Op/Ed

Editorial: COVID spike requires precaution

ANGELO LYNN

A large group of legislators are calling for Gov. Phil Scott to reinstate emergency measures and impose a mask mandate on a temporary basis to fend off a spike in Covid-19 cases. Scott has refused, saying a mask mandate wouldn’t work as effectively as it did 18 months ago when the virus first hit Vermont.

Who’s right? What should you do?

If you want to be a good citizen, look at the facts and decide what’s best for yourself, your friends and neighbors, and the larger community — in that order, but all with equal weight.

The facts are that Vermont’s COVID-19 case rate has spiked to record levels, increasing 42% over the past seven days, according to comments made by Mike Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation, at a press conference this Tuesday.

Within the past 10 days, Pieciak reported, Vermont’s seven-day average has jumped from 200 cases each day to over 300 cases per day, suggesting that Halloween activities were at least partially to blame. A higher rate of testing may have be responsible for some of that increased case load, but not most of it.

The fact is Vermont is experiencing a peak incident rate which, Pieciak said, is “not expected to decrease” over the next few weeks. That means incident rates could stay flat or increase ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. VtDigger reports that the rest of New England, particularly Maine and New Hampshire, is also reporting rising case numbers. But Vermont now reports the third-highest rate of case increase in the nation.

That’s a serious increase that demands our heightened attention.

When asked what’s causing the spike in Vermont, State Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine told VtDigger “there is not one simple answer,” suggesting that among other factors the Delta variant is simply “incredibly contagious.”

The other obvious fact is that unvaccinated Vermonters are most susceptible to contracting the Delta variant, and with schools back in session, a large number of the new cases are occurring in schools. Unvaccinated people, in general, have inflection rates 300 percent higher than those who are vaccinated, but even incidents of infection of vaccinated people have risen more than 33% over the past week (meaning folks need to get their booster shots now.). Primarily, however, the highest incident rate is among children 5 to 11 years olds. Schools reported 217 new COVID cases in the past week, up from 153 the week before.

So, what should we all do? First, if you have school age kids, keep them in school and follow school guidelines. We’ve learned that keeping children out of schools have negative consequences that outweigh the risk of the mild infections most children get. As adults, we should voluntarily start wearing masks in public places that have high traffic, social distance when possible, avoid large gatherings between now and when this current spike has receded to more acceptable levels, get vaccinated as soon as possible if you haven’t, get a booster if you’re eligible, and get your children vaccinated at the first opportunity. That keeps you safe, your children safe, builds community and keeps us all able to move about as freely as is reasonable.

It is not a huge ask.

If Vermonters will do that, we agree with the governor that we can handle this current spike without shutting down our business community as we had to during the first six months of the virus. We can get through this, but we all have to do our part and be smart about how we interact with each other.

Angelo Lynn

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