Tag Archives: Mark Levine

An Inequity Ignored is an Inequity Enabled

The numbers, from the start of the pandemic through 2/10/21. Source: VT Department of Health.

The subject of today’s sermon is racial inequity in health care, and more specifically, racial inequity in access to Covid-19 vaccines. We have two readings. First, a legislative hearing about racial inequity in health care. Second, a racial equity activist’s efforts, apparently ignored, to get answers about Vermont’s vaccination policy.

As you can see above, Black and Hispanic Vermonters are far more likely to contract Covid than their white counterparts. And yet, the state isn’t doing much (if anything) to address the disparity in its vaccine policy.

More on that in a moment, but let’s turn to the hearing. The House Health Care Committee is considering H.210, a bill addressing racial disparities in health care. Wednesday morning, the panel heard from a nationally known expert in the field: Dr. Maria Mercedes Avila, a UVM prof and member of the Governor’s Task Force on Racial Equity.

Dr. Avila spent the better part of two hours unspooling a wide-ranging overview of those disparities. Their roots in history, their scope and persistence, their effects, and what can be done to address and eliminate them. It was a sobering presentation.

Well, it was for most of the committee.

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Dr. Levine Susan Collinses the CovidCruiser

Friday’s Scott-free* Covid briefing featured multiple questions about the CovidCruiser, which took a busload of Vermonters down to Washington for Wednesday’s pro-Trump rally turned riot. And the answers revealed a surprisingly laissez-faire attitude toward the dozens of participants who were clearly shown violating public health guidelines. During a 10-hour one-way trip in an enclosed space, which seemed ideal for superspreading.

*The governor was not present. His absence had been planned for days; it was not an attempt to duck questions about the Trump-encouraged D.C. riots.

Essentially, the state wagged its finger at the travelers.

Health commissioner Dr. Mark Levine labeled the trip as “a high risk enterprise,” and said the state issued very clear guidance on testing, mask wearing, social distancing and quarantining requirements upon returning to Vermont. But, he added, “we don’t really have the regulatory power to enforce somebody being quarantined when they are not yet a [Covid-19] case… But we’ve been very strong with the information about quarantining and testing.”

He didn’t specifically say he was concerned or disappointed, but he was obviously following the Susan Collins approach to non-ideal developments.

Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling was asked if the state had obtained a list of travelers, for purposes of communication and possible contact tracing. “We do not have a comprehensive list of the folks that were on the bus,” he replied. He said the state had no intention to get such a list. He added that the state did contact the bus company, which “graciously agreed to make an announcement to all of the folks that were on the bus to reinforce the quarantine guidelines.”

In all, a remarkably passive response to a clear superspreader threat. I mean, you’ve got a busload of people who were clearly shown on video riding in close proximity with nary a mask in sight. I’d think that would warrant a more robust response. Not mandatory quarantining, but getting that list and closely following the occupants for signs of illness. And something more than a mere suggestion to get tested.

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Don’t buy any green bananas

Is anyone feeling confident right now?

You shouldn’t.

Vermont has been spared the worst of the pandemic so far. But even so, we’re dealing with constant uncertainty — and a financial calamity that’s just beginning to be felt.

And every day we’re one step closer to the fall, when coronavirus is likely to hit even harder.

Where do I even begin? Education seems the best place. Educators at all levels, not to mention parents, are furiously trying to develop plans that are subject to change on a moment’s notice. This week, Gov. Phil Scott identified September 8 as the first day of school — but that could mean in-person, online, or most likely a mix of the two. Scott and Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine sought to reassure the public that, as Levine put it, “In Vermont, this is the right time to open schools.”

Of course, in the same press conference, Education Secretary Dan French conceded that “This is uncharted territory that acknowledges a considerable amount of uncertainty and anxiety.”

This came a few days after Brigid Nease, superintendent of the Harwood Union Unified School District, posted a letter to her community outlining all the uncertainties and obstacles facing her staff. It’s worth reading, but what struck me was the complete lack of confidence that, even if it was safe to open schools, there may not be enough staff.

Letters of resignation, requests for leaves of absence, Family Medical Leave (FMLA), Emergency Family Medical Leave (EFML), Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL), Exemption status, and leave under the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA) (Which provides up to 12 weeks of leave for employees unable to work because their child’s school is closed) are coming in.

The truth is most school employees are scared to death they will get sick (or worse), bring the virus home to loved ones, have a student in their care become ill, or experience the death of a coworker.

Meanwhile, on the higher education front, colleges and universities are constantly fiddling with their reopening plans — all of which seem to be based on crossed fingers and an unfounded faith in the self-restraint of college students.

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Dancing With the Devil (Updated)

This Just In: Phil Scott is playing a dangerous game.

The governor has been consistent in believing that, with proper encouragement and modeling, Vermonters will wear masks of their own accord. And he’s kinda-sorta been right, at least in terms of “no big outbreaks so far.”

But if he’s waiting for “lots more cases” before considering a mask mandate, then he will have waited too long. As the examples of Florida, Texas, Arizona, Arkansas, South Carolina and other states show, and as the science about coronavirus shows, “lots more cases” is the inevitable precursor of an out-of-control pandemic.

And by Vermont standards, the past month hasn’t been the best. According to the Health Department’s data, the month of May brought exactly 100 new cases, increasing our total from 885 to 985. Since June 1, we’ve added another 223.

Last week, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine claimed that Vermont was flattening the curve. That was arguably true a month ago, but not now. And every time Scott gives the ol’ spicket another quarter-turn, we hope it’s not coronavirus that comes out.

In truth, he doesn’t have any good options. The initial shutdown was supposed to give America time to get its shit together on testing and contact tracing. Then, when we reopened the economy, we’d be able to keep a lid on the virus — just as most of Europe has done. But here, the Trump administration completely bungled things. As a result, the shutdown accomplished nothing except to cause tremendous disruption and untold financial pain.

At last Wednesday’s press briefing, Scott was asked if he expected Congress to extend the temporary $600 bump in unemployment benefits. He said he didn’t, and that was why he continued to gradually reopen the economy. If he can’t do that, then the pain will spread and intensify.

But every gradual bit of reopening heightens the risks.

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