Balint, Krowinski call for a ‘change in strategy as COVID pressures Vermont hospitals

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MONTPELIER – As Vermont grapples with a record number of COVID-19 cases, legislative leaders believe Governor Phil Scott needs a new strategy.

House Speaker Jill Krowinski and Senate Pro Tem Becca Balint are calling on Governor Scott and his administration to adopt new mitigation measures, including a statewide mask mandate. The last nine days have brought five of Vermont’s highest daily case counts.

“I frankly feel like I’m hitting a brick wall with the administration when it comes to agreeing on certain tactics or tools that we can implement to help mitigate the spread,” Speaker Krowinski said.

Speaker Krowinski said she’s heard from parents, healthcare providers, educators and business owners who are burnt out, and feel guidelines haven’t been clear enough.

“If we’re just suggesting to people that they should mask when they can, that’s not going to be enough to pull down these numbers and keep people safe,” Speaker Krowinski said. “That’s why it’s so important that it comes from the governor.”

Senator Balint said it’s not just case counts prompting this sense of urgency, it’s the dire outlook now faced by Vermont hospitals and intensive care units.

“I believe as of this morning there were only five ICU beds available around the state,” Senator Balint said. “What that means as we’re heading into flu season is that you’re going to have other people with diseases other than COVID that are also going to need intensive care. If we are still dealing with a surge in coronavirus, we’re not going to have those beds available to other people as well.”

Legislative leaders may meet with Governor Scott on Monday. If the COVID outlook is still concerning in January when the Legislature reconvenes, lawmakers may attempt to take some matters into their own hands.

“What we’re talking about is just sensible public health measures,” Senator Balint said. “What I’m hearing is people feeling like they, after having so much support from us at state government, have been left to fend for themselves and that’s not a good feeling.”

“If we come back in January to find that we still need to use tools to mitigate the spread, we will be looking to medical experts and looking at policies to implement to help us deal with this pandemic,” Speaker Krowinski added.

On Tuesday, Department of Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Pieciak said the state’s modeling does not anticipate cases decreasing over the next four weeks.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said that’s because of the “incredibly contagious” Delta variant, as well as changes in Vermonters’ behavior. 

“We are more mobile and traveling and hosting visitors,” he said. “Doing things in person and gathering more, especially indoors as the weather cools down.”

Governor Phil Scott’s office was contacted for comment on Speaker Krowinski and Pro Tem Balint’s concerns, but as of Friday night, there has been no response.

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