Last week, I was released from the University of Vermont Medical Center after a stay to deal with the effects of a fairly epic bike crash. The wonderful nurses and doctors there (sincerest of shout-outs to the Baird Building sixth floor!) dealt with all the difficulties that nurses and doctors face in such situations: analyzing fractures, controlling pain, providing an agreeably soft dinner. But, though everyone was properly masked at all times, one thing that the staff didn’t have to spend a great deal of time worrying about was the coronavirus. Because, at least for now, it hardly exists in the Green Mountain State.

Indeed, Vermont has seen the fewest cases of COVID-19 of any state in the country: fourteen hundred and two, as of Monday. The state’s hospitals currently house just one confirmed case. Only fifty-six people have died of the disease in Vermont—even though the epidemic raged in neighboring states—and the last of those deaths came more than a month ago, in mid-June. Some of the explanations for the low numbers are obvious. There aren’t many Vermonters to begin with, and the population is always in the country. (Vermont is also among the most , which, given the pandemic’s outsize impact on people of color, is worth noting.) On the other hand, we also have one of the in America, and we have a Republican governor, both of which, in recent weeks, have shown to be potential risk factors. So, at the risk of jinxing our current standing, there might be a lesson to be learned from Vermont.

COVID欧洲杯买彩票-19 took a toll on the state fairly early—the first two deaths were confirmed on March 19th—and it soon became clear that terrible outbreaks were under way at a couple nursing homes. But action came early, too. Governor Phil Scott began closing things down that week—it wasn’t long before bars and restaurants were shut, followed by schools and pretty much everything else. Even construction jobs quieted, as the state shut down nonessential work. All of this came at a cost, of course. Vermont’s economy sunk like a stone. The average income here is below the national average, and the tourist trade is a big part of many people’s living, but with hotels and campgrounds closed quaintness suddenly had no cash value. People really suffered and are suffering still. When the National Guard organized food distribution, the lines of cars stretched for depressing miles.

But that suffering didn’t put much political pressure on the governor to reopen the state. When Vermont Against Excessive Quarantine for an April rally outside the statehouse in Montpelier, VTDigger that a crowd of “between seven and 10 protesters” appeared, many of them wearing masks, and their rhetoric was not exactly fiery. “I think it is commendable but at the same time foolish to shut the economy down,” a man from St. Albans, in the far north, said. “I feel like the repercussions of shutting the economy down will probably be far worse than the actual virus.” Another explained, “There’s reason to be nervous—maybe a little edgy about this—I’m not denying there’s not anything out there that could hurt somebody. . . . But just use some common sense.” (By contrast, a few weeks later, five thousand people turned up at the same spot for a Black Lives Matter protest.)

Though the governor has also been , including by a few of his primary opponents, as being too restrictive, he did not rise to the bait—he understood people’s frustrations, he said, but he was going to make decisions “based on the science.” He added, “I think there’s a bit of an experiment going on in Georgia as we speak. We’ll see how they do over the next few weeks.” As that experiment played out predictably badly across much of the country, Scott kept Vermont on course. People think of it as Bernie Sanders’s state, and indeed with his constituents. But Vermonters have also elected Republican governors with some regularity over the decades, usually of the Scott mold: fiscally and temperamentally cautious, and disinclined to engage in any culture wars. Scott endorsed Bill Weld in the Republican primary this February. (“I’ve met with him before. I think a lot of him and his platform, so I would be supporting him,” he said of Weld, which is the level of passion that he musters for most occasions, save stock-car driving—the governor has been a behind the wheel of car No. 14 at Thunder Road, the state’s beloved quarter-mile track.) Full disclosure: Scott is up for reëlection this year, and I’ve supported his likeliest opponent, the lieutenant governor, organic farmer, and ponytail-wearer David Zuckerman, on the ground that he’ll do more for the state’s future. But it’s pretty hard to argue with how Scott has handled the state’s present—he started wearing a mask early in the pandemic and has stood at the back of the room in many of the state’s coronavirus briefings, letting Dr. Mark Levine, Vermont’s answer to Dr. Anthony Fauci, dominate proceedings. If you’re looking for an un-Trump, Scott is it.

Still, it isn’t just—or even mainly—the governor who has carried the day. Vermonters entered the pandemic with remarkably high levels of social trust. Only thirty-eight per cent of Americans say they mostly or completely trust their neighbors, but a 2018 Vermont found that seventy-eight per cent of residents think that “people in my neighborhood trust each other to be good neighbors”; sixty-nine per cent of Vermonters said that they knew most of their neighbors, compared with twenty-six per cent of Americans in general. Part of that comes from the state’s geography: it’s essentially a collection of villages, perennially vying with Maine for title of the . And those villages have a better than of governing themselves at annual town meetings, the closest thing to Athenian democracy still to be found. It’s hard to get away with being a jerk at those meetings: if a Trump-like figure rose to start delivering rants, he would be tolerated politely for a few minutes and then asked to sit down, so that the meeting could get to work deciding if the roof of the town office building had another year in it or not. With the local school closed, the village of five hundred people where I live has two remaining gathering places: the country store, which also serves as the post office, and where a sign asking people to wear masks went up in early March and has been obeyed almost religiously since, and the town shed, where on alternate Saturdays people drop off their recycling. Showing up unmasked would be seen as unneighborly; no one does, and there hasn’t been a case of COVID-19 yet.

All that is a reminder of how social trust has been squandered across so much of our nation as we’ve divided into red and blue teams, concentrated on individual advancement, and had our worst instincts yanked at by social media. In this case, Vermont is extremely lucky to be living a little in the past. The governor didn’t immediately mandate mask-wearing because almost everyone mandated it for themselves; Vermont is among the least religious states in the Union, but its citizens have a highly ingrained love for their neighbors that keeps them in face coverings even now that the risk is truly small. The pandemic has also been hard on the state’s newspapers, which have been curtailing editions and laying off staff. But Vermont is also lucky to have two more-or-less statewide independent media outlets: the entirely Web-based VTDigger, which provides detailed reporting on Montpelier, and the Burlington-based alternative weekly Seven Days欧洲杯买彩票. Both have done something unusual and useful during the pandemic: they have shut down their comments sections. They did it to make sure that people weren’t spreading bad information about public health, but the secondary effect has been to isolate the small number of soreheads and malcontents who monopolize such venues. The state motto is “Freedom and Unity,” and there’s no question that, for the duration, Vermont’s emphasis is on the latter.

hit. (A small outbreak a few weeks ago in Winooski, the state’s , mostly hit Black and Asian Vermonters.) But normalcy is definitely returning. “We have achieved a stage of viral suppression that will allow us to open schools comfortably,” Levine said last week. The sacrifices of the spring and the summer will be rewarded next month, when kids start climbing back on the school bus. Obviously, it —some schools are going for hybrid systems, or asking the state to push back opening day a week, to get new protocols in place. But just contemplating something like a normal school year is an enormous payback: I know kids who are due to start kindergarten this fall, and now they’ll be able to begin their careers as students in the right way, and not hunched over a tablet staring at a virtual teacher. Yes, Vermont is an older state, but its graying residents have not shirked their responsibility to their younger counterparts.

More problematic are the leaf-peepers who will start to converge in September (though early show tourists stepping up their game as they visit), and even more the students who will arrive from afar. Vermont is rich in colleges, and many of them draw from states where the pandemic is still raging. Those colleges closed down quickly in the spring, and have set up elaborate protocols for reopening; even so, the governor , on Friday, that Vermont will start mandating masks in public places on August 1st. “I just sense what we’re seeing again throughout the West and the South and up the East Coast—it looks like it is coming back toward us, and so we want to prepare,” Scott said.

It’s a real temptation for everyone here to keep the state as isolated as possible. But it’s obviously impossible in the long run, and, when the students return, perhaps those of us who work with them should also make it our goal to teach them to think at least a little bit like Vermonters.“To those of you already wearing masks that are concerned about those who aren’t: I ask you to give them the benefit of the doubt,” the governor added. “Attacking, shaming, and judging isn’t going to help, but understanding, educating, meeting people where they are, and maybe using a little kindness and understanding might. Let’s not make the news with screaming matches caught on video. Let’s do things the Vermont way, by being role models and leading by example.”


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