By Guy Page
In hopes of reducing a looming increase in Covid cases and hospitalizations, Gov. Phil Scott on Tuesday announced at his twice-weekly press conference three measures:
- The Monday after Thanksgiving, Vermont school staff under direction from the Agency of Education will be asking returning students and parents if they traveled to other households for Thanksgiving dinner. If they answer yes, the students will be required to attend school via remote learning for at least seven days.
- Gov. Scott said businesses will be urged to ask employees the same question. Again, if the answer is yes, they will be asked to quarantine.
Calvin Cutler of WCAX asked if it’s realistic to expect that enough people will tell the truth. “I’m just hopeful they will, for the good of everyone,” Scott said. “In the anticipation of that question, maybe you [listening Vermonters] ought to cancel some of the plans you have made.”
Doesn’t that put kids in the position of tattling on their parents, Wilson Ring of the Associated Press asked. Scott stood firm: “This is fair warning. If you’re planning on having gatherings outside your households, if you don’t want to have your kids in remote learning and quarantine for a seven-day period, maybe you should make other plans. I’m not sure it’s ‘tattling’ on anyone.”
Lisa Scagliotti of Waterbury Roundabout, a parent of a middle schooler, asked if parents have been notified about the plans for Monday. Secretary of Education Dan French said the information went out from his agency yesterday. The Vermont Principals’ Association is postponing indefinitely the start of school sports. The season was scheduled to begin Nov. 30. School sports “are paused until further notice,” Scott said.
Scott declined to impose further restrictions. “We think what we’re doing is working,” he said. However he freely used the “bully pulpit” of the press conference to once again reinforce the need to follow existing regulations, especially concerning the upcoming holiday.
“There are some who want to do the right thing but don’t see the risk of having lunch with a friend … or having people over for dinner,” Scott said. “Even your trusted friends and households are at much greater risk and may not even know they have the virus.”
For the young, healthy and unconcerned, Scott advised: your actions could hurt others. “You never know when you’re going to be the domino who causes a nursing home outbreak or leads an entire school to go to remote learning.”
“Being smart now means we’ll get out of this sooner and stronger,” Scott said.
Thanksgiving threat overblown? – Vermont Daily asked, “Last year over Thanksgiving, the World Cup in Killington alone drew 36,500 attendees, many from out of state. That won’t be happening this year. Is it accurate to use 2019 Thanksgiving travel numbers to project a spike in 2020 new cases and deaths?”
“The mobility data was for illustrated purposes,” Commissioner Michael Piecak said. Last year between 100,000 and 125,000 people were traveling in Vermont over the long weekend. “That event could have contributed,” but there’s still plenty of other travel to consider. Furthermore the 2020 Thanksgiving health risk assessment is based on gatherings of 10 people or more. 2019 was not the basis for that analysis,” he said.
Which vaccine is best? Asked this question, Health Commissioner Mark Levine said he lacks the data but did discuss the decision-making parameters. “We want to understand their measures of efficacy, and adverse events,” he said. Levine also wants to know how many shots are needed: “a vaccine that has only one would be nice.” Another issue is storage temperature – the Pfizer vaccine needs ultra-cold storage, and the Astrozeneca does not, he said.
Regardless, immunization will not be immediate upon vaccination. “It’s a matter of weeks” before the vaccine makes the recipient immune, Levine said.
Donoghue surprises – Reporter Mike Donoghue, a famously tenacious inquisitor of public officials over a 52-year career, surprised many listeners by passing on asking any questions. Instead, “in the spirit of Thanksgiving,” he praised Gov. Scott for his leadership and press accessibility.
“You understood that reporters act as watchdogs, not lapdogs,” Donoghue said. He lauded Scott’s transparency at an estimated 90 press conferences since the pandemic began. “I’m going to pass on questions today, and my wife and I will wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving.”
Longwinded reporters warned – Citing time concerns, Scott Administration Communications Director Rebecca Kelley repeatedly has asked reporters to be succinct – often with little luck. “If we continue to have to cut short those reporters at the end of the queue, we’re going to have to reconsider the format to ensure more equal time is given across outlets,” Kelley said in an email to reporters 10 minutes before today’s call.
To emphasize her point, Kelley included a spreadsheet listing reporters’ question(s) at the last presser, and – most important – how long the exchange took. Apart from the rushed minute-or-less allotted to the final three reporters, Vermont Daily had the briefest exchange: two minutes flat. The longest was Donoghue, whose four, unsurprisingly insistent questions consumed eight minutes, 30 seconds.
Second longest was VT Digger’s Lola Duffert: four questions, eight minutes. The four VT Digger reporters on the call took 18 minutes, 15 seconds. The four reporters for WCAX needed just shy of 15 minutes combined.
Read more of Guy Page’s reports. Vermont Daily is sponsored by True North Media.