Editor’s note: This commentary is by Brian Allen, of Arlington. He is an art historian and the art critic for National Review.
Is Gov. Phil Scott in over his head? The answer is yes. The jobs governor I voted for twice has turned into Governor Fear, Governor Depression and Governor Oops. Believing tidbits from CNN and science fiction, he’s strangled Vermont’s economy. According to the Tax Foundation, using census bureau figures, Vermont’s unemployment rate is 19.7% and growing.
And for what? Governor Scott is muddled on his facts and his goals.
I suspected there was a problem when I read the transcript of an April 6 VPR interview with Commissioner of Financial Regulation Michael Pieciak. “The best research out there now contends that about 19% of those that fall victim to the virus will need some form of hospital care,” he said. This was false then and patently false now.
As early as March, there was a big split among epidemiologists and virologists on Covid-19’s toxicity. Nobel laureates and other leaders from Stanford and Oxford correctly predicted, using data, that almost all infections were asymptomatic. Testing was confined to people who were sick or hospitalized.
It was very clear then that Covid-19 was a big problem for nursing homes everywhere and in New York City. Then and now, that’s about 70% of US deaths. Nationally, as of this week, 12 children under age 14 have died with a Covid-19 infection.
Was this data ever considered by Governor Scott in fashioning a policy for Vermont? I see no evidence that it has.
In March, there was speculation — gossip — that 19% of infections in one small part of Italy required hospital care. Combining naïveté and ignorance, Governor Scott’s team did no research on whether these numbers were even remotely correct. They continued using Italy’s Covid-19 experience to project Vermont’s.
Never use Italy as a model for anything related to health care. Its health care system is a mess. It collapsed during the 2018 flu season. It aggressively rations care. Air pollution in Italy is awful. Men smoke like chimneys. Living conditions are very different. Italian record-keeping isn’t reliable. Both Italians and Vermonters are older but that’s all they have in common.
Governor Scott and his team didn’t use “the best research.” They used panic research. They relied on secret computer models designed by academics with no practical medical experience. Science informs, and scientists disagree. Governor Scott relied on bad information, ignored science that contested that bad information, and made the most reckless and radical decisions.
Before a governor takes the reckless, never-been-done-before step of quarantining healthy people and trashing the state’s economy, he needs to question all data ruthlessly and to analyze costs and benefits. I see no such rigor.
Governor Scott closed the schools with no evidence Covid-19 threatens young people, telling teachers to “be creative.” I thought, “what planet is this guy from?” He dumped homeschooling on unprepared parents. He’s oblivious to basic issues like computer access, connectivity and special needs kids.
What’s the truancy rate? Does he even know it? What’s the increase in opioid, alcohol, spousal, and child abuse since Governor Scott crashed the economy? Has he asked? What’s he doing about it?
“Did anybody anticipate there’d be 90,000 people unemployed in a month and a half,” Governor Scott asked in a recent VTDigger interview, surprised at the devastation he created. “I dare say no.” I read this in complete astonishment. “Duh. Don’t you know how many people work in Vermont,” I wondered. Didn’t he ask any questions about the impact of his decisions?
If an active Covid-19 infection threatens others for as many as 14 days, why were 630,000 healthy Vermonters put in lockdown for 60 days? I was as Covid-19 free on day 15 as I am today. I don’t think Governor Scott can explain with data why crashing an economy for 30 or 60 days more led to better health outcomes. We know it killed hundreds more businesses.
“We need to beat the virus,” Governor Scott tells us. Doesn’t he know that we can’t? Covid-19 is with us. There might be a vaccine in a year but that might not happen. Does he understand there’s no vaccine for any coronavirus? After 40 years, there’s no AIDS vaccine. What is his endgame? Will he keep closing everything down? Who’s going to invest in Vermont if we have flaky leadership?
There are currently only five people in Vermont hospitalized “with Covid-19” among the 21,676 people who have been tested. A total of 81 people have been hospitalized “with Covid-19.” We now know that 98% of Covid-19 infections produce no or mild symptoms, we don’t know whether these 81 people “with Covid-19” were actually hospitalized “because of Covid-19.”
What has Governor Scott and his team learned? It seems like they’ve learned nothing. His last press conference focused on masks and xenophobia. Given the mess he’s made, I understand why, but we need to know how he’s going to protect the most vulnerable and bring the economy back from the clobbering he gave it through poor, sloppy decision-making.
Vermont isn’t Queens or Brooklyn but Governor Scott is acting like it is. He continues to use fear to gain compliance with pointless mandates. He’s not pleading with people who’ve deferred check-ups, screenings and cancer treatments to see their doctors. He’s frightening them with talk of “one false move, and we’ll ignite a spark into a flame.”
It’s leadership by fear. Now we have a $400 million deficit and near 20% unemployment. Obviously, Governor Scott didn’t see either coming. That’s not what I call competence.