Vermont COVID rates on college campuses lowest in US
Scott extends emergency order to mid-October
MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - New data from Vermont officials shows some of the lowest COVID-19 rates among college students in the country as many schools wrap up their second week on campus.
Vermont’s colleges to date have collectively tested about 42,000 students and only 38 have come back positive. Right now not a single college student in the state is in quarantine, which is encouraging news for state leaders looking at opening the economy even more.
“When you have individuals coming from a low prevalence community and you have good policies in place, you can reopen these institutions,” said DFR Commissioner Mike Pieciak.
Vermont colleges now have a 0.09 percent positivity rate compared to 0.11 in Manie and 0.16 in New Hampshire. Governor Phil Scott says the success is because of a rigorous testing and contact tracing plan. “Made sure they were tested either before they came here or quarantined before they came here, or once they came here they were tested to make sure we kept it that way,” he said.
Scott says they have a three-phased approach to students returning: 1) to get them here un-infected; 2) to keep them un-infected; 3) If they do get it, to stop the spread.
University of Vermont students we spoke with describe a change of culture among the state’s largest student body. “I think, especially for the people who live in the dorms, if you’re stupid, you’re just hurting your friends, so you want to take it seriously,” said Lauren Wibel, a junior. But she says she and others are concerned about a sense of complacency spurred by the encouraging news, and more indoor gatherings as the weather gets colder. “People are probably just going to want to be indoors, and in-turn be closer together. That’s the only thing that makes me nervous.”
For now, state officials stress that Vermont is the safest state for students to attend school in America.
If the college data continues to look good, the governor also says we can expect to see another turn of the spigot as soon as next week that would target the hospitality sector so the state can bring in tourism revenue from foliage season.
Education Secretary Dan French said “so far, so good” on the start of the school year for K-12 students.
Human Services Secretary Mike Smith says the state has identified 30 regional child care hubs -- 85 locations -- for remote learning days. There are 41 locations up and running and the rest will be ready in the next two weeks. About 6,000 children will be served until schools move to in-person learning. They are looking to get more locations in southern and central Vermont.
9/11 A LESSON FOR PANDEMIC RESPONSE
Gov. Scott began his Friday briefing recognizing the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks and then turned to the nation’s new crisis -- COVID-19. He called for the unity we saw then, to help us get through the pandemic now.
“As we now face a once in a century crisis that has taken the lives of almost 200,000 Americans, it is also important to remember the determination and resolve we found in the days, weeks and months following September 11,” Scott said in a statement Friday. “Our country desperately needs to find that unity again. We need to harness the same care and compassion that allowed us to move forward then, to help us move through the deadly emergency we face today.”
Governor Scott Friday extended the state of emergency to October 15, the sixth time he’s extended the order since the pandemic emerged in March in the U.S.
DFR Commissioner Mike Pieciak gave an update on the state’s case modeling. It shows the state still has the lowest COVID numbers in the country and the lowest positivy rate. He said 300,000 more people can visit Vermont without a quarantine, bringing the total to 5.5 million visitors.
Vermont saw 30 new cases this week and the state is predicting good numbers ahead. Pieciak says there are low numbers of people seeking medical help, the state has plenty of ICU beds and only one person is hospitalized.
Vermont won’t be using any COVID-19 vaccine unless it has passed rigorous scientific scrutiny. That was the message Friday from Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine, seeking to ease growing concerns that political pressures could push a vaccine to hit the market before it’s ready.
Levine said while they look forward to a safe and effective vaccine, he understands peoples' fears snd says his department is keeping a close eye on the vaccine development process to make sure that politics don’t trump science.
“This unprecedented global pandemic has all eyes focused on finding a vaccine as quickly as possible, but the tremendous pressure to develop a vaccine must not outweigh its efficacy and safety,” he said.
Levine says any vaccines have to meet both the standards of the FDA and an independent group. On a recent phone call with the FDA, CDC, and surgeon general, he said all of them promised to uphold science.
Levine also boasted that the CDC had recenlty acknowledged Vermont as having the best contact tracing in the country. He says the state is monitoring a handful of very small outbreaks, including an unusual rise in cases in Orleans County that officials plan to discuss further later Friday afternoon.
As of Friday, Vermont health officials reported 1,668 coronavirus cases in the state and 58 deaths. A total of 148,575 tests have been conducted, 477 travelers are being monitored, 8,242 have completed monitoring and 1,493 have recovered.
As for trick-or-treating this Halloween, Levine says now is the time for Vermonters to be creative in celebrating while still abiding by mass gathering rules He acknowledged that some property owners won’t want to participate and he joked that everyone must wear a mask.
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