Commentary, Covid-19 updates, Opinion

Vermont’s recent Covid trends demand stronger state actions

By Marvin Klikunas, M.D.

Editor’s note: Kilkunas practices medicine in Williston.

As I write this commentary, the seven-day rolling average of daily Covid cases in Vermont is 209. Even during the depths of last winter, before a vaccine was available, the daily average as plotted in VTDigger never reached 200.

Forty-eight people were hospitalized with Covid yesterday and today, exactly the kind of number not seen since last winter, when the governor thought a state of emergency was necessary. Deaths have increased dramatically in August and September. New records for the entire pandemic have just been set for the number of cases identified in schoolchildren.

As of today, 18 states and the District of Columbia have better current Covid case rates than Vermont, so we are certainly no longer one of the best performing states.

As a physician, concerned more about people’s health and about people dying than about business, it causes me great anguish that more is not being done by our governor. The governor likes to talk about following the science in regard to Covid. But the science has shown that there is a really very simple action that would significantly reduce cases and deaths. I refer, of course, to a statewide, indoor mask mandate.

Gov. Scott likes to say that he cannot institute a mask mandate without declaring another state of emergency and that’s no way to govern. There are a couple of problems with this.

First, the current Covid crisis in Vermont is as severe as when he thought a state of emergency was justified, so what’s the difference now?

But second, why is a state of emergency required? The governor hasn’t been specific about that and the media have just accepted his statement without question. Even if that is the case, I am sure the Legislature (which has recently publicly asked the governor to do more) would be glad to quickly work with the governor to specifically decouple something basic like an indoor mask mandate in the setting of a pandemic from the need for a state of emergency.

But my local legislator tells me that, since the Legislature is not currently in session, it can act on this only if requested by the governor.

The governor has talked about the need to keep kids in school and to keep businesses open. I cannot understand why he has not realized that the way to keep schools and businesses open safely is to keep Covid case numbers down.

Vaccines are clearly important and everyone should get vaccinated, but just as clearly, the vaccine rate in Vermont has not been enough by itself to keep Covid under control during the current Delta variant wave. So we should be taking every reasonable action to limit the spread of the disease.

As a physician, to me this is a clear public health issue. So, how about it, Gov. Scott? I am calling on you to order a statewide, indoor mask mandate either with a state of emergency or, perhaps preferably, by quickly working with the Legislature so that you or the health commissioner can specifically order a statewide, indoor mask mandate in a pandemic without the need to declare a state of emergency.

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