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Scott singles out COVID skeptics as case counts spike

Published: Nov. 17, 2020 at 7:40 AM EST|Updated: Nov. 17, 2020 at 7:10 PM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - As new coronavirus infections in Vermont continue to surge, Vermont Governor Phil Scott Tuesday responded directly to critics of the new guidelines he imposed last week aimed to slow the spread of the virus.

It took 88 days for Vermont to record its first 1,000 COVID cases. But it took 42 more days to get to 2,000, and just 23 days to get to 3,000 over the weekend. Scott Tuesday pointed at data like that to justify strict new guidelines he imposed last week for bars, restaurants, non-school recreational sports, and social gatherings.

COVID-19 cases are still spiking in Vermont with almost 600 cases in the last week. And contact tracing shows 71% of them stem from social gatherings. “Parties and people hanging out at home or at bars and clubs,” Scott said. He pushed back on skeptics of the disease who question the new restrictions and mask mandates. “They can do what they want. But please don’t call it patriotic or pretend it’s about freedom. Real patriots serve and sacrifice for all, whether they agree with them or not,” Scott said.

As Vermont starts a new chapter in fighting the virus, the state is ramping up its efforts by opening five testing centers in Burlington, Middlebury, Waterbury, Rutland, and Brattleboro. Officials say they hope to have a total of 14 sites by the end of November. When open, officials say the free-testing for anyone who wants a test will be open to two-thirds of Vermonters within a 30-minute drive. The number of contact-tracers is also increasing with assistance from the Vermont National Guard.

As the virus number surpass levels seen in the spring, AHS Secretary Mike Smith ordered all hospitals and long-term care facilities to return to the no visitor policies. All adult day programs have been suspended.

Smith is working to make sure the state’s long-term care policy exceeds federal rules, where people can visit counties with a 10 percent positivity rate. "You have a significant chance of introducing coronavirus into the facility at that level, he said.

The bottom line, officials say, is that Vermonters must give up the “want” to socialize and prioritize the “need” to keep kids in school, people at work, and hospitals free of surging cases. Scott equates fighting the response to his stock car racing at Thunder Road, saying we curbed the virus once and we can do it again.

“We’ve got like five laps to go. We need to be running those laps as well as we did our first few laps to get there. It’s not time to let off the gas right now. But it’s going to take the whole team, the whole team to get us to that point,” Scott said.

The governor says he would need to see similar case growth to what we saw this past summer to roll back some of the restrictions.

MODELS SHOW VERMONT CASE GROWTH, HOSPITALIZATIONS TO CONTINUE

It’s going to get worse before it gets better -- that was the message from Vermont officials Tuesday in their latest data forecast.

Based on the latest modeling, Vt. DFR Commissioner Mike Pieciak Tuesday said it’s going to take at least several weeks to undo the damage created by the current soaring virus numbers in the state. “There won’t be a lot of positive or optimistic news in this presentation,” he said.

The most recent forecast shows cases around Vermont are projected to increase 50 percent in the next six weeks, peaking at more than 100 new cases per day by mid-December. We could also see 40 people per day in the hospital by mid-December too.

While those numbers are worse than what the state faced this spring, Vt. HealthCommissioner Dr. Mark Levine says we have strategies now to battle the virus that we didn’t have then. “I don’t want to call one thing worse or better because these are very different times. The first peak -- no testing, no contact tracing, no PPE, and we didn’t even know how to treat people with this virus,” he said.

State officials said it will take a couple of weeks before we see the impact of the governor’s recent ban on social gatherings on case numbers. And it’s not just Vermont struggling to contain cases from social gatherings. Thanks to a post-Halloween surge, cases are up nearly 50% across the Northeast and projected to increase 153% over the next six weeks. Nationally, they are expected to go up 71% in the next six weeks.

Those discouraging numbers again left officials begging Vermonters to heed their warnings about the holidays. “Please make these sacrifices now, keeping Thanksgiving and other social gatherings in your own household,” Levine said.

The state puts a lot of weight on its four restart metrics: syndromic surveillance, viral growth rates, percent of new positive tests, and hospital capacity. Officials said they took the recent actions to limit gatherings after seeing two of those -- the viral growth rate and the percent of new positive tests -- come close to the warning marks.

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