Category Archives: Covid-19

“Overabundance of Caution” Means Whatever the Hell Tom Evslin Says It Means

The VTDigger commentary space is often a repository for the very best in straw-man punching: setting up an easy target and dispatching it with, if you’re talented enough, a rhetorical flourish.

Well, Tom Evslin, entrepreneur, serial Republican donor, self-appointed technology seer and number-one fan* of Elon Musk’s Starlink Internet service**, went one better in the straw man competition. He threw together a whole bunch of miscellaneous straw men under the rubric of “overabundance of caution” and went straight down the line, punching each of them in turn. All in service of a point that apparently made sense to him but is, in fact, utterly incoherent.

*He has given his own Starlink satellite dish a nickname: “Dishy”

*His occasional musings on the glories of Starlink have found a home on True North Reports, because Musk is the closest thing reality offers to an Ayn Rand hero. Except Musk is a phony; his companies have received literally billions in public sector grant funding.

The overarching point is that Our Political Leaders sometimes overreact to a potential danger, thus putting us all in metaphorical shackles. And by “overreact,” I mean doing something that Tom Evslin disagrees with. Ah, if only we were all as wise as he.

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“Decrease the Surplus Population”

I hadn’t realized that Our Political Masters were Malthusians, but the current iteration of Covid policy would argue otherwise. They’ve thrown in the towel on limiting the spread of the virus, relying solely on vaccines, testing and treatment.

Meanwhile, SARS-COV-2 is spinning out vax-resistant variants at an alarming, and accelerating, clip. And it seems like every day we hear more bad news about long Covid, which nobody in government seems to care about.

I haven’t written about Covid in a while because (a) it’s too depressing, (b) new developments have been coming along too quickly to keep up with, and (c) this ain’t just the Scott administration anymore. The Biden administration’s policy is at least as Malthusian as Scott’s, maybe a little more. But today is the day the Vermont Health Department is posting its last daily Covid update. It’s switching to a weekly “syndromic surveillance report” that takes some effort to interpret. Those big bold inconvenient daily numbers for cases, hospitalizations, deaths and positivity rate? If they can’t make ’em look good, they’ll make ’em go away.

That may seem harsh, but the daily data is still being collected. It’s just not being posted in a high-profile space. The Health Department says so itself on its soon-to-be-shuttered Covid Dashboard: “COVID-19 data sets will still be accessible through the Vermont Open Geodata Portal, including case counts, hospitalizations, deaths, PCR testing and more.” The Department sees enough value in the daily numbers to keep track of them. They’re just hiding them better.

Is it a pure coincidence that this is happening one day after Gov. Phil Scott announced he’s runing for re-election? Running, to the extent he can be bothered to run at all, on his assertion that we’ve beaten the pandemic? And hey look, VTDigger is helping! They’ve discontinued their homepage front-and-center Covid updates!

I guess the pandemic is over. Right?

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At Moments Like This, Let’s Just Be People

The strapping fellow pictured above is Charles Vallee, who died at age 27 this month of long Covid. His obituary says that he “made the lives richer of all he knew,” and I don’t doubt that he did. He seems to have been a remarkable young man.

Vallee was the son of Rodolphe “Skip” Vallee, gas station magnate and generous donor to Republican causes in Vermont and elsewhere. I have poked more than my share of fun at the political stylings of Mr. Vallee, including his deep disdain for Bernie Sanders and his turn as an alleged environmentalist in opposing a Costco gas station that posed a competitive threat to one of his Maplefields outlets, among other things.

Right now, though, it’s time to leave politics at the door. Nobody deserves this. All the sympathy for Skip and his family. This just tears at the heart:

Early this year, Charlie contracted Covid-19, and while weathering the mild respiratory symptoms, he was devastated by a host of Long Covid symptoms so severe that he ultimately had to reject a further deployment and, in the end, take a leave of absence from work. It was in this state, that Charlie left us on May 3.

There’s a whole lot of suffering in that handful of words, for Charlie himself and for those around him. I can’t imagine what these months have been like for the Vallees. Just a few years ago, Skip fought for his own life against cancer. I hope his recovery left him with the strength to endure the loss of his son.

Charlie was exactly the sort of person who’s supposed to be impervious to Covid. He was young and healthy. His initial illness wasn’t that serious, but long Covid got him good and he became one more statistic in Covid’s grim and growing toll.

To their credit, the Vallee family are setting up a special fund in Charlie’s honor, the Charles M. Vallee Foundation for Long Covid Research. They are urging memorial contributions to the fund. Let’s hope the Foundation helps spark a breakthrough in the fight against long Covid. That would at least put a silver lining around his death and the bereavement of those close to him.

Godspeed, Charlie. Condoléances, Skip.

Feelin’ Kinda Disposable

We have yet to arrive at the near-future dystopia described in Paolo Bacigalupi’s incredible novel The Windup Girl, but there are signs we’re moving in that direction.

In the novel, Earth has been catastrophically altered by climate change. Civilization is in ruins. Only the wealthy have the means to rise above the misery of daily life. The rest are, well, nobody cares about them.

Aside from steadily worsening climate change and our desperation to maintain the flow of cheap fossil fuels undercutting our inadequate efforts to mitigate the damage, we’re stepping across the threshold of a new phase in the Covid-19 pandemic: From now on, students and school personnel won’t be required to mask up. Data gathering is slacking off, and Covid-related restrictions are being dumpstered in our haste to Get Back To Normal.

I’m sure many will see the Bacigalupi citation as overly dramatic, but I’m beginning to glimpse a future where Covid is always a dangerous presence, taking a toll on the most vulnerable among us. And we become, if we haven’t already, inured to death tolls that used to scare us half to death. Figuratively. And we accept that many, many people will be disabled by long Covid. There’s a lot of bad news on that front, which I’ll get to.

I see a future where people like me will wear masks all the time and will abstain from crowded situations indefinitely. I’ve found myself wondering if I’d ever eat in a restaurant again or attend a concert or travel for recreational purposes. I sure don’t feel safe doing any of that now, and I have no idea when I will. And I find myself wondering if people like me matter anymore.

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Let’s Just Stop With the Convoy Crapola, Shall We?

“The parking lot is filled with red, white and blue.” Eh, nope.

Hey, remember the great Trucker Convoys that tied up downtown Ottawa and shut down the Ambassador Bridge because Truckers Mad About Freedom? Yeah, doesn’t that just scream “February”?

Well, it’s March, and I think it’s time to stop paying attention.

VTDigger, WCAX-TV and WPTZ-TV didn’t agree. They sent reporters to cover Freedom Convoy gatherings in Lebanon, NH and Champlain, NY. And having sent the reporters, they felt duty-bound to produce stories — despite the fact that the only “news” was how few people bothered to show up. And both broadcasters devoted more than two minutes to the story, which is an eon in TV time.

The reporters allowed themselves to become stenographers for the convoy movement. Participants were given plenty of time to list their grievances and depict themselves as simple, peaceful, freedom-loving Americans. There was no mention of the chaos and economic disruption caused by the Canadian protests, which was exactly the outcome the American organizers had hoped to produce.

See the image above? That’s a screenshot from WPTZ’s story. While that image was on screen, reporter Liz Strzepa said that the parking lot was “filled with red, white and blue.” Um, I see only six flags, ma’am.

Maybe that was an unfortunate juxtaposition and the lot was much fuller than it appeared. But Strzepa never showed a wide angle. There were many close shots of a few people and a few vehicles, but no establishing shot that would have given the whole picture. Probably because it would have exposed the gathering for what it was: a complete washout.

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Playing Politics With Mental Health

Acting Human Services Secretary and Effusive Wireless Advocate Jenney Samuelson

As our political leaders, state and national, try to reassure us that the post-pandemic future is now, one of their favorite rhetorical devices is mental health. The danger to our physical health is nothing compared to the toll of isolation, fear, absence of normal activity, and apparently how facemasks cut off blood flow to the brain. Our leaders aren’t simply pushing us back to the assembly line of work and consumerism; they are the good guys, protecting us from Covid’s frightful toll on mental health.

Take, for example, Edjamacation Secretary Dan French implying that those of us still worried about the pandemic are pushing our kids into the abyss. At this week’s Gubernatorial Agenda Promotion Event, he talked of reducing the anxiety level in schools by getting everything back to normal. In other words, if you’re still concerned about prevention, if you’re constantly badgering kids to wash up or stay home if they’re sick or — horrors — force them to wear a mask or do so yourself, you’re complicit in fostering a pandemic of mental illness.

Nowhere in any of this do we hear about the mental and emotional toll of living with the pandemic, of the continuing vigilance that many of us feel compelled to maintain even as French and Gov. Phil Scott pretend that those stresses don’t exist.

Masking is a two-way street. I wear a mask in public spaces, but it’s much less effective if other people are unmasked. Meanwhile, our leaders are practically tearing the masks off our faces. Oh well, the concerns of marginal Vermonters like the old, the immunocompromised, the disabled, and anyone at elevated risk are absent from the administration’s equation.

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Welcome to The Governor’s Weekly Agenda Promotion Event

These things used to be weekly updates on the Covid-19 pandemic but, as of today, that’s no longer the case.

For the second week in a row, Gov. Phil Scott opened the event by declaring he had nothing to say about the pandemic. Instead, he used his platform to tout an administration policy priority. And the first administration official who followed Scott the lectern wasn’t Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine or Virus Vaticinator Michael Pieciak or Education Secretary Dan French.

No, it was the person pictured above: Public Service Commissioner June Tierney.

Needless to say, she didn’t talk about Covid. She talked about Scott’s plan to enhance mobile phone service by spending $51 million on new cell towers.

Right off the bat, we get two big tells that the state of the pandemic is no longer the chief subject.

Then came Strike Three. WCAX’s Calvin Cutler wanted to ask about the medical monitoring bill making its way through the Legislature, so he opened by noting that his question was “off topic.”

Scott’s response? “It’s not off topic for our weekly press briefings.”

That’s a new, and I’d say deliberate, change on the governor’s part.

So, per Scott himself, we no longer have weekly Covid briefings. We have weekly administration Happy Hours broadcast live across the state. In an election year, it begins to look less like public information and more like free publicity.

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Dregs of the Ballot: Ethan Lawrence, Stealth Conspiratorialist

People of Essex, be forewarned. The man who uses this as his social media image is Ethan Lawrence, candidate for Selectboard. In fact, Ethan Lawrence is the only name on the ballot for the office he seeks. But he’d be such a disaster that town Democratic Party chair Brian Shelden has stepped forward as a write-in candidate in hopes of derailing Lawrence’s bid for office.

Lawrence is an anti-vaxxer, anti-masker, and angry despiser of all things liberal. But he’s presenting himself as a thoughtful moderate in hopes of sneaking into office as Liz Cady did last year in her bid for Essex-Westford school board. Now, Lawrence has every right to be a candidate, but the voters deserve to be informed about his views and his character.

Until very recently, Lawrence maintained a lively, vulgar, conspiratorialist presence on social media. Now that he’s presenting as a moderate, he’s tried to hide his tracks. But hey, this is why God invented screenshots. Here’s a pretty typical example.

We’ve got more, and worse… after the jump.

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Pivoting As Fast As He Can

This week’s Covid briefing was devoted to moving the conversation toward that long-sought-after pivot from pandemic to endemic. There were the usual rote reports of vaccination, school policy, forecasting, mask and test distribution &c., but the administration’s heart wasn’t in it.

The big tell came right at the beginning, when Gov. Phil Scott announced he had nothing to say about Covid-19. Instead, he pivoted to a brief repetition of his favorite policy points — workforce, technical training, how to spend federal Covid relief money and the surplus in the Education Fund (TL;DR: “not on public schools”).

I realize the numbers are coming down, as they inevitably had to. But isn’t it just a little bit early to start the George Aiken process of declaring victory and going home? After all, ICU admissions have yet to decline and deaths are still on the increase. Perhaps the briefest of pauses would be wise.

Of course, it’s almost certain that hospitalizations and deaths will decline within a few weeks. But let’s not get carried away. We’re returning to a decidedly unhealthy baseline. The positive view of our numbers is that we are getting back to, ahem, the bad old days of the Delta variant. That’s no cause for celebration.

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Never Miss a Chance to Hit Your Talking Points, No Matter How Awkward the Context

Gov. Phil Scott used the occasion of his weekly Covid briefing — well, customarily weekly; he’s missed two of the last three weeks — to do a little bragging. The Omicron numbers are starting to trend downward and Scott was quick to take credit, although he also warned it was too soon for a victory lap.

That’s all fine. Normal for a politician. But on a couple of occasions, the governor took it uncomfortably close to the realm of tastelessness.

First, a reporter asked him to reflect on Vermont’s death toll passing the 500 milestone. He said the right words, most of them, although in an oddly dispassionate tone; but he couldn’t resist referring — not once, but twice — to the state’s relatively low death toll. In other words, he took a solemn moment as a pretext for delivering a political talking point. And later on, he talked of keeping the death rate on the low side in spite of Vermont’s aging population. Yeah, I know, us Olds are so inconvenient.

Details and a few other notes… after the jump.

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