Hospital admissions due to Covid-19 are high. So are the governor’s approval ratings — for now. – Community News
Covid-19

Hospital admissions due to Covid-19 are high. So are the governor’s approval ratings — for now.

Government Phil Scott. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

Last week, after the polling agency Morning Consult named Governor Phil Scott “America’s Most Popular Governor,” Jason Maulucci, his press secretary, tweeted proud of his boss’s performance in first place.

He also added a response to those who have called on Scott to do more about Covid-19 in the wake of the Delta variant: “Vermonters remain stable, support strong leadership and want to keep moving forward, not backward. #vtpoli #TwitterIsNotRealLife.”

Maulucci’s tweet came the same day Vermont marked its 400th death from Covid-19, and a brief social media pileup followed. But the government spokesman had indeed uncovered an inconvenient truth for the governor’s critics, including top Democrats in the legislature.

All indications indicate that Scott remains wildly popular. And despite the “R” next to his name, it’s self-identified Democrats, not Republicans, who support him at the fastest rate.

A monthly survey of 50 states conducted by researchers from Harvard, Rutgers, Northwestern and Northeastern confirmed this. In September, 69% of those surveyed said they approve of Scott’s treatment of Covid. A University of New Hampshire survey of 1,500 Vermonters, conducted between Nov. 15 and 22, again showed a 69% approval rating. Democrats in the UNH poll gave Scott the highest marks, with 77% saying they approved of his pandemic response.

There are signs that Delta is crumbling the goodwill that Scott has amassed over the past year and a half. An April UNH survey showed Scott had an overall approval rating of 75%. At the time, a whopping 90% of Democrats said they approved of his treatment of Covid-19.

Rich Clark, a pollster and political science professor at Castleton University, warns that consistent poll data in Vermont is still scarce. But what we have tells a consistent story: Vermonters generally give their governor high marks. And if their support for Scott wanes, he still has quite a bit of wiggle room.

“Those are still great approval ratings,” Clark said.

Scott’s poll performance, compared to his peers, likely largely reflects Vermont’s experience of the pandemic as opposed to the rest of the country. The state is home to the most vaccinated population in the country, and even during the latest wave, hospitalizations and death rates were among the lowest in the nation.

But despite the state’s relative success, Delta continues to put a lot of strain on Vermont’s schools and health systems. Schools report being too overwhelmed to conduct tests, the Department of Health has stopped tracing contacts except for what officials consider “high-risk” Vermonters, and hospitals say ICU capacity could be maxed out.

Vaccination has dramatically reduced the risk of serious illness and death, but record numbers have nevertheless translated into a large number of hospitalizations and fatalities, particularly – but not exclusively – among the unvaccinated.

The second and third deadliest months of the pandemic were reported during the Delta peak, and on Tuesday, the Vermont Department of Health reported that 68 people are currently hospitalized for Covid-19 — a new pandemic.

Heading into Thanksgiving, government officials expanded testing capacity and urged Vermonters to check their status before and after gatherings, especially if they see vulnerable family members, and to get their booster shots. But heading into the holiday this week, Scott acknowledged it was likely to get worse.

“I want to be honest with you, because of Thanksgiving, we’re likely to see a higher number of cases next week and the week after. That’s why we’re asking you to help us keep that spike as low as possible,” Scott said at his weekly press conference on Tuesday.

But if Scott isn’t out of step with Vermont’s liberal electorate yet, he’s also basically in line with the talking points of a Democratic White House. He is often told that this is an “unvaccinated pandemic” and that Vermonters must lean on personal responsibility to navigate the virus. In doing so, he directly quotes Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Not only are the White House not guiding us in managing (the pandemic), they are also guiding us in not implementing policies that would control it, which is really remarkable to me,” said Julia Raifman, a public health professor at the University of Groningen. Boston University that has called on states to establish mask mandates linked to levels of transfer.

The governor’s team insists Scott doesn’t rule based on what he thinks is popular. On the contrary, Vermont’s chief executive usually gets annoyed when aides try to show him poll data, Maulucci said. (“He won’t be happy with me for this article,” he added with some remorse.) But Scott has nonetheless pointed to his sense of the public’s will in defending his decision to take things like a mask mandate for the entire state cannot be re-entered.

“We just don’t see it; don’t hear,” he told a reporter in late October when he was pressed for his claim that the public had little appetite for such measures.

The line infuriated Alexis Dubief, an Essex resident and author of parenting books, that she filed a public record request for the two most recent months of call logs and emails to the governor’s constituent services. The people she knew called the governor, she thought, so why did he claim not to hear from them?

Dubief received PDF documents spanning hundreds of pages and spent hours with her husband Yves Dubief — a University of Vermont professor and Covid aerosol diffusion researcher — closely tracking the results. They found that about 90% of the more than 300 phone calls and emails that came into his office on the topic of Covid-19 called for tougher mitigation measures, including mask mandates.

But those Vermonters calling the governor are a self-selecting example, Maulucci argues, and aren’t necessarily representative of the general public. “People don’t often call the office to say, ‘I just want to let you know you’re doing a great job,'” he said. Total call volume also appears to be lower than earlier in the pandemic, he added.

Dubief admits she’s probably in the minority. But then again, she said, Scott, who received bipartisan — and national — praise for his handling of the virus earlier in the crisis, has been on stage week after week, reassuring Vermonters that there isn’t much reason. is for care.

“People just want to believe it’s good,” she said. “And he said to everyone, ‘It’s fine.’ And I think that’s why he’s so resistant to something. Because that would mean it might not go well.”

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