Washington County officials cooperating with state on COVID messaging

Published: Nov. 18, 2020 at 5:49 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 19, 2020 at 5:04 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont health officials say 31 percent of all COVID cases in the state over the last two weeks have come out of Washington County -- a total of 278 people testing positive in 14 days.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine and Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith gathered Washington elected city and town officials for a Zoom conversation Monday.

The state says it’s part of an extra effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

But so far local leaders say the state’s only request is to ramp up communication with residents. “Go and do everything you’ve been doing. Wash your hands, keep your distance, wear a mask, be diligent,” said Montpelier City Manager Bill Fraser.

“Mask-wearing and social-distancing are even more important now than ever before,” said Barre City Manager Steven Mackenzie.

All key points that both Fraser and Mackenzie have been pushing since March to keep their communities safe from COVID. Now, the virus is knocking at their door. “The situation is critical in Washington County,” Mackenzie said.

“It doesn’t know city lines. It’s raging all around the country,” Fraser said.

Both say that’s why many Washington County leaders have asked the health department to create a document with a clear, concise, and universal message for residents across municipalities, so when concerned citizens have questions, town and city officials have answers.

“What came out of that was the need for improved communication, not only between city and state, but also how can we then take that information and then transmit that out to our residents so that they know what’s going on,” Fraser said.

Since each municipality communicates with its residents differently -- through websites, Front Porch Forum, or social media -- the Scott administration is letting each leader decide how to distribute the document.

“I think what we can do is simply pass along the messages that they have, the information that they have, to number one, set a good example ourselves, but also urge people to follow the guidelines, because it’s the only way we’re going to get through this,” Fraser said

“It’s really not rocket science. It’s the same advice we’ve been getting since the beginning of this -- wear a mask and stay separated. And frankly that advice is not new. It’s the failure of our communities to follow it,” Mackenzie said.

Agency of Human Services officials Wednesday said some are suggesting the state use the Vermont Alert System, but others are worried that wouldn’t be an appropriate use of the platform.

The Vermont Health Department is monitoring 24 outbreaks and 155 situations.

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