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Health department employees urge Scott to ramp up delta response

Published: Aug. 26, 2021 at 12:56 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Governor Phil Scott needs to take a harder stance on the latest delta variant surge -- that’s the message from over 90 Vermont Health Department employees in a message to the governor Thursday.

The letter, which was first reported by Vermont Digger, says the administration “is not doing all that it should to protect Vermonters and save lives.” It urges the governor to take a harder stance on universal masking, testing and, quarantining close contacts. Vermont’s current public guidance encourages unvaccinated individuals to wear a mask in public spaces and does not mention the risk of COVID-19 to unmasked individuals, the letter said. “Although the rate of COVID-19 infection is lower among vaccinated individuals than unvaccinated individuals, the proportion of cases among vaccinated Vermonters is concerning.”

Since his emergency order phased out in mid-June, Governor Scott has primarily leaned on the state’s first-in-the-nation vaccination rate of 85.7% and voluntary masking measures to contain the virus. But his repeated “stay the course” message has been accompanied by a surge in infections over the past month -- including Thursday’s 141 new cases, 33 hospitalization count, and two new deaths. Health officials this week said up to 37% of the new infections are among vaccinated Vermonters.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Scott says the governor and health commissioner have been transparent about why decisions have been made, including with health department employees: “These perspectives have been the most cautious throughout, which is greatly valued and weighs heavily in every decision. If they feel unheard, that is an issue we can address internally – but there is no doubt that these opinions have been shared and are part of a thorough analysis and deliberation among our entire leadership team.” The governor’s team goes on to say decisions are made based on all of the information available and by weighing the positive and negative impacts.

In a statement late Thursday, Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine thanked the employees for expressing their thoughts. “Our staff, and all Vermonters, can have confidence that where – in my professional opinion as the state’s public health leader – more must be done, and it is within my ability to do so, we will.”

We spoke with Vermonters on whether masking should be a choice, especially with school underway and children under 12 still awaiting vaccination.

“I think it’s time to be a little more conservative than we were a few months ago even. I know that I am trying not to have too much public exposure and I don’t want to bring it home to my grandchildren who are unvaccinated,” said Mark Kolter of Stowe.

“I feel like we should all take the precautions necessary indoors and outdoors but especially indoors,” said Jean Osborne of Colchester.

The letter from employees comes after top lawmakers this week called on the governor to take a harder stance. “We’re not following CDC guidelines of everyone having to mask indoors no matter what your vaccination status is, and that has me deeply concerned and that’s why I reached out to the governor,” said House Speaker Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington.

Scott criticized the legislators for “playing politics” with the state’s response to the virus.

Scott’s staff says the governor is always evaluating new strategies and has shown a willingness to change course if needed.

Related Stories:

Governor faces increasing pressure to deal with delta surge

Vt. lawmakers push for mask mandate; Scott wary of ‘abusing’ emergency powers

(Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)