By Peter Langella
"...the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy..." – Hubert H. Humphrey Jr., 1977
Gov. Phil Scott, his administration, and many Vermont politicians are failing this moral test.
Maskless people packed into indoor concert venues should not be the priority right now. Maskless people eating at indoor restaurants and drinking at indoor bars should not be the priority right now. Maskless people working out at fitness centers and playing indoor sports should not be the priority right now. Maskless people flooding our general stores in-between leaf-peeping stops should not be the priority right now.
And this is true regardless of vaccination status. Governor Scott keeps saying that “this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” but that ignores the Delta variant, and it ignores that my child is unvaccinated. So is every other Vermont child under 12. They aren’t yet eligible. It’s incredibly insulting to be subjected to messaging about personal responsibility when we’re talking about kids who don’t have a choice.
COVID-19 is infecting Vermont children at higher levels than ever before. Over 3,000 kids aged 0-9 have now been diagnosed with the virus. That number is nearly 5,000 for the 10 to 19 age group. Governor Scott has done little to protect our young people because we don’t have large numbers of children being admitted to hospitals as some other states do. “We’re not Florida” is not a policy. Why would the governor reject mitigation measures – and the recommendations from the Vermont Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics – that could protect children from a still novel and evolving virus? Data on long-COVID is emerging, and it’s likely that hundreds of Vermont children who test positive will suffer from some sort of complication. The outcomes of this virus are not death or nothing.
This is not the time to end surveillance testing or contact tracing in schools just because test-to-stay is being implemented. This is not the time to ignore that many schools have inadequate ventilation and a lack of distancing at lunch. All of these can work together to make sure as few children as possible become infected. How is it that we are doing less in schools this year than we were doing last year? The guidance from Education Secretary Dan French and the Agency of Education is embarrassingly insufficient.
COVID-19 is still killing our elders, many of whom are vaccinated and living in congregate settings. This is a tragedy. These are the folks who built our communities. Without our elders, we’d have nothing. We wouldn’t exist. No hyperbole. And we repay them with what? Minimal health care and cheap excuses about the types of comorbidities they must have had in order for COVID to finish them off? We’re talking about human beings. September turned out to be the second deadliest month of the pandemic for Vermont so far. Many of the dead were over 70. How many could have been saved with indoor mask mandates and other mitigation measures? I know the answer is some of them, and that fact should haunt every single one of us. Unnecessary death is never something to be shrugged off or minimized. How many more of our neighbors need to die?
And now to the rest of our most vulnerable, who were almost certainly our most vulnerable in 2019 and 2012 and 1997 and 1972. The Scott administration is not focused on these citizens – those most impacted by structural inequities – in any meaningful or sustainable way. Sure, federal funding has been allotted from time to time and, of course, philanthropic partnerships have been forged for headlines and photo-ops, but the real work hasn’t been a priority. Vermonters need access to affordable housing, livable wages (the National Low Income Housing Coalition says it’s $23.36/hour here FYI), paid leave, honest education, supports for substance use disorder, healthy food, holistic healthcare, frontline worker protections, a clean environment, and communities free of bias, hate, and discrimination.
This is the Vermont I want to live in. This is the Vermont the Scott administration boasts about. But the gulf between aspiration and reality is a canyon of privilege and denial and gaslighting.
I call on Governor Scott to implement an indoor mask mandate immediately.
I call on Governor Scott to require vaccines for every person possible under his authority.
I call on Governor Scott to mandate – not merely recommend – masks in all Vermont schools.
I call on Governor Scott to continue housing Vermonters experiencing homelessness in motels for as long as possible.
I call on Govrnor. Scott to implement enhanced mitigation strategies to protect Vermonters in congregate settings.
I call on Gov. Scott to protect public-facing and service workers with indoor capacity limits and distancing guidelines.
These are just a few of the ways we keep Vermonters like our children and elders safe. If he and his administration won’t do these things, I call on Vermont’s legislators to leverage their adjournment resolution and do something. Anything. Please.
No one is perfect. The words from former Vice President Humphrey that I used to frame this piece were from his last public speech. He knew he hadn’t always lived up to his ideals; he knew his actions hadn’t always matched his talking points – and so he apologized and urged everyone to be better, to do more, to care more.
If Governor Scott is a leader, he will apologize, take responsibility and make a shift in strategy before more children needlessly join those thousands of infected peers – before more Vermonters get cut down before their time.
Langella lives in Moretown.