Category Archives: Covid-19

It Sure Looks Like the Administration Wasn’t Prepared for the Delta Variant

This week’s news has been very bad for the Scott administration’s reputation for sound management of the Covid pandemic. On Wednesday, Seven Days reported that the state’s contact tracing effort has failed to keep pace with the recent surge in cases. That same day, VTDigger reported that Vermont’s public schools are trying to do contact tracing on their own and are having trouble getting timely advice from the Health Department.

This appears to be a Delta variant phenomenon; the administration’s response was much more robust in earlier phases of the pandemic. Did they get overconfident in early summer, when Covid-19 seemed to be on the wane? Were they over-reliant on the protection offered by widespread vaccination? I’m guessing yes on both counts.

In 2020, Health Department staffers conducted much of the contact tracing, and pulled in other state workers and National Guard troops to assist. This spring the administration outsourced the work to an out-of-state contractor, which was caught unprepared for the arrival of the Delta variant. And the administration has been slow to respond. I have to think they badly underestimated the impact of the Delta surge.

Why do I think that? First, Governor Scott has been very slow to institute tougher measures. Second, his people were slow to realize that Delta would create a need for a vigorous contact tracing system. That became a critical failure as the schools began to reopen.

“Within two weeks, 67 schools should have full contact tracing,” Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said at this week’s Covid briefing. There are 250 public schools in Vermont. Smith is acknowledging that only one-fourth of them will have full contact tracing by late September. That’s appalling.

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A Disturbing Trend in State Covid Stats, and Other Notes on Today’s Presser

This here chart illustrates a troubling development in the last week-plus: Vermont’s initial daily Covid count has been consistently revised upward a day later. Some of the revisions are dramatic. And, as VTDigger reported, the trend continued big-time over the Labor Day weekend. The original case counts for Saturday, Sunday and Monday totaled 242 cases. The one-day-later revised counts totaled 438. Yep, they almost doubled from original report to later revision.

This is problematic in two ways. First, most people who follow this stuff check the daily number on the Covid Dashboard, and that’s all they do. They never spot the revisions. Second, the revisions are not easy to find. They are reflected in the Health Department’s Covid charts, but only if you know where to look. It took me a while, and I’m a frequent Dashboard visitor. It ain’t exactly transparency.

This issue rightfully came up at Gov. Phil Scott’s weekly briefing today. And the answers were, shall we say, less than informative.

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Phil Scott’s Power Grab

Recent news coverage of Brattleboro’s attempt to impose a mask mandate has revealed something that went under the radar in June, and I have questions.

Last week, Gov. Phil Scott rejected the Brattleboro ban. In doing so, the administration cited an executive order posted on June 15. The order came at the end of Vermont’s state of emergency, and outlined next steps in fighting Covid-19. They included use of the National Guard in “vaccination and other recovery services,” extending a measure allowing bars and restaurants to sell take-out alcoholic drinks, extending emergency housing measures, and…

What seems to be a remarkable concentration of power in the governor’s office: “Changes in public health mitigation measures or requirements impacting the general population shall require approval of the Governor.”

By itself, the order seems to apply to measures taken by the state. But just before that sentence comes a statement that the Vermont Department of Health “shall oversee COVID-19 related investigation and mitigation efforts,” including those by municipal authorities. That sets the stage for the assertion of executive power.

I’m no lawyer and this could all be completely kosher. But it seems a bit dictatorial to me, and I’m surprised that it failed to attract a single bit of coverage or criticism. Other parts of the order, like the housing bit and the liquor permission, were covered extensively. But not the assumption of unitary power by the governor.

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Nothing to See Here

Yeah, we hit a single-day total of 189 Covid cases on Saturday. Yeah, our seven-day total is nearing the peak levels of March. Yeah, as schools reopen around the country, we’re getting reports of Covid outbreaks. Yeah, Covid cases among young children are peaking. Yeah, it looks like vaccines are less effective than believed at preventing severe illness. Yeah, the Centers for Disease Control says that universal masking should be practiced in schools. Yeah, a single teacher who briefly umasked apparently spread Covid to a couple dozen kids. Yeah, Vermont schools are reopening with no mask mandate. Yeah, Vermont has the highest proportion of childhood Covid of the 50 states. Yeah, school boards across the state are being harassed by unruly anti-maskers. Yeah, there’s a story or three every damn day that gives you pause.

But please ignore the sea of red flags. Nothing to see here. According to the Scott administration.

I know, there’s plenty of evidence on the other side. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Delta variant dwindles away as projected. It’s quite possible we’re going to get through this with a minimum amount of damage. But what if we don’t? The situation seems to call for vigilance and an abundance of caution.

The most concerning thing for me, as a senior citizen with risk factors, is the news that vaccines are less effective at preventing hospitalizations than was previously believed. There’s also a study showing that vaccine protection isn’t as strong among the immunocompromised. That’s a lot of folks who may not be as safe as they thought.

For Vermonters as a whole, the big worry is the potential for widespread illness among children. With kids under 12 still unvaccinated, every elementary school and child care facility is an outbreak waiting to happen. Let’s run down some back-to-school bad news… after the jump.

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So Tell Us, VTDigger, What Exactly ARE Your Editorial Standards? (UPDATED)

Note: Mirabile dictu, VTDigger has sent a response to this post. You’ll find it at the end.

Recently, VTDigger pulled an opinion piece shortly after publication because it “did not meet VTDigger’s editorial standards.” The piece in question asserted a connection between Covid vaccines and genetically modified organisms. Digger did not explain what its editorial standards are, nor why they were only applied retroactively.

Well, there’s other evidence suggesting that Digger doesn’t really have consistent standards for accepting opinion pieces. The GMO essay was published and retracted on August 20. The previous day, Digger saw fit to publish, without apparent scruple, an opinion piece advocating for the use of ivermectin — and, God help us all, hydrochloroquine — for treatment of Covid-19. Instead of vaccines.

WTF, VTD?

Update: VTDigger’s response to this post can be found below, but I wanted to note here that the editors have decided to remove the ivermectin essay from the site.

There is no evidence that ivermectin OR hydrochloroquine are effective treatments for Covid. The off-label use of ivermectin formulations meant for farm animals (such as the attractively-named Sheep Drench) has led to an outbreak of poisonings.

Riddle me this. If it’s unacceptable to publish a piece that imagines a vaccine/GMO link, why is it acceptable to run a piece promoting dangerous and ineffective treatments? Given the current situation, I’d say the latter idea is worse than the former. So why is the ivermectin essay allowed to tarnish the VTDigger brand?

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The Stouthearted Man of Principle Stands Alone

The Telltale Smirk.

Gov. Phil Scott has many admirable traits, as well as many politically advantageous ones. But the hackles rise whenever he accuses his opponents of playing politics. He did it again at his press briefing on August 24, shortly after House Speaker Jill Krowinski and Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint called for stronger action against Covid-19.

“I think it’s unfortunate to play politics at this point in time,” he said in response to a question about the Democratic leaders’ statements. “I think one of the reasons our pandemic response has been the best in the nation is that we never politicized our response, as other states and other ambitious leaders have done throughout the country.”

“Other ambitious leaders,” eh? Got any particular House or Senate leaders in mind there?

It’s bullshit, in a word. He casts himself as the sole champion of pure reason in a grubby little world of political hackery. In fact, Scott has been a politician far longer than Krowinski or Balint. Longer than the two of them combined. Legislating and policymaking are inherently political enterprises. If you’re in that sandbox, you are playing politics.

His definition of “playing politics” appears to be “disagreeing with me.” If you’re on board with his Covid policy, you’re dutifully following the science and the data. If you differ, well, you’re being (ugh) political.

So tell me, are the 91 Health Department employees who just wrote a letter expressing their “deep concern” over the state’s “lack of adequate COVID-19 prevention guidance” playing politics? Are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has called for universal masking in school buildings and recommended masking in all indoor spaces regardless of vaccination status? Is the American Academy of Pediatricians, which calls for school mask mandates and vaccination of all eligible persons? Is the World Health Organization, which recommends not only universal indoor masking but avoiding indoor spaces, especially crowded ones, whenever possible?

That’s a hell of a lot of non-politicians who, by Scott’s definition, are playing politics.

I wish he’d cut the “playing politics” innuendo. It’s unnecessary. It’s the very definition of political.

What’s wrong with a simple “Reasonable people may disagree, but I believe my policy is right”?

A Covid Denier Gets an Editorial Rug Pulled From Under Her

The Giants of Journalism over at VTDigger got themselves in a spot of bother last Friday, when they posted a commentary by one Aimee Stephenson making a dubious connection between Covid vaccines and GMOs. The piece was quickly removed, and replaced with a note saying that the essay “did not meet VTDigger’s editorial standards.”

The note raises some questions, such as what exactly are VTDigger’s editorial standards when it comes to commentaries? And how did the piece get published in the first place?

I think I know. Digger follows the pattern of print newspapers in publishing commentaries. It’s a way to give the people a voice occupy space at no cost to the publisher. The editorial touch ranges from light to nonexistent. I imagine the process is something like, “Hey, we got a commentary. Next time we need some filler, let’s run it.”

Example: The Times Argus recently published a lengthy commentary by one David Spaulding, fiercely critical of the T-A and all those “liberal” news outlets like the Associated Press. Their offense? Failing to doggedly pursue the alleged scandal of Hunter Biden’s laptop.

Seriously. “Editorial standards,” indeed.

While Stephenson’s piece no longer graces the VTDigger website, the St. Johnsbury Caledonian-Record has a more… forgiving… editorial standard. It published Stephenson’s piece without blinking an eye, and it’s still there. So let’s take a look at what Digger retroactively decided to kill.

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Phil Scott’s Biggest Gamble

In the face of rising Covid-19 numbers, Gov. Phil Scott has stood fast on his pandemic policy. He has offered recommendations instead of mandates, and refused to set new restrictions on, say, indoor dining or tourism. In doing so, he has cited evidence that the Delta variant declines several weeks after onset.

To be honest, I go back and forth on the direness of the current situation, as I read a reassuring story or an alarming statistic. But here’s one thing I do know: This is the biggest gamble Phil Scott has ever taken as governor. Bigger than the gun bills, bigger than vetoing three budgets in two years. His handling of the pandemic has made him politically untouchable. If the Delta variant doesn’t turn the corner by Labor Day or so, he risks losing everything he has gained in the last 18 months.

A couple of weeks ago, Finance Commissioner and Chief Covid Projector Michael Pieciak cited the track record of the Delta variant: An alarming increase followed by a decline five to seven weeks later. The governor is betting that Vermont will follow the same path.

We’re roughly at the five-week mark now. Schools are about to reopen with no mask mandate and no vaccines for kids under 12. We are about to see if our experience matches Scott’s optimism. If it doesn’t, then Scott will get the blame — just as he has gotten the lion’s share of the credit for managing the pandemic so far.

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New Report Finds Global Stupiding Is a Threat to Humanity

This week’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Stupid shone a bright light on the existential threat posed by rising levels of stupidity. The IPS says atmospheric releases of stupid are reaching all-time highs, imperiling our capacity to respond to serious issues. This new crop of Veepies gives a measure of validation to the report; we’ve got some real doozies on our hands, folks.

The Tucker Carlson Memorial Award for Profitable Fearmongering goes to Chelsea Green Publishing. The firm that has produced quite a few notable books in the earth-friendly category has a hit on its hands, not to mention blood. Earlier this year, CG published a book co-authored by Joseph Mercola, “the world’s leading source of online coronavirus misinformation.” And the book, “The Truth About Covid-19,” lives up to the author’s reputation.

The book, per the Valley News, asserts that “the pandemic was preplanned as a tool of global elites who want to strengthen their control of the economy.” It also casts doubt on coronavirus vaccines, while promoting supplements sold by, ahem, Joseph Mercola. The book has already sold 250,000 copies

To judge by her comments, CG president Margo Baldwin is a Covid denier herself. She claims the book went through a rigorous editorial process, and blamed the mainstream media for “creating a climate of fear and misinformation.” I have a few CG books on my shelf; rest assured I won’t be buying any more.

Still to come: Another cock-up at UVM, a deeply flawed “survey” from Burlington, and the Bennington cops get a meaningless bauble.

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Hey Hey, We’re the Veepies!

This being midsummer in a non-election year, things are a little bit show in #vtpoliland. Or maybe there’s stuff going on, but since there are practically no reporters on the #vtpoli beat right now, we’d never find out about it.

As a result of this lack of news, this edition of the Veepies (our awards for stupidity and/or obtuseness in the public sphere) roams far afield into the realms of journalistic conflicts of interest, conservatives panicking over nothing, and even sports talk radio.

That’s where we begin. The Please Stop Talking About Something You Know Nothing About Award goes to Rich and Arnie, co-hosts of the afternoon talk show on Burlington’s 101.3 The Game. On Tuesday afternoon, the day Simone Biles withdrew from the team gymnastics competition, the boys pulled down their pants and showed their asses for all to see. (The show is archived on the station’s website and podcast.)

Arnie repeatedly referred to BIles’ mental health crisis as “having a bad day,” and accused Biles of costing her team the gold medal. Rich questioned “the timing” of her withdrawal, and asked, “Was she having a bad day first, or was she having a bad day after she messed up the vault?” (She withdrew after a subpar performance on the vault.)

This happens every time a societal or political issue intrudes on the Toy Department of Life. Sports talk radio is suddenly, horribly out of its depth.

Look, guys. You can’t schedule a mental health crisis. You don’t know what’s going to set it off. When it happens, it can be like a tsunami dragging you down. We know that Biles felt unable to compete safely, so withdrawing was the responsible thing — for her well-being and for the team’s prospects in the competition. So just shut up about issues that you can’t be bothered to learn about, and stop making fools of yourselves.

After the jump: Two cases of conservative hysteria, and a veteran reporter steps in it.

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