By Sarah Mearhoff/VTDigger
Vermont state lawmakers joined health care workers, teachers and others during a Monday afternoon press conference, Oct. 25, to increase pressure on Gov. Phil Scott to reinstate an emergency declaration amid rising coronavirus case counts in the state.
The calls for a mask mandate and other mitigation measures come as Vermont continues to see record case growth, fueled largely by the highly contagious Delta variant of Covid-19. With a seven-day average of 218 cases per day and 35 cases per 100,000 people, Vermont now has the 17th-highest case rate in the country. It’s now higher than New York and Massachusetts.
As cases have trended up, Scott has resisted calls to reinstate a statewide emergency declaration, cease in-person business or mandate mask-wearing in public. Instead, he has reiterated his call for Vermonters to get the Covid-19 vaccine and boosters, and implored residents to take “personal responsibility” to curb the spread.
At Monday’s press conference, Rep. Erin Brady, D-Williston, said that Scott’s message of “personal responsibility … is tremendously hurtful to my family and so many others.” Brady is a high school teacher and has two school-aged children — both of whom recently tested positive for the virus after months of caution. Both Brady and her husband are vaccinated, but her kids are too young.
This marks her third-grader’s third Covid-related class-wide quarantine of the school year, Brady said. Brady said she now has to quarantine at home with her children, causing what she called a “ripple effect” from her children’s diagnosis that now impacts her own students. She said she’s been trying to help her children do their schoolwork from opposite sides of a door, wearing masks.
“We know vaccines for kids are coming and it will be monumental, but we have many difficult weeks and months ahead before kids are fully vaccinated,” Brady said. “It is long past time for a mask mandate and to treat our schools with the resources and dignity commensurate with the crisis they’re in.”
Rep. Tanya Vyhovsky, D-Essex, who works with school children as a social worker, said students “need to know they’re going to be safe at school,” but under current conditions, she said, they don’t. She pointed to rising reports of misbehavior at school as evidence of widespread anxiety among kids as the pandemic drags on.
“This is not indicative of bad children; it’s indicative of children who are in crisis, children who do not have the tools or skills to navigate the unpredictability and anxiety that this pandemic has brought them,” she said. “It’s up to the adults to make it better.”
To make it better, Vyhovsky said, the governor’s office should be reinstating broad mitigation requirements to get case counts down because “what we are doing is clearly not working.”
“The administration continues to do nothing but throw their hands up in defeat,” she said. “Giving up is not acceptable. Vermonters need leadership.”
In response to lawmakers’ and stakeholders’ calls, Scott’s spokesperson Jason Maulucci again pointed to vaccines as the best tool Vermont has to control the virus.
“If the governor believed state mandates were needed, he would implement them,” Maulucci said.
“But the fact is, declaring a state of emergency after nearly 20 months of experience with this virus and reimposing broad restrictions and closures is not something Vermonters would accept nor follow,” he said.
Rather than implementing mandates, Maulucci said Scott will continue to urge Vermonters to get vaccinated and get vaccine boosters when they’re eligible, as well as “make smart, informed choices” to protect themselves and others — “but he is not going to force them backwards.”