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Scott urges Vermonters to not 'let guard down’ on COVID

More travelers to Vermont now required to quarantine due to rising case numbers elsewhere
Published: Sep. 29, 2020 at 9:23 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 29, 2020 at 11:40 AM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - New numbers indicate Vermonters continue to do a good job of keeping COVID-19 infection rates the lowest in the country, but rising infection rates elsewhere and people heading inside for colder weather have state officials concerned we could become a victim of our own success.

Governor Phil Scott Tuesday said though he may sound like a “broken record,” he warned Vermonters to not become complacent. He says if Vermonters don’t continue to follow the COVID rules -- masks, social-distancing, and washing hands -- the state’s success story could all change. “When we have so much success, you tend to let your guard down. I think we all do it, we’re all guilty of it,” Scott said.

State leaders point to a wedding in York County, Maine, last month that ended up being a prime example of how a superspreader event can get out of control. It was over capacity with few people wearing masks. From the wedding, the outbreak spread across the state and resulted in seven deaths.

“They range from the jail to a workplace to a school to a restaurant to a family function to other work sites,” said DFR Commissioner Mike Pieciak.

Many Vermonters we spoke with acknowledge they’ve been slipping in mask use and social distancing over the summer. But some remain optimistic that Vermonters will adjust this winter. “Until there’s a vaccine, I think you have to be worried about it. But the governor’s done a great job keeping us safe and everyone’s pitched in,” said John Biondolillo of Barre Town.

But others say we’re bound to see more cases this winter. And there are those who still defy wearing a mask indoors, saying it’s their choice. “I have not yet been called out to my face. I hear the comments behind me, and I think if you’re so paranoid about someone not wearing a mask, why are you in this store to begin with?” said Josh Gratton of Barre.

While many schools are still fully remote and most businesses are still hurting, Governor Scott says our success is fragile and it’s up to all of us to maintain the gains we’ve made. “It doesn’t take long to change that trajectory and it’s due to opening up too fast, letting your guard down and not following the guidelines,” he said.

TRAVEL UPDATE

Commissioner Pieciak presented the latest modeling Tuesday. He says because of those rising case numbers near Vermont, the state adjusted the safe travel map, reducing the number of people who can come here without a quarantine to 4.2 million from 4.7 million last week.

HEALTH UPDATE

Vermont is 4th in the country for the number of tests per capita. The state and colleges continue to do a lot of tests with 81,000 on campuses so far and just over 40 tests came back positive. A new study shows Vermont is the safest place to reopen schools.

Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says if you think you put yourself at risk at a crowded beach or a barbeque, there are plenty of tests available and he urged people to get one.

As of Tuesday, Vermont health officials reported a total of 1,749 coronavirus cases in the state and 58 deaths. A total of 162,747 tests have been conducted, 486 travelers are being monitored, 8,911 have completed monitoring and 1,601 have recovered.

ABBOTT RAPID TESTS ON THEIR WAY

More rapid COVID-19 tests are coming to Vermont. Dr. Levine says the Abbott Lab tests will be getting here in the next seven to 10 days and are being provided by the federal government. The tests, which have been used widely in New Hampshire and other states, use cards similar to a pregnancy test, but it’s done in a clinical setting. Vermont will get 12,000 of the cards in the first round and 180,000 are expected by the end of the year.

Most of the rapid tests will likely be used for surveillance purposes in longterm care facilities and other vulnerable populations because Levine says that’s how they’re intended to be used ‚especially in places where the COVID-19 case count is as low as it is in Vermont. So, families hoping the tests might be used to allow them greater access to loved ones living in those settings are out of luck.

“We’re not looking to provide a level of false reassurance. We’d want to be totally reassured because the last thing we want to do is introduce any potential infection into a building,” Levine said.

He said they’ll be putting out more guidance to the medical community on how to use -- and how not to use -- those tests later this week.

These are not the same machines like the ones used in Manchester this summer. Those were from the manufacturer Quidel.

MOUNTAIN VIEW CENTER UPDATE

Health officials continue to closely monitor COVID cases at the Mountain View Center, a longterm care facility in Rutland. Two employees and one resident have tested positive. Officials say the facility is doing a good job with virus control procedures and is cooperating with the state in contact tracing.

HOLIDAY TRAVEL ADVICE

If you’re already starting to think about family Thanksgiving and holiday get-togethers, the CDC is issuing a recommendation -- stay home.

Officials say the best way to protect yourself from the coronavirus is staying put, although they are recommending some “lower risk activities” to celebrate turkey day including dinner with just your household, a virtual dinner with relatives, and watching sports events and parades online.

Given that Vermont continues to have very low COVID-19 case counts, Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said he hopes case counts will be like Halloween and people can celebrate cautiously, but he declined to weigh in with specific guidance just yet.

“I think, frankly for me to say too much about those two holidays at this point in time would be premature and I wouldn’t want to steer people wrong,” he said.

Visitors to Vermont for the holidays would still be under the same quarantine rules. And if you’re planning a getaway for the holidays or to escape somewhere warmer in the winter, be prepared to quarantine when you get back. The governor indicated he does not envision the state’s travel guidance changing much over the fall and winter, given that COVID-19 cases are projected to rise around the country.

SPIGOT FORECAST

The governor wouldn’t say what the next turn of the spigot will be, but he did recognize that outdoor dining would be ending soon with colder weather coming. He hinted that reopening restaurants more could be next on the list. There are still 30,000 Vermonters out of work, but that’s down from 90,000 at the peak.

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