Last (month) Governor Phil Scott announced various state bans on holiday gatherings. In addition to his travel ban, he said Vermonters were not allowed to congregate with anyone from other households.
As a clever enforcement mechanism, he directed schools to question students upon their return and to forbid entry to kids whose parents disobeyed the state. We were instantly reminded of Lenin’s Young Pioneer program and were saddened by the speed and enthusiasm by which our local schools embraced the tactic.
A little further from home, we read that some states are abandoning contact tracing efforts. First, there aren’t enough people to keep pace with the number of infections. More notably, though, is that people are saying “fine, you want us to stay home for 14 days … who is going to feed my family during that time?” And sure enough, there aren’t a lot of satisfactory answers forthcoming.
In Vermont, we have enough contact tracing manpower. But the effort is only good if people respond honestly and comply with the prescriptions. That’s no given.
Recently we published a wire report about a cluster of cases in Orange County. Orange Southwest School District Superintendent Layne Millington told the AP that about a third of the families that were contacted by the state discounted concerns about possible exposure or exposing others to the virus.
“Didn’t care, is probably a good expression for a lot of them,” Millington said. “And then, we had at least one family that had positive cases that said they were going to be noncompliant with the quarantine.”
We don’t think it’s hyperbole to say, if you get enough of those people, it’s game over.
We aren’t as recalcitrant as our aforementioned neighbors in Orange County. But it brings us back to the story of the governor who muscled his way into Thanksgiving.
To date, Governor Scott has gotten high marks for effective management of the crisis. As a direct consequence, most Vermonters have thus far followed his lead willingly. That’s no small thing when you’re talking about dramatic policies that affect every facet of our lives — most notably our ability to make a living.
Nor is it a given that Vermonters will blindly follow, into perpetuity.
These are high stakes gambits, and the margin of error is small. With the exception of his ratline in April, and an attack on a Rutland gym trying to eke out an existence in May, we’d say the Governor has operated admiringly within these margins.
But we would urge him to slow his roll the next time he’s thinking about entering our homes to announce we can’t be trusted with common sense. That’s an overreach in any circumstance. More so when the policy is based on questionable data and science, as we’re led to believe by a New York Times analysis that followed Scott’s directive.
Apoorva Mandavilli wrote last week that while social gatherings have become a convenient scapegoat, “there is little evidence to suggest that household gatherings were the source of the majority of infections since the summer.”
She writes policies like Governor Scott’s lead to “draconian policies that don’t square with science.”
Ashleigh Tuite, an infectious disease modeler at the University of Toronto, goes a step further, telling Mandavilli … “These recommendations are unscientific and ‘bizarre.’”
She rightly points out “people are going to recognize that and push back.
“Dissonant policies also run the risk of fueling mistrust and resentment in a public already beset with fatigue from the pandemic and politics,” Dr. Tuite warns.
In response to the New York Times piece, the Scott administration insisted that data drives policy. But when pressed, the Health Department and Governor only provided anecdote. When devising rules that insert the state squarely into our homes, that flimsy approach isn’t gonna cut it for long.
— The Caledonian Record, Nov. 30