I’ll give you one guess on which day the Vermont Department of Health chose to reveal that it had undercounted Covid-19 deaths in 2022 by a mere 86.
If you said “Friday,” well, you know your newsdumps.
The Health Department announced that its pandemic death toll was now 877, up from the previous 791. And the increase meant that 2022 was the deadliest year of the pandemic in Vermont.
Isn’t it nice to know that we’re over this whole Covid thing? And with a scary new variant on the march, too.
But you know what’s bothering me? One of the stated reasons for the undercount. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark “Nothing to See Here” Levine said his department had fewer staffers compiling Covid data than earlier in the pandemic.
The second-biggest winner of the campaign cycle so far is (I would argue) Mike Pieciak, newly-minted Democratic nominee for Treasurer. (Lovely 8-bit illo courtesy of Epicenter, a podcast devoted to blockchain, cryptofinance, and other stuff I am blissfully ignorant about.)
I say so despite, and because of, the fact that he sailed unopposed to the nomination.
I completely underestimated the guy. When he entered the race, I saw him as the unknown technocrat who, like Chris Winters, would be vulnerable to a Democratic officeholder with relevant expertise. Kitty Toll, perhaps. Shap Smith. Mitzi Johnson. Etc.
Turned out he wasn’t another Winters. He was another Beth Pearce, a technocrat who blossomed into a political force.
Or maybe it was there all along, and I wasn’t in a position to see his appeal to Democrats of all stripes. As it turned out, Pearce quickly endorsed Pieciak and nobody else even tried to enter the race. (H. Brooke Paige falls into the category of “nobody.”)
Pieciak will be our next Treasurer, and it’s absolutely not out of bounds to see him as a viable gubernatorial candidate in a few years’ time. Maybe even 2024.
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.
America’s Tallest Health Commissioner* stepped out on a limb earlier this week by agreeing to a long-form interview with David Goodman of WDEV and VTDigger. David is an accomplished journalist and skilled interviewer, and the results were predictable: the good doctor kinda spilled the beans.
*Citation needed –Ed.
Dr. Mark Levine acknowledged that the Scott administration’s Covid policies are not based on public health science. He used the word “hope” an uncomfortable number of times He implied that the administration welcomes a spike in Covid cases because it would build immunity in the population. He actually said that the admin is trying to “distract people from case numbers.” He admitted that the long Covid consequences of the Omicron variant are unknown. And he said his own behavior is substantially more cautious than the administration line.
Let’s start with “hope.” He said “hope” or “hopefully” a total of eight times. That’s an awful lot of conditional optimism for a set of policies that’s drawn heavy criticism from many experts, including Levine’s two immediate predecessors.
Levine was hopeful of a smooth transition from pandemic to endemic. He was hopeful that more people will get vaccinated. He hopes to “minimize serious illness and death.” He hopes that widespread shortages of test kits will be a thing of the past. He hopes that long Covid won’t be a major issue because of our high vax rate, and he hopes long Covid will be less of a problem after the Omicron wave than it’s been for other variants.
All that hope validates my view that the administration is taking substantial risks, essentially betting they can get through the pandemic without too much damage.
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.
Hey, remember this nutjob? This is Duly Elected Local Embarrassment Liz Cady, d/b/a Essex Westford school board member. She won her seat last April thanks to some very deceptive campaigning that hid the true nature of her QAnon-adjacent beliefs. Her campaign flyer didn’t mention her rabid conspiratorialism around the Black Lives Matter movement, expressed in public statements like this.
…chaos does not happen in one drastic move overnight. It happens gradually as people stand aside and say, “Well, it doesn’t really affect me so I won’t say anything.” But eventually it will affect you. The Nazis’ rise to power happened slowly. It began in 1930 with riots, burning of stores, and violent acts. And that sounds very similar. Very similar of the early tactics of National Socialism in Germany, and the tactics employed by the BLM organization. It’s striking.
Well, Cady is now doubling down on this toxic line of “thinking.” In a recent opinion piece posted on True North Reports because of course it’s on True North Reports*, she compared fighting the Covid-19 pandemic to, yep, Nazi Germany.
*Sorry, not linking to this intellectual turd.
Cady begins her excursion down the rabbit hole by claiming to be something of an expert on Nazi Germany because she read Anne Frank’s diary as a child and Her Eyes Were Opened. It’s this kind of thing that prevents Ms. Frank from resting in peace.
Cady then wrote that she has “read many commentaries to VTDigger and comments on news stories” asserting that we should set up separate medical facilities where unvaccinated health care workers can ply their trade.
Huh? What? Never have I ever.
She then substitutes “Jews” for “the unvaccinated,” and hey presto, the unvaccinated are being treated just like the Jews in Nazi Germany!!!
This insult to the concept of “rhetoric” drew the attention of the Anti-Defamation League of New England, which tweeted its disgust for her drivel and tagged the Essex Westford School district in the process. Which prompted district superintendent Beth Cobb to reply:
On behalf of EWSD, School Board Chair, Erin Knox and I, as Superintendent, would like to state unequivocally that nothing in Cady’s article represents the policies or beliefs of our school district.
Kinda looking forward to the next school board meeting.
Well, if the governor is spouting fake optimism and citing carefully curated statistics, it must be Tuesday. This week, Gov. Phil Scott and his team had to admit that the Omicron variant is about to hit Vermont just as the holidays arrive. The combination will almost certainly trigger another several weeks of high case counts — higher than ever before — and overburdened health care workers.
So, in the face of all that bad news, Scott kicked off the presser by reminding us all of how much better off we are now than in December 2020 thanks to his administration’s wise policymaking and the innate goodness of Vermonters, who can be trusted to Do The Right Thing without any orders from above.
Sure, if you make the comparison right there. No one would dispute that Scott handled the first 15-odd months of the pandemic very well. But his convenient comparison elides the fact that his handling of the Delta variant has been woefully bad. His administration has consistently underestimated the impact of Delta, which has meant policies that have proved inadequate to the task or too little, too late.
There was hardly any mention of last week’s hot statistic: Scott’s claim that only 5% of adult Vermonters are unvaccinated. I’ve previously documented some of the holes in that figure; Middlebury College physicist Eilat Glikman exposed another one on Twitter:
I used the numbers on the Vermont vaccine dashboard to compute the actual percentage of adults >18yo who are vaccinated in the state. The answer is 81% not 95%.
On Monday morning, I emailed Health Department spokesman Ben Truman asking for an explanation of how the dashboard percentages were calculated and what figure they are using for the population of Vermont. I have yet to receive an answer. (Finance Commissioner and Chief Number Cruncher Michael Pieciak may have dropped a hint; he off-handedly referred to Vermont’s population as around 630,000. The latest Census count is 643,000.)
The magic number of 5% got no mention in the administration’s extensive opening remarks. It did arise during the Q&A, when a reporter brought up (in broad terms) the problems with it. Scott responded with an aggressive defense of his favorite statistic. Unfortunately, the reporter didn’t arm himself with enough facts to question Scott’s bold-faced assertiveness. Nor did he or anyone else query Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine on the public health usefulness of that figure: How valuable, in terms of measuring our Covid resistance, is it to count only those over 18? Why count those who’ve received as little as a single dose, when the administration is urging everyone to get the full course plus a booster? How much protection does a single dose offer?
No answers to any of that. No reporter armed themselves with the information necessary to effectively query the administration.
There were, as usual, more statistical follies on offer.
On Friday, the state of Vermont set a new record for daily Covid cases with 740. It was a full 100 more than the previous record, and just another in an upward climb since the Delta variant arrived. What did Gov. Phil Scott do about it?
He issued a press release asking people to please please please get vaccinated. Just like he’s done every time he opens his mouth.
Oh but this time, his comms team came up with A SLOGAN!
“Boost Up Vermont.”
This is, quite literally, just about the least he could have done.
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?
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.