Both the GOP and the Democratic Party in Vermont issued statements this week clarifying their stances on how to approach a new wave of COVID-19 and its variants, and the two major parties couldn’t be further apart.
The Republicans prioritize personal freedom and choice in regards to vaccination and mask wearing. The Democrats, in contrast, are taking a one-size-fits-all approach: they want mask-wearing and vaccination to be required or coerced for individuals to participate in life and commerce.
“Now at the start of a new school year, with infections in younger Vermonters rising, as well as breakthrough infections impacting the vaccinated, this is not the time to depart from listening to the experts and making the necessary health and safety decisions to keep our communities safe,” Democrat Speaker of the House Jill Krowinski wrote in a press release earlier this week.
Schools are the main political battleground for COVID policy at this point. Vaccination and mask policies are hot-button issues for schools, and the current recommendation from the governor’s office is that if schools don’t have 80 percent vaccination status, they should require masking for indoors.
Krowinski this week called for stronger restrictions in dealing with COVID for both schools and elsewhere. She also suggests that all Vermont state employees be required to take vaccines.
“We know that vaccines are our first and best strategy to prevent COVID hospitalizations and death, has the administration explored a vaccine requirement for all Vermont state employees and teachers?” she wrote.
On Wednesday, House Minority Leader Pattie McCoy, R-Poultney, issued a response to Krowinski’s message. She said Vermont has a history of strong individualism which should be respected.
“Speaker Krowinski also suggests Vermont should consider the imposition of a mask mandate, which would require the declaration of a state of emergency,” she wrote. “Vermont has long distinguished itself from other states in its rich tradition of individualism and local autonomy.”
She goes on to argue it’s a better strategy to let each individual establishment to set policies according to what the real threats look like in their own communities.
“Giving local areas the choice regarding mask policy as it relates to schools makes far more sense than a one-size-fits-all policy from Montpelier, especially at a time when cases vary wildly throughout regions of the state and overall cases are beginning to show signs of decline,” McCoy wrote.
Vermont GOP Chair Deb Billado also issued a tough response to Krowinski.
“Krowinski’s statement was filled with misleading information, baseless claims, and inherent contradictions that undermine the state’s efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, all so Krowinski can engage in useless finger-pointing,” she wrote.
Earlier this year, the GOP passed a resolution formally disapproving of the use of vaccine mandates in Vermont. The strong majority of deaths from COVID-19 in Vermont continue to be among the elderly, usually among individuals with pre-existing health conditions.
A new government report from the United Kingdom shows that more than two-thirds of the deaths by the new Delta variant of COVID-19 are among the vaccinated. The report, covering February through August of this year, found that the UK had 742 Delta-variant deaths — of these, 402 were fully vaccinated, 79 had one shot, and 253 (65 percent) were unvaccinated.