Since the surge in cases across Vermont, we have been troubled by the COVID numbers.

First, there is the concern that comes with more positive cases, especially since most of them seem to be tied to the delta variant. That has resulted in an increase in the number of deaths in Vermont.

We went from being the state with the fewest cases and one of the highest percentages of citizens with at least one vaccination to being the state with the fifth-highest infection rate in the nation.

On Tuesday, the state reported Vermont had dropped to 187 positive cases. There were 59 hospitalizations (up seven from Monday), with 16 in the ICU (up five from Monday). The number of Vermont deaths increased by one to 395.

The 14-day average has shown a significant surge across nearly every county. And while the numbers are not so alarming to the administration that they feel a mask mandate or other precautions need to be taken, there is a sharper tone of concern tucked in their lack of action.

Last week the state issued the following statement on its COVID dashboard: “ Due to the currently large number of COVID-19 cases, we are asking Vermonters who test positive for COVID-19 to isolate at home away from other people and begin reaching out to close contacts immediately. The Health Department will prioritize contact tracing to people at higher risk. You may not receive a phone call from a contact tracer, but you still need to stay home and away from others, and follow these steps to stop further spread.”

Lawmakers also have been eyeing the numbers, along with advocates for educators, health professionals and front-line workers. Their concern is that the surge, heading into colder weather driving Vermonters inside and the upcoming holiday season, won’t be mitigated and could, in fact, worsen without some kind of set mandates.

For that reason, legislative leaders are calling out the administration for what they see as a lack of leadership in recent weeks. A special session may be convened to debate the merits of a mask mandate, since the governor won’t go that far. Gov. Phil Scott is fine with that idea because a) it puts any future blame on lawmakers, and b) if he does not like the outcome, he can veto it. He gets some political cover.

The media does not have the inside track that the administration has when it comes to data gathering. But our newsrooms — and our colleagues in other newsrooms — are concerned at a different level that is not easily reflected in our day-to-day coverage that we feel deserves both clarification and real steps toward uniformity.

It takes a certain diligence to chase down and analyze the state’s daily COVID numbers. You have to know what the previous days’ numbers were to accurately show where any current data fits in. VTDigger has done an exceptional job of diagramming the numbers in a useful way. The online news organization is tracking COVID cases and vaccination rates, including in schools.

It is in that final point where we keep finding ourselves befuddled.

On any given week, a school district can report to parents X number of positive cases within its schools. But what we have discovered is that one district may choose to report against a certain criteria, while a district next door may report what’s happening in its schools using a different set of criteria. Parents are left scratching their heads because a school administration is reporting one thing, but they know from teachers, pupils and the media that something else altogether might be happening at the schools.

Now, as entire grades quarantine or entire schools close because they hit the threshold percentage that requires sending everyone home, the problem feels acute. Kids are home; parents have to miss work or find day care again. It is back to the emotional whiplash of in-person/remote hybrid learning of last year. It is exhausting for all involved.

Throw into the mix now more aggressive “test to stay” testing (which apparently drives up the number of COVID positive cases the state reports) and a higher demand on contact tracing, which is now falling on the shoulders of school officials who are also trying to keep tabs on how many students are being vaccinated against the virus.

There is no way the numbers can be tracked accurately. There is no way we, as a state, are getting an accurate snapshot of what is really happening in families and classrooms.

By not having mandates and statewide guidelines for reporting, we leave open the door for doubt, which is convenient for assigning blame elsewhere. “Do not mistake a lack of mandates for a lack of action,” Scott told reporters Tuesday. We’re not buying it, governor.

We understand the pressure on state leaders to keep everything open and working “as normal” (whatever that means these days), but this scattershot approach does not instill faith nor does it provide a light at the end of this COVID tunnel.

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