The Covid-19 pandemic has made politicking a struggle, like striking steel against the flint hoping an errant spark will catch the kindling afire. In the Democratic gubernatorial primary it’s been particularly tough for the two main challengers, Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman and former Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe to get any notice. The public, and the media have had a singular focus, which is how the state is handling the virus. It’s a multi-faceted issue, and one dominated by Gov. Phil Scott.

Thus far, Mr. Scott has done extremely well. Vermont leads the nation in the fewest number of people testing positive for the virus. We haven’t had a Covid-19 patient in the intensive care unit since May 24. As a state, we have the lowest number of deaths. We are where we are because we acted early and comprehensively and Mr. Scott is due much of the credit. He was the force that pushed us where we needed to be.

As good as Vermont’s picture is, the picture elsewhere is bleak. In most states the number of cases continues to increase and in much of the south and west the increases are massive, which raises concerns about whether we could experience another wholesale lockdown of the economy.

That fear dominates all else. Even here. Which is why Mr. Zuckerman and Ms. Holcombe are taking aim at Mr. Scott’s reluctance to mandate that Vermonters wear face coverings when in public spaces. In New England only Vermont and New Hampshire don’t have enforceable face mask orders.

Mr. Scott is letting the state’s numbers speak for him. And, he says he would rather convince people through example than to force them through mandates. He is never without a mask when in public and he always wears a mask at his press conferences when not speaking. The state is also about to roll out a public relations campaign stressing the need for everyone to wear masks.

Ms. Holcombe and Mr. Zuckerman say that’s not enough. Mr. Zuckerman said the governor needs to decide if he is going to follow the lead of Mr. Trump and minimize the nation’s public health needs. Ms. Holcombe makes the case that it’s better to act in advance of a possibility rather than to act afterwards. She stresses the need for the governor to assume the responsiblity of ordering people to wear the masks.

Of the two, Ms. Holcombe makes the stronger argument. Mr. Zuckerman has no credibility on the issue since there isn’t a person in Vermont who thinks Mr. Scott is in alliance with Mr. Trump. No Republican governor is more critical of Mr. Trump than Mr. Scott. Mr. Zuckerman was also wrong to suggest it might be the role of the police to hand out masks to those not wearing them instead of fining them. [Let’s hope that doesn’t become the job of our officers in blue.]

From a purely practical point of view, Ms. Holcombe’s probably right to urge the governor to order us to wear masks in public spaces and where social distancing cannot be practiced. As with seatbelts, voluntary efforts don’t work as well as mandatory efforts.There is also much at stake. We simply can’t afford another shutdown of the economy, and if people being required to wear masks improves our chances for an economic revival, it’s a small price to pay.

And, contrary to the intent of Ms. Holcombe and Mr. Zuckerman, for the governor to do so might ensure that no political sparks catch fire.

by Emerson Lynn

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