Vermont is facing another crucial moment in the COVID-19 pandemic. For our families, our communities and our financial well-being, it’s imperative that we rise to the occasion and meet this challenge head-on.
With a new wave of the coronavirus running rampant and cases quickly rising across the country and throughout the Northeast, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott has put a halt to non-essential travel without quarantine. Only essential travel for work, school, medical care, personal safety, shared child custody and food are allowed.
At the same time, Vermonters are being asked to double down on following the steps that made us a national leader in the fight against COVID in the first place: Washing our hands, wearing masks, staying socially distant, and avoiding crowds. And there’s more emphasis on following quarantine rules, now that we’ve learned how failure to do so has led to outbreaks.
It’s hard, after nearly nine months of putting up with this pandemic, to hear and accept that we have to redouble our efforts yet again. This has been a long fight, in the longest of years, and it’s understandable that people are sick and tired about letting a virus dictate our choices and our behavior.
But it’s a fight we must win: Vermont cannot afford another shutdown.
Our children need school for social interaction and structure as well as learning. Our economy is still on the mend and many businesses are hanging on by a thread. We simply must find the will to “crush the curve” one more time, so our citizens can remain healthy, our kids can keep going to school, and our businesses can stay open.
While the most important goal here is the protection of public health, there are also financial reasons why tightening up and buckling down make sense.
Estimates provided to the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Committee by the state Department of Labor show how another shutdown would empty the state’s Unemployment Insurance trust fund. The fund has about $262 million left at present. If the trust fund is drained, the state would have to borrow from the federal government — and pay the money back out of general fund revenues.
Considering the millions of dollars we are already committing every year to make up for past carelessness with the pension fund, Vermont simply can’t afford to plow more tax dollars into repaying loans and meeting financial obligations. If we want to spend that money on programs that help Vermonters, we need to get this right.
Comparatively speaking, we’re still in good shape.
Our incidence rate of 394.6 per 100,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins University, remains the best in the Northeast. Our 59 deaths from the virus, while deeply unfortunate, still rank us lowest among U.S. states.
But Vermont is not an island. Cases in the Northeast are projected to increase by about 105 percent in the next six weeks, according to the state’s statistical model, and U.S. cases are expected to increase by 79 percent, to 200,000 new cases per day by December 18.
Thankfully, our elected leaders in Vermont truly do care about us. But the guidance they’re offering is only worthwhile if we heed it.
Wednesday was Veterans Day — a day we remember the service and sacrifices of Americans who served their country when it called.
If our young men and women could respond to the call and run in the direction of gunfire and danger, then we can surely wear masks in public and forego travel for Thanksgiving family holiday gatherings for a year.
It’s a sacrifice we need to make, and we’re confident that southern Vermont is up to the task.