Tag Archives: Phil Scott

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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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”?

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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Hello Stupid, My Old Friend

Now that the Olympics are over, let us return to our regularly scheduled awards for stupidity and/or obtuseness in the public sphere. Unlike Olympic champions, you won’t see these honorees standing tall and proud while their national anthem is played.

In the leadoff spot we have the Remind Me, Whose House Is This Again? Award, which goes to State Rep. Alice Emmons, for publicly pondering whether reporters should be barred from the Statehouse.

Emmons, chair of the House Corrections & Institutions Committee, is the longest-serving state lawmaker, and has a prickly attitude toward the media. I once saw her berate a reporter in front of a couple dozen people, because the reporter dared to record a committee hearing on his phone. Technically, people are supposed to check with the chair before recording, but that rule is never, ever enforced. Except when Emmons gets a bee in her bonnet. So reading this passage in VTDigger wasn’t much of a surprise:

Rep. Alice Emmons, D-Springfield, told the Joint Legislative Management Committee that while “we want to make sure the press is available to our work,” she is unsure “how that happens on their end.” She said that while it’s possible the press will be allowed to cover the Legislature in person in 2022, “they could also do it by Zoom.”

Yes, they could. But c’mon, if you’re reopening the Statehouse, you’ve got to let the reporters in. It’s a little thing called “freedom of the press.”

After the jump: A doomed attack line, a twisting of history, and the flimsiest felony,

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I Realize We Can’t Be First All the Time, But Can We Please Be First a Little More Often?

Ah, Vermont, home of Bernie, cradle of progressivism, always in the vanguard of positive change.

Or so we like to believe.

In reality, more often than not we lag behind other jurisdictions. And I’ve got not one, not two, but three examples to share.

First, we are now officially behind the Biden administration on the right to repair — which allows consumers to act as if they own the stuff they buy. Second and third, the state of Maine has enacted two bills that put Vermont in the shade. Maine has imposed a virtual ban on the use of PFAS chemicals (so-called “forever chemicals”), the compounds that have created a huge mess in the Bennington area. Also, Maine has passed “extended product responsibility” legislation that makes manufacturers responsible for the ultimate fate of their product packaging.

So why are we behind in these areas? Well, all three touch on corporate interests. Our lawmakers tend to wither and fade when exposed to testimony from the business community. Besides, these are exactly the kinds of bills that Gov. Scott frequently vetoes over vague concerns about competitiveness or costs.

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Hallquist Hire is Phil Scott At His Best

Ooh, this is embarrassing. From when Republicans saw Hallquist as the enemy.

There is nothing bad to say about Gov. Phil Scott hiring Christine Hallquist as executive director of the newly-minted Vermont Community Broadband Board. It’s the kind of move that makes Scott so likeable to so many people.

How many elected officeholders would hire a former political rival to a high-profile position? Not many. But Scott saw Hallquist as the best person for the job, so he hired her without hesitation. In this day and age, it’s so good to see a politician acting in a completely non-political way, putting policy above politics.

The hire is also noteworthy because it shows that Scott is fully on board with the communications union district model, in which community-based nonprofit CUDs would build fiber connections where no commercial operator had been willing to go.

And, especially if the state is adopting this model, Hallquist is clearly the most capable and experienced person for the post.

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Apocalypse Here

Good evening, Vermont.

On the fourth day of our unprecedented heat wave, tragedy struck the Northeast Kingdom town of Lyndon. One of the many wildfires ravaging Vermontswept through the town, destroying virtually everything in its path and causing an unknown number of deaths and injuries. Search and rescue operations are on hold until the fire can be contained.

Today’s high temperature in Lyndon was 113 degrees. It was the fourth consecutive day of temperatures over 110 in a town where the normal July high is less than 80 degrees. Firefighters had to be pulled from the field because of the oppressive heat and the drought that struck Vermont in the spring.

“Our hearts go out to the people of Lyndon,” said Gov. Phil Scott, promising to do “everything I can” to bring help to that town and so many others. Wildfires are burning throughout the Kingdom, as well as the Green Mountain National Forest, the Champlain Valley, the Mad River Valley, and along the Connecti — let’s just say that there are fires all over the state. Areas not directly threatened by fire are dealing with extreme heat and heavy smoke; health commissioner Dr. Mark Levine has urged Vermonters to stay indoors due to the poor air quality.

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