Across the Northeast, the numbers would suggest we are doing something right.
In fact, an article appearing in The New York Times this week suggests that the region stands “in sharp contrast with the rest of the nation.”
“Along the East Coast, from Delaware through Maine, new case reports remain well below their April peak. As of Wednesday, six of the country’s 11 states with flat or falling case levels are in that Northeastern corridor.”
Vermont reported has seen 1,366 cases since the pandemic began. No new deaths have been reported for more than a month. The total number of people who have died from COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, is 56. And, so far, a total of 1,152 people have recovered.
One of the article’s sources, Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, was quoted as saying the region is “acting like Europe.”
According to the Times article, “Like Europe, the Northeast suffered a devastating wave of illnesses and deaths in March and April, and state leaders responded, after some hesitation, with aggressive lockdowns and big investments in testing and tracing efforts. Residents have largely followed rules and been surprisingly supportive of tough measures, even at the cost of economic pain.”
That is high praise, considering that it is also true that the Northeast remains the corner of America that has suffered most from the virus.
According to the Times, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island have reported the country’s most deaths per capita over the course of the pandemic, with more than 61,000 combined.
It also notes that voters in the Northeast “are prepared to tolerate prolonged economic pain in order to stop the spread of the virus. Governors from the states that were hit early in the pandemic have sustained the highest approval ratings in the country.”
Certainly here, Gov. Phil Scott and his team have received high praise for the crisis-management approach to dealing with the pandemic. That is not to say missteps haven’t been made along the way — the unemployment fiasco in the early days of the pandemic spring to mind — and this governor is likely to be tested even as early as today if he issues a statewide mandate on wearing masks in public.
All precautions are being taken so that schools can reopen in a matter of weeks, and the economy has a chance to restart.
But the fragility of the bubble in which Vermont (and the Northeast) currently enjoys is tenuous at best, when there are record numbers of new cases and deaths in the other corners of the nation.
While we continue to do the right thing, it is impossible to have all contingencies at the ready.
Fortunately, Vermont is, as they say, a small town. We are able to pivot and adapt, and with a majority of the citizens being mindful and careful, we can keep this trajectory.
Interestingly, the Times piece points out another variable: tradition.
“The crisis has drawn out key regional differences in how Americans view the role of government in their lives, said Wendy J. Schiller, chairwoman of the political science department at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. The Northeast, she said, with its 400-year tradition of localized, participatory government, has been less affected by decades of antigovernment rhetoric,” it stated.
“In New England and the Northeast, it is easier to say, ‘Let’s put on a mask and lock down, we’re all in this together, we know each other,’” Schiller was quoted in the Times as saying. “It’s this reservoir of belief that the government exists to be good.”
It is true, and it speaks to our rurality and the quality of life that we enjoy. We call each other out. We are sufficiently preachy. And we often do think of our neighbors as easily we do our families and friends.
But this moment very well could be providing a false sense of security.
Maine Gov. Jane Mills was also quoted in the Times article Maine is seeing a similar dip in new cases and deaths. “The last few weeks, in particular, have felt good, but we’re not out of the woods,” she said. She is correct. The Times spells out what’s next: “the economic impact of the spring shutdowns ripples outward, unemployment benefits expire and an expected flood of evictions begins.” And dare we say it, winter.
Be strong, Vermont. Stay the course.
This editorial first appeared in the Montpelier-Barre Times Argus on July 23.