Governor Scott, It’s time for a vaccine and indoor masking mandate.

During the Pandemic, Governor Scott has been an exemplary crisis leader. Now is the time for him to escalate his leadership and require vaccinations and public masking of all Vermonters until the delta variant spike has subsided.

I can hear howls about freedom from the left and the right, but freedom is never absolute in a democracy as many would like to believe. Freedom has commensurate responsibilities to community.

We’re free to drink when we’re 21 and to drive when we’re 16 but not to do both at the same time and our laws require seat belts, inspected vehicles, and adherence to speed limits. We’re free to believe in any religion we choose, but not to engage in physical or sexual abuse, or to deny women their rights to equality or control over their own bodies.

Too many of us are obsessed with our freedoms, unable to see or acknowledge the substantial benefits of community. If you want freedom to be “absolute” move to an illiberal country like Poland or Hungary and sample their civic wares.

Although we routinely judge one another by our political affiliations, forging a common good is not an issue of conservatives vs. liberals. Our judgments are more often motivated by greed, nativism, or privilege, and we all eat pieces of those pies.

Freedom’s great when it means freedom from taxation, regulation, freedom to influence legislation or buy access, but not so great when it’s applied to LGBTQ people, immigration, women’s control over their own bodies, zoning, education, restorative justice, or now, even voting.

Seeing freedom as an absolute ignores the substantial benefits of the limits we impose on it to forge a healthy community – a body of citizens, not single actors existing entirely independent of anyone else.

We pay for and benefit from such things as a legislature that creates our laws — the legal guardrails of our freedom — and a judiciary that interprets them on our behalf.

In the electoral process, we choose leaders to forge and agree on common benefits such as national defense, home mail-delivery, Interstate highway and rail systems, a Social Security system, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The list of common benefits goes on and on and is perhaps more familiar to us in our small Vermont towns. Do you want the freedom to plow your own road frontage after a snowstorm?

I have always revered the Vermont motto because it challenges us to seek balance between “freedom and unity” — between me/mine and us/ours.

I am grateful for my freedoms, but also for my community. Community offers me benefits that freedom alone cannot.

Our public schools impose few restrictions on parents and children except those needed to ensure the wellbeing of the children and school community. With defined medical or religious exemptions, all schools require a vaccination against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, varicella, and rubella. 49 States require mumps, vaccination, and 43 States and DC require a Hep B vaccination. Yet so far, none require vaccination against Covid 19, though the virus has already killed a population larger than the State of Vermont. How many more Vermonters will die in the defense of the “personal freedom” of the few?

We’ve led the nation managing this evolving virus. More Vermonters are vaccinated than in any other state. But the delta variant has landed and our testing positivity rate for the new variant is accelerating. My local market in Hinesburg has just recently closed because of a staff outbreak. The new variant also has proven to be more adept at attacking children and young people.

In two weeks, our children will be returning to school. Those under twelve will be unvaccinated and many teens will be as well. This week more than 93,000 children tested positive nationally, a nearly 400% increase from the prior week. 200 of these children under 18 are hospitalized.

Yet, as of this date about a third of the nation has exempted itself from participating in a common defense against a resilient, mutating virus, putting our communities at grave risk. A few fringe governors obsessed with “personal freedom” have opposed vaccine and masking mandates, seriously endangering their own communities. They will bear responsibility for the deaths and illness that follow. Suicide has been decriminalized in the U.S., but society still works to prevent it.

I remember vividly when I was ten years old how terrified we were of polio. One of my classmates in the Morrisville public grade school had polio and wore a steel brace. She sat in a swing while the rest of us played “king of the mountain” on snowbanks at recess. I grew up with a grandmother who had developed polio as a young woman and spent most of her adult life in a chair. Many of us have vivid childhood memories of seeing newspaper images of dozens of men and women in iron lungs. Now, we see similar images on the evening news in countless hospitals where Covid patients lie connected to ventilators fighting for their lives. Will those be what our children remember, and will they hold us accountable?

When the Salk vaccine debuted and came into common use in the fifties, it was eagerly embraced by Americans. Polio has long since been eradicated here and in many other countries.

What has changed? Has our excess and privilege so blinded us to the common good that we cannot be part of a shared effort to eliminate Covid and its variants?

We’re ahead of the nation with 431,000 of us fully vaccinated. But in two weeks our 80,000 children will return to school and commingle with adults. Some school districts are already taking the initiative and requiring vaccinations of all staff and masking for all. Let’s take the next step. It’s within our ability to do this.

Some will ask how to enforce such a mandate. The answer is simple. Deny community benefits such as unemployment, or a driver’s or hunting license to those who place their “freedom” over community safety.

Governor Scott should move boldly and now require vaccinations for all medically appropriate populations as well as indoor masking until we have beaten back this Covid enemy the way we did with polio and many other life-threatening diseases.

In the balance between freedom and unity, now is a time for us all to weigh in on the side of unity, especially for our children.

Better safe than sorry.

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