Can Vermonters be trusted to use ‘personal responsibility’ when it comes to controlling COVID?

Published: Oct. 27, 2021 at 4:44 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermonters are highly vaccinated, yet COVID cases continue to soar. That left Governor Phil Scott last week to appeal to people’s “personal responsibility” to help stem the infection rate, leaving the question -- can Vermonters be trusted when it comes to controlling COVID?

Eighteen months into the pandemic, cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are now driven by the infectious delta variant. That has some Vermonters very concerned. “I can’t understand why someone wouldn’t wear a mask when they know it could cost them their life or their livelihood,” said Allen Evans of Middlesex.

Governor Phil Scott let the state of emergency expire in June and is not looking back, saying new statewide restrictions are not needed because high case counts don’t pose the threat they once did. Instead, Scott and state health officials are encouraging personal responsibility.

“From a public health standpoint, we need to be pragmatic and practical about this and understand what our population will abide by in terms of guidance and what they might rebel against,” said Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine. He says that means getting the vaccine, getting tested, and wearing a mask in crowded settings.

“We’re not in the public school system right now so we’re limiting the exposure there. We’re trying to do all of the things that we can do to be a good neighbor,” said Jennifer Crum of Stowe.

Some we spoke with say they feel comfortable with where Vermont is with the pandemic and that they trust that people can and will make the right decisions. But it’s clear Vermonters have different opinions of what the risk is and what personal responsibility means. Mask use and vaccination rates vary depending on where you go. And the state earlier this month said nearly 40% of people who tested positive did not share information with contact tracers.

Psychology experts say this stage of the pandemic is complex, especially with a flurry of constantly changing information. They add that opinions of relative risk depend on the specific circumstances. “If you have an unvaccinated child or a vulnerable person, of course our perception of risk changes compared to if you’re living in a vaccinated household and there’s nobody at risk,” said Dr. Barbara Colombo, a psychology professor at Champlain College.

She says people affected directly by COVID -- either economically or physically -- can experience symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress syndrome. To heal, she says people need social interactions, but that restrictions like masking and distancing prevent that. “On the other hand, social connections means we want to save and keep close to us the people we love. That explains why some may want more restrictions if they want to save the person they love,” Colombo said.

This is why health officials stress it’s important for everyone to get their shot and their booster, and for children to get vaccinated as soon as they can.

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Facing uncertain COVID forecast, Scott urges ‘personal responsibility’

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