Category Archives: Covid-19

Vermont’s “Test to Stay” Program is Late, Incomplete, and Not Nearly as Effective as It Could Be

When listening to Gov. Phil Scott’s weekly Covid briefings, it’s important to read between the lines. That’s because the bad news is concealed — sometimes cleverly, sometimes incompetently — in carefully-crafted statements that seem like good news but really aren’t.

Case in point: Education Secretary Dan French’s weekly foray into rhetorical misdirection concerning Vermont’s Test to Stay program, in which students who might be at risk are tested upon arrival at school. If they’re negative, they get to stay.

That is, if your school is actually offering the program. We’re three full months into the school year now, and Test to Stay remains very much a work in progress. If French were graded on his performance, he’d get an “Incomplete” and an admonishment to apply himself if he wants to pass.

Tuesday afternoon, French ambled to the lectern, removed his mask, and told us that 43 school districts — 73% of total districts — are enrolled in Test to Stay.

Note the word “enrolled.” They’ve signed up, and that’s all we know. French offered no numbers on how many schools are actively engaged in TTS. Those enrolled districts, he said, have either started testing or are awaiting supplies. Again, no breakdown was offered.

A reminder that the Scott administration didn’t launch TTS until after the beginning of the school year. It’s been playing catch-up ever since.

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Scott to Critics: Please Shut Up

For Gov. Phil Scott, that “freedom of the press” stuff has become awfully inconvenient. On multiple occasions during this week’s Covid briefing, he basically told critics and reporters they should keep quiet for the good of the state.

“Having the continued debate about whether [masks] should be mandated… is just making the problem worse from my standpoint,” Scott said. “It’s dividing people even further, it’s hardening people further.”

So by Scott’s reckoning, anyone who publicly disagrees with him is doing harm to the state. And if you think I’m being unfair, let’s scroll down to where VTDigger’s Erin Petenko asked Scott about an essay by former Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen advocating for an indoor mask mandate.

We judt have a difference of opinion on that. What we do share in a common goal, I think Dr. Chen would probably agree, is that we want people to wear masks when they’re indoors. So let’s focus on the area where we agree, and not keep focusing on the controversial mask mandate.

Which is a gross misrepresentation of Dr. Chen’s position. But we’ll leave that aside and get to the governor’s kicker.

Erin, you could be very helpful in this regard.

Oh, so now it’s the press’s duty to support administration policy? Is that what you’re saying? Really?

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The Health Care Crisis is Already Here

Did you know that the Scott administration Covid policy isn’t aimed at reducing illness? Nope, they don’t care about that. The governor himself has said, over and over, that his goal is to prevent Vermont’s health care system from being overwhelmed. As long as the caseload is manageable, he’s fine.

Well, yeah, he’s fine.

But there’s a problem with that “set the bar low and jump over it” policy goal. It’s already failing. The health care system is already in crisis. It just hasn’t completely blown up yet.

And that’s only because of heroic and unsustainable efforts by health care workers and staff. The administration is desperately trying to patch things together and prevent a total blowup, and that’s all it cares about. Human Services Secretary Mike Smith has taken to giving weekly updates on efforts to add more subacute inpatient beds (to hustle patients out of the hospital as quickly as possible) and ICU beds — and the state is paying God knows how much to staff those extra beds.

I’ve also heard that the University of Vermont Medical Center is relying heavily on temporary nurses because it’s so short-staffed. If that’s the case at our crown jewel, imagine what’s happening in smaller facilities. Temporary nurses are in such high demand that they can almost write their own tickets, and the temp-staff agencies are making out like bandits. (Those agencies charge up to 100% of the staffer’s salary.)

The administration is willing to do anything, at any cost, because they don’t want to see Covid patients parked in emergency rooms or triaged for lack of resources. It’s not about quality of care of public health, it’s about avoiding a PR nightmare.

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Who’s Playing Politics Now?

When, in my previous post I chronicled the ways in which Gov. Phil Scott has demonstrably been Not a Nice Guy, I omitted at least one: How passive-aggressive, how positively pissy he gets when answering his critics. That trait was on full display at this week’s Covid-19 press briefing. (Available on YouTube, in case that 10-hour Norwegian train video is too much for your blood pressure.)

Otherwise, the briefing was another dismal affair. The statistics don’t look good, and Scott had to acknowledge that they’re about to get worse because of the Thanksgiving holiday. For a week or two, he said. Which, he did not add, gets us to the year-end holidays, office parties and family gatherings, which means we can’t realistically expect any improvement in the numbers until at least mid-January.

In other happy tidings, Scott was asked how many Vermonters were still vulnerable to infection because they were unvaccinated or hadn’t gained a measure of immunity through contracting Covid. He admitted to asking the same question himself. “I kept wondering how much wood is left to fuel this fire,” he said, “and the answer was higher than I expected.”

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine filled in the specifics: About 50,000 unvaccinated adults, about half of the 44,000 kids between ages 5-11, plus children under age 5 who can’t be vaccinated yet. “There still is, as the governor kind of alluded to, plenty of fresh, uninfected people who have never been vaccinated that this virus can still find. And it is very adept at finding them,” Levine said.

Hm. Whatever you think about metaphorically comparing vulnerable Vermonters to firewood or fresh meat, that’s an admission that Scott’s vaccinate-first, vaccinate-always strategery was kind of doomed from the beginning. We are, to his credit, at the top of the national rankings in vaccinations… and yet, here we are with plenty of “wood” to burn and a growing pile of case counts, hospitalizations and deaths.

Wood, pile? See what I di… never mind. Back to Pissy Phil.

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Cold Hearted Man

OK, so everybody knows that Phil Scott is a Nice Guy (copyright pending)… but is he really?

His performance throughout the pandemic has varied from creditable (the first 15 months) to misguided (the Delta variant), but there’s been one constant throughout: a lack of human connection.

I don’t recall him ever expressing sympathy or empathy for those felled by Covid. I don’t recall him ever saying the name of a Covid victim or visiting a grieving family. I don’t recall him ever visiting a hospital or long-term care facility to express support to patients, family and staff. I don’t recall any visits to schools or day care facilities whose staffs are overtaxed by the pandemic workload. For that matter, I can’t recall him ever admitting that he badly underestimated the Delta variant. Which he did.

It’s not at all what a Nice Guy would do.

So why is that? Is he a lot less of a N.G. than everyone thought? Is it a pure political calculation? Does he think that if he acknowledges the human toll of the pandemic in any way, it would undercut his message of Getting Back to Normal?

Well, it can’t be politics, because you know how quick he is to criticize others for “playing politics.” He couldn’t possibly be doing the same.

Yeah, right.

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Phil Scott’s Covid “Compromise” Is Even Worse Than I Thought

It’s bad enough that Gov. Phil Scott offered an “olive branch” that put every local elected official in the crosshairs of the masking debate. It’s bad enough that he can shirk all responsibility because hey, he offered a proposal! It’s bad enough that legislative leaders fell for his little trap, which means a special session on Monday for the sole purpose of passing a bill strictly adhering to his demands. It’s bad enough that the House will have to meet in person, subjecting its many elders — and parents with young children — to coronavirus exposure. It’s bad enough that we’ll spend $50,000 or more for the special session.

But you know the topper on this shit sandwich? It’s completely unnecessary.

This was brought to my attention through Robert Oeser’s Twitter feed, so full credit to him. Oeser pointed out that there is already a law on the books that allows communities to enact their own, purely local mask mandates. Specifically, this passage from 18 V.S.A. § 613:

(a) A local board of health may make and enforce rules in such town or city relating to the prevention, removal, or destruction of public health hazards and the mitigation of public health risks, provided that such rules have been approved by the Commissioner. Such rules shall be posted and published in the same manner that ordinances of the municipality are required to be posted and published.

See, it’s already there. Scott’s version is essentially the same. So why all the folderol? Why all the travel and the expense of a special session?

Because Scott is, once again, ducking responsibility.

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Phil Scott is Firmly Bound to His Ineffective Covid Policy

Leadership!

Ugh. Another Covid presser, another spin around the same closed orbit. Despite recent record case numbers, Gov. Phil Scott remained unmoved. He believes his policy is the right one, and he ain’t buying any evidence to the contrary.

It’s getting ridiculous, really. He continues to push the same “common sense advice” that hasn’t been reaching enough Vermonters to keep the Delta variant at bay: Vaccination, booster shots, and indoor masking. Well, the latter is a slight nod to reality; he used to say that vaccinated people didn’t need to mask indoors unless it made them feel better.

And he did is best to piss all over the wretched “compromise” he offered to the Legislature on Monday. You know, come back for a special session in December to consider one idea and no others: A bill to allow communities to enact their own mask mandates — but only if they renew the mandates every month and end them entirely no later than April 30. I really wish legislative leaders had the sense to reject the proposal out of hand. It’s a trap; whether they enact the measure or not, it gets the governor off the hook.

“The Legislature thinks further measures are needed. I disagree but I offered an olive branch,” he said. Later, he added “The mask mandate isn’t my idea. Legislative leadership has asked for it. I don’t want to go there.”

So it’s 100% on them. He doesn’t want the thing, and will accept no consequences from here on. As far as I’m concerned, Scott can take that olive branch and stick it where the sun don’t shine.

About the only entertaining parts of the presser were the occasional hints that Scott’s policy is at variance with the science and data he claims to abide by. At least a couple times, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine kinda let the cat out of the bag. I hope he’s not in trouble with his political masters.

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Extra Urgent Special Veepie Goes Via Overnight Delivery to Phil Scott’s Latest Covid Brainfart

Gov. Phil Scott has offered a “compromise” on mask mandates. An offer that’s so ridiculous, so insulting to all who differ with him, that it deserves to be rejected out of hand.

He sent a letter to legislative leaders containing the following proposition. He would call the Legislature into special session in December for one purpose and one purpose only: To pass a bill allowing municipalities to enact their own mask mandates. The mandates would have to be renewed every 30 days, and must expire no later than April 30.

That’s it. He won’t accept any other legislation, and he won’t accept any changes to his proposal. Come back to the Statehouse, please, and let me tie your hands behind your backs!

Many words come to mind, “fucking bullshit” prominent among them.

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And One of the Elders Saith Unto Me, Veep Not

It’s only fitting that on the day when Gov. Phil Scott basically gave in on emergency housing for the homeless, ending a pointless months-long policy debate, we’ve got a fresh crop of stupidity and/or obtuseness in the public sphere to honor. Today’s honorees include a publisher of anti=vax nonsense suing a U.S. Senator… a restaurant telling employees to show up for work if they’re sick… another failure of the law enforcement system to take action against hate speech… and a real-life lesson in How To Do It Right, sent to the attention of the Vermont Principals’ Association.

First up, the Desperate Times Call for Ludicrous Lawsuits Award, which goes to Chelsea Green Publishing and its cofounder Margo Baldwin. The Vermont publisher, once best known for top-quality environmental and DIY books, is now deep into the Covid conspiracy shit. Now, CG has filed suit against Sen. Elizabeth Warren for allegedly trying to suppress its free speech rights.

Warren’s offense? She wrote to Amazon.com urging them to review its search algorithms so that conspiratorialist nonsense wouldn’t get so many hits. This, per Baldwin, amounts to “the government… trying to censor speech and ban books.”

Well. First, a Senator is influential, but Warren cannot act on behalf of the government and she has no authority over Amazon’s internal policies. The suit itself is its own evidence for a Veepie; it admits that plaintiffs have no proof that Warren had any effect on Amazon’s search algorithms. Quite the contrary, one of CG’s books is the No. 1 bestseller in one Amazon category. If Amazon has rejiggered its algorithms, there’s no sign it’s had any effect on Chelsea Green’s sales.

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The Definition of Insanity

… is, as Albert Einstein didn’t actually say*, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

*Pick a famous “quote,” chances are it’s been misattributed. Einstein is a popular choice.

Not sure why that came to mind after viewing this week’s gubernatorial Covid presser, but there you go.

It was a remarkably dissociative experience. Gov. Phil Scott and his officials laid out an array of bad news, but he insisted that there’s no need for a change in policy.

Although in fact, he did make at least one substantial shift from previous guidance. He just didn’t care to admit it.

“Wear a mask indoors in public places,” Scott said. Previously, as you may recall, his advice was that vaccinated people didn’t need to wear masks unless they felt more comfortable doing so.

That’s a pretty big change, right?

And if you look back at what the administration was saying in August and September, you’ll see that just about all of it is now inoperative.

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