This was the facial expression Gov. Phil Scott pulled when he was asked if his administration got “caught with your pants down” by the Omicron variant. Yeah, he doesn’t like admitting he may have been wrong and he hates it when someone calls him on it. Maybe we can stop with the “nice guy” stuff, please?
Backing up for a sec. In a Friday newsdump at the end of last week, Education Secretary Dan French announced a complete change in Covid-19 policy for the public schools. At the time, I wrote: “There’s only one good thing about this fiasco. It’s the first time anyone in the Scott administration has admitted that their policies weren’t working.”
Well, at his Tuesday Covid briefing, the governor came out swinging against the idea that his now-inoperative school policies didn’t work.
“The process we’ve been using with school nurses acting as contact tracers was effective before Omicron,” he said in his opening statement, “but it no longer is as effective as it once was.”
I’d like to hear him say that to the face of any school nurse in Vermont. They, and other school staff, were overwhelmed by the workload involved in contact tracing and Test to Stay*. It was unsustainable, and the administration did nothing to help. That’s why the Agency of Education struggled throughout the fall semester to get school districts to sign up for Test to Stay. It was more effective than, say, doing nothing at all, but it never came close to being effective.
*Speaking of which, Scott announced that child care facilities will now be able to sign up for Test to Stay. Did anyone else notice the contradiction? “Test to Stay” is now ineffective in the schools, but it’s the latest thing for child care? Huh.
Hell, he couldn’t even bring himself to admit that the policy failed to meet the test of the Omicron variant. All he said was the policy was “no longer as effective as it once was.”
Which brings us to the pants question.
It came from an unlikely source: Greg Lamoreux, a.k.a. “Greg from the County Courier,” a weekly based in Enosburg Falls. He’s not usually the bravest of the bunch at these pressers. But this time, he came about as close as anyone ever has to directly confronting the governor.
“It kind of seems like such a drastic change coupled with a drastic increase in cases,” Lamoreux noted, referring to French’s policy shift. “Is it an indicator that your administration was at least caught off guard if not caught with your pants down?”
You coiuld tell by the above facial expression that Scott didn’t appreciate the question.
“I might question the characteristic (sic) of ‘drastic’ and also about being surprised by this,” Scott replied. “You know, nothing about this pandemic has been textbook.” He said his administration has been “nimble and flexible to events, relying on the science and data.”* He added that the admin had “no information” about how bad Omicron would be.
*Tuesday was a very big day for “science and data.” The phrase was invoked every time Scott or one of his minions discussed policy development. It’s not true, but they like to say it.
I beg to differ. Omicron hit fast and hard, but it was clear by mid-December that it was the most virulent strain of the coronavirus to date and that it was headed our way. There was no justification for waiting until one week into the winter semester to dump the old policy in favor of an as-yet-unspecified new one.
This is a variation on the tired old “no one could have foreseen” platitude. It’s always an excuse for policy failure, and it’s never true.
So, the governor did his level best to erase the One Good Thing about French’s newsdump. In Scott’s mind, he can do no wrong on pandemic policy. And if you call him on it, you’ll be met with that biting-into-a-lemon face at the top of this post.