The state of emergency has been lifted but we are still facing a public health emergency.
Last Thursday, the state reported 591 COVID cases, shattering the one-day case record set just the week before. That raised the seven-day case average to 323 cases per day, almost double the seven-day average from early October. Our COVID rates are up 55 percent in the past two weeks (according to VPR). According to the New York Times, “Vermont now reports the third-highest rate of case increase in the nation, and the ninth-highest case rate overall.”
Governor Scott just keeps responding that people should get vaccinated, and though vaccines are very important, they are not the only strategy needed to protect public health. With the Delta Variant the rates of spread are higher than ever before. We need policies that will protect Vermonters.
As rates rise around the state all schools in Vermont need a firm masking policy to protect students and staff. Last week Kate Larose, a parent from Canaan, wrote to me expressing “Phil Scott and his administration have shifted to the language of ‘personal responsibility.’ As the parent of a child who is high risk, our ‘personal responsibility’ since the statewide protection measures were dropped in June have included the following: driving four hours a day to get our child to an elementary school with universal masking, paying extra for food and essentials to be delivered or picked up curbside, being unable to participate in the majority of civic or social life. Unfortunately our personal choices don’t stand a chance in a state with an administration that blatantly refuses to follow the science and data-driven mask mandates. We got the phone call last night that our 8-year-old will need to be spending his 9th birthday alone in his room in quarantine. Governors, commissioners of health, and secretaries of education each have a personal responsibility. Start upholding your duty to protect Vermonters.”
We need policies that make in-person learning and community opportunities possible and safer for all. Protocols that support safety will help us keep schools open with in-person learning.
Vaccinated people can catch COVID and can spread COVID to other vaccinated people. Despite being fully vaccinated, I caught COVID in August. My son, my husband and myself were all fully vaccinated. Our three breakthrough cases were mild and we recovered quickly, but for those who are older or with compromised immune systems, breakthrough COVID can have long lasting effects and can kill. Thirty percent of those hospitalized in Vermont in late October were vaccinated. Vaccination is not enough to prevent severe illness and death for vulnerable Vermonters.
The Delta variant spreads more easily than earlier versions of COVID. A sneeze or cough by an unmasked person whether vaccinated or not can spread COVID, especially in settings where prolonged exposure occurs like in classrooms. Masks can reduce spread. We need universal masking in public indoor places to contain the spread in Vermont. Telling businesses to make their own policies is inadequate.
Earlier in the pandemic Scott provided guidelines about indoor gatherings that kept the rates of spread low. At my local movie theater when I asked about masks, I was told “as we have throughout the pandemic we are following the governor’s guidelines.” Restrictions about indoor crowd sizes and mask requirements were lifted with the end of the state of emergency. The governor’s decisions make a difference in the way Vermonters gather together. With few guidelines, our gathering together has more risk.
Governor Scott has not only failed to reinstate a state of emergency to address COVID in Vermont, but he has blocked communities from implementing their own protective policies.
In Brattleboro, the largest town in Windham County, the Select Board passed a mask mandate for businesses, but without an emergency order, the governor and Dr. Levine had to approve it, and they refused. In my community in the northern part of Windham County, very few wear masks indoors at this time. People followed the governor’s guidelines well earlier in the pandemic. Since the state of emergency was lifted, our rates have gone up and Scott has provided almost no guidance except “get vaccinated.” This is not enough.
As we move into cooler weather we will be indoors more, with closed windows and less fresh air circulation. Masks can be an important barrier to slow the spread of COVID in our schools and our businesses.
In August, 91 employees from the Vt. Dept. of Health signed on to a letter to Dr Levine: “We are writing to express our deep concern at what we believe to be a lack of adequate COVID-19 prevention guidance from our Health Department to Vermonters at this unique state of the pandemic.” The next month, in September more than 70 women health care workers sent a letter to Governor Scott stating “ It feels as though we are failing the children of Vermont with our light-handed approach to their safety. It feels as though a year has passed and we have forgotten everything we learned in 2020,” Vermont needs to do better to protect our children and our communities and we need the Governor to resume strong leadership with protective policies. The legislature is not in session until January. We need Scott to act now.
Twenty-six states have a state of emergency at this time. Vermont should be one of them. A state of emergency would give the governor the power to make proactive policies regarding universal masking, travel, quarantine, and what number if people can safely gather together. The CDC recommends that making should happen indoors regardless of vaccination status. Last year Scott and Levine often followed CDC advice and our COVID rates were the lowest in the nation. Why aren’t we following CDC guidelines now?
Last year Vermont had the lowest rates of COVID in the country for much of the year. Looking at a map of the United States you would see Vermont in bright green, surrounded by yellow and red in the rest of the country. Now Vermont is red, due to our high rates of community spread. We are 19th in cases in the U.S. with nearly three deaths per day. We no longer stand out as a state that is doing all it can to protect its residents and our guests.
With the Delta variant spreading more than earlier forms of the virus, we need the governor to do more to protect Vermonters: universal indoor masking in public places, providing housing through motel vouchers for all who need them, and a new state of emergency to implement further policies as needed. Vermont must do better. Many people who voted for Governor Scott did so because they thought he was doing a good job managing the pandemic. It’s time to get back on track with proactive policies to protect Vermonters.