Editor’s note: This commentary is by Rick Hubbard, who is a native Vermonter, retired attorney and former economic consultant, now living in South Burlington. It appeared as a VTDigger Commentary on January 3rd, 2022.
COVID noncompliers, a small but significant percentage of us, claim to be standing up for their rights to freedom and liberty. Refusing medical advice to be fully vaccinated, mask in public, and social distance speeds the spread of COVID among themselves and to the rest of us. More suffer.
We must stay home from work, either because we’ve caught COVID, or must watch over our school-aged kids who can’t be in school due to increased COVID, or we don’t feel safe enough to work. Family earnings drop, our hospitals become stressed, schedules are disrupted, our well-being suffers, and our economy is impaired.
But let’s remember, our Constitution provides those rights to us all. And each right is balanced by an appropriate level of responsibility. Noncompliers currently face minimal, if any, sanctions or penalties when their behavior denies those same freedom and liberty rights to the largest percentage of us who do our best to comply.
In recent decades, our courts and elected leaders at all levels of government have increasingly emphasized our rights with much less emphasis on the responsibilities required when each of us exercises these rights. Poor management of COVID spotlights the shortsightedness of this approach. It’s time to adjust.
Most of us would not be happy with China’s authoritarian “zero tolerance, strict lockdowns,” approach to limit COVID’s spread. But even allowing for plenty of error in the data, it appears our nation’s biggest competitor has been extremely effective in holding down the spread of COVID. From inception through 12/20/2021, China’s death rate was 0.3. (1/3rd of 1 person) per 100,000 people while our US death rate was 245 people, and Vermont’s was 71 people.
Governor Scott argues that consistent “jawboning” about the benefits of good COVID practices is most effective, and that “mandates” will just cause pushback and be ineffective. Vermont’s approach is more effective than our nation’s.
But let’s be clear. Most current laws of Vermont, states, and our nation, fail to enact measures to require covid noncompliers and the rest of us to responsibly exercise our rights. This speeds COVID to many more of us. This failure to act results in large additional numbers of avoidable sicknesses and deaths. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can find middle ground between policies we now have and China’s more draconian approach.
It’s the job of the President, governors, Congress and our legislatures to enact laws and policies that benefit the greatest percentage of us all. To properly do that job we must have consistent policies at all levels, national, state, and local. Currently, we have nothing remotely like this.
In part, these measures must require what most of us already do. All medically eligible Americans must follow best public health advice to be vaccinated, properly mask up, and social distance when in close contact with others in enclosed spaces.
But more must happen. Employers must be required to adjust their facilities and operating procedures to provide safe and social distanced working conditions for all employees and customers. Vaccines and COVID testing must be easily available to all, prepaid by our government from our taxes.
Most important of all, our elected leaders must impose disincentives strong enough to make noncompliers likely to comply. If we want to work in buildings with others, we must be in compliance or be furloughed without pay. If we want to shop for groceries, or other goods, or to enter any other buildings (except medical facilities) in public for whatever reason, we must be in compliance.
When the stakes are high enough, evidence shows most noncompliers will change their behavior. High compliance benefits the personal and economic well-being of us all.
For those who are still unconvinced, step back. Ask yourself, how many more hundreds of avoidable Vermont deaths, plus hundreds of thousands of deaths nationally, we should accept by having noncompliers bear little responsibility for their actions?
Our Constitution envisioned effective decision-making by those we elect, and by us as citizens. It’s time for us all to step it up.
 9-5-2021 New York Times Sunday Review, David Cole and Daniel Mach, Vaccine Mandates Protect Freedom. David Cole (@DavidColeACLU) is the national legal director of the A.C.L.U., and Daniel Mach is the director of its program on freedom of religion and belief. Link: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/02/opinion/covid-vaccine-mandates-civil-liberties.html
 BBS News-Visual and Data Journalism Team figures as of December 20th, 2021, based upon data from Johns Hopkins University and national public health agencies. Link: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-51235105
 Vermont Department of Health, COVID deaths since inception, as of December 20th, 2021 were 457. US Census 2020 estimate of Vermont’s population for apportionment was 643,503. Dividing 457 deaths by 6.435 (643,503/100,000 persons =s 6.435) gives 71 deaths per 100,000 persons for Vermont.