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Scott to loosen restrictions for long-term care facilities, travelers

Published: Feb. 19, 2021 at 7:17 AM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Gov. Phil Scott Friday said a combination of a drop in COVID cases and the state’s rapid acceleration in vaccinations means visitation policies at long-term care facilities and travel restrictions will be eased next week.

Starting Friday, February 26th, those at long-term facilities who are fully-vaccinated can gather. Visitors will be allowed at facilities that do not currently have an outbreak. The governor’s announcement is one more step toward normalcy for some of the most vulnerable Vermonters. That includes Don Gile, a resident at the Heaton Woods Residence in Montpelier, who hasn’t seen his family in months. He’s had to video chat with his great-granddaughter, but he says it’s just not the same. “To be able to see her face-to-face that in itself is just, it makes your heart pound,” he said.

Since the state began vaccinating elderly Vermonters in congregate living such as Gile, COVID-19 cases and deaths have been falling precipitously, nearly three-quarters of all residents and half of staff have both shots.

At the Montpelier assisted living facility, they’re finishing up the last of their shots in the coming days. That’s why starting next Friday, people in long-term care facilities statewide that don’t have current outbreaks can begin returning to normal. That means group dining, special events, and even visitation with loved ones.

“If you’re a relative of someone in a long-term care facility and you’re not vaccinated, our expectation is that you’ll be allowed to visit,” said AHS Secretary Mike Smith.

A lot of decisions are being left up to individual facilities. Heaton Woods Residence administrator Ruth Morgan says they are still working out what the guidance means for them, but she says that after nearly a year on high alert, the relaxation of rules is welcome news. “Just being diligent and putting our lives on hold in some ways, so this is really a step forward at looking at some time when we may be able to be back to normal,” she said.

There are still federal rules that will apply in some skilled nursing facilities governed by Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services policies, like frequent testing, masking, and social-distancing.

As the light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter, residents say they’re proud of Vermont and our collective sacrifices to keep each other safe. “I think it can be okay if we keep wearing our masks and keeping our masks when we have to. And when we don’t have to keep our distance, just loving each other in every possible way,” said Phyllis Larrabee

And when they can see their families again, there’s a year of love to catch up on.

The state hasn’t published its official guidance yet and leaders are meeting with all facilities on a call next week to answer questions before the guidance goes into effect next Friday.

TRAVEL QUARANTINE EASED FOR THOSE FULLY-VACCINATED

Starting next week, people who have been fully vaccinated -- meaning they’ve waited two weeks after their final COVID-19 shot -- can travel into or out of Vermont without quarantining.

That’s based on new CDC guidance. Governor Scott said travelers should be prepared to prove their vaccine status with a vaccine card and said more guidance about what else they could do will be forthcoming.

“We found many things it could impact. We found dozens of what-ifs and what-about questions, and we started working through a number of these. But I want to be clear, we’re going to do this carefully and methodically,” he said.

This policy takes effect on Tuesday, February 23.

VACCINATION UPDATE

Officials say 83,000 Vermonters have been vaccinated so far, with about half of them already having received the second dose. About 21,400 people in the 70-plus age group have signed up to get a shot. Governor Scott says the rapid pace of registrations in that group means they will likely open up registrations in the 65-plus group as early as the first week in March. Those with underlying health problems will follow. Health officials are encouraging people to set up an online account ahead of time, so you’re ready when the exact date is announced.

HEALTH UPDATE

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says case numbers are dropping in Bennington County but the department is still monitoring Franklin County, where cases remain high. He blames community spread.

The state conducted weekend testing at ski resorts that showed three positive tests, though they still need to be confirmed.

As of Friday, Vermont health officials reported 97 new coronavirus cases for a total of 14,251. There have been a total of 193 deaths. The state’s percent positive seven-day average is 1.8%. A total of 322,613 people have been tested, 245 travelers are being monitored, 13,157 have completed monitoring, and 11,378 have recovered.

To honor the 193 Vermonters who have died over the past nine months of the pandemic, flags are again flying at half-staff on Friday.

NEW FOOD-DROP EVENTS COMING IN MARCH

AHS Secretary Mike Smith says the state is intervening in the federal Farmers to Families Food Box Program because of some trouble with that program. The state is partnering with the USDA and the Vermont Food Bank to get those boxes to Vermonters. They will soon be listing new food drop-off events for next month. You can register online or by calling 2-1-1.

VERMONT NATIONAL GUARD DC DEPLOYMENT OVER

Governor Scott Friday said the deployment of Vermont National Guard troops to Washington D.C. is now complete and they will be returning over the weekend. The Guard members, along with others from other states, were called up to protect the U.S. Capitol building following the riot on January 6.

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