job at getting people vaccinated. They are getting test kits out to people as soon as they get supplies. They are doing their best to add capacity to hospitals and open up beds for Covid patients. They are doing what they can, within their policy framework, to keep kids in schools. They are consistent in balancing the exigencies of public and economic health.
I don’t agree with their idea of balance, but his team is working very hard within the confines of Scott’s policy to prevent a Covid surge that would overwhelm the health care system. They do deserve credit for all that.
Now for the caveats.
First, their policy is based on the 30,000-foot view of what’s best for Vermont. It gets a lot more iffy when you talk about subgroups like those under 5 who can’t get vaccinated yet or those at elevated risk who have very sound reasons to be cautious if not fearful. Scott policy is not serving them well.
Second, as noted above, the administration’s application of public health is only part of the equation. It balances public health with economic interests and public opinion. Their weighting of competing interests is arguable, but within those self-imposed confines, they’re doing what they can.
Third, there is absolutely no concern for long Covid. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine has said that roughly 30% of Covid patients suffer longer-term symptoms after their recovery from initial illness. If that is also the case for Omicron, we are setting ourselves up for a long-tailed, slow-motion public health disaster. And we’re negatively affecting the lives of maybe 150,000 Vermonters? The administration deems that to be acceptable risk.
Fourth, there’s a stout resistance to big government. No mandates. No state-funded help for the overwhelmed public schools. They want government to help, but not to control or manage.
Fifth, a stout resistance to going backward. Not a bad theoretical concept, but there are times when going backward is the best available option. There’s certainly no logical reason to rule it out.
Sixth, their definition of stressing the health care system is truly a low bar. They want to avoid gurneys in the hallways, ambulances in line outside hospitals, and sick people being turned away due to lack of resources. There’s a good argument, made previously in this space, that the health care system is already overburdened. Providers are burned out, scared stupid, and/or quitting the field. “Elective” surgeries, which include procedures for people with truly serious illness or injury, are indefinitely postponed. We are being told to please be extra safe in our daily lives because right now, you don’t want to have to go to a hospital. None of this is normal or acceptable, except to the Scott administration.
Eighth, they refuse to admit when they’ve been wrong. Which they have been, consistently, since the Delta variant arrived almost half a year ago. It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in their judgment on Omicron.
Ninth, the administration is willing to take a chance. They are gambling that Omicron won’t bring an avalanche of serious illness. They are gambling that future variants won’t be even worse. They are gambling that universal vaccines or treatments will get here before anything terrible happens.
They might be right. This might all blow over, and Scott will be governor by acclamation until he tires of the job. But I, for one, think they’re taking too big a risk. So do a lot of experts.
Finally, it must be noted that Biden administration policy very much resembles the Scott administration’s. Biden is resisting mandates and shunting responsibility to the states. He has shifted his balancing act between public health and economic interests.
He’s taking the same gamble as Scott. I disagree with both of them.