Burlington officials discuss post-pandemic future

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Burlington city leaders say the city is ready to take the next steps in the COVID-19 response.

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger and UVM Medical Center president Dr. Stephen Leffler held a town hall meeting Tuesday night to discuss slowly going back to life before the public health emergency.

City leaders say the big question is how and when to restart. They say that really depends on three things: when cases are no longer widely spreading, when the hospitals can treat patients without risking health care workers’ safety, and when we can test and trace patients immediately.

Leffler says Burlington is getting closer to that every day. He says the declining infection rate indicates the city is in good shape.

“I agree with you. We’ve earned the right to go forward,” he said. “We can put this first step behind us and establish our new normal.”

Leffler says there were only two positive cases at the hospital as of Tuesday, and no COVID patients are in the intensive care unit or on a ventilator. Despite this progress, he says the medical center is now preparing for a future when COVID is part of the new normal.

“We’re planning for a future when we regularly have some COVID patients in the hospital and we have ICU capacity and ventilators for them but we’re doing other care, as well. We’re not shutting down everything elective as we did in the first phase of mitigation,” Leffler said.

He says there could be occasional spikes of coronavirus cases in the next few years. Guest panelist Dr. Joshua Sharfstein of Johns Hopkins University agreed. He also cautioned Burlington residents against getting too comfortable and confident that the virus is no longer a threat, especially this summer.

“You have a nice temperate summer and everybody walks out and they’re in close contact with each other down by your lake, or whatever. That could actually give more opportunities for the virus to spread, so I think people really have to be wary and on guard for the summer,” Sharfstein said.

He says the key is opening the economy slowly and maintaining the guidelines that keep the virus at bay. He also encouraged the city to find ways for people to reconnect with one another, but not undo all of the city’s hard work to get to this point of few coronavirus cases.

“Allow people to very carefully reengage while keeping a very close eye on infections and developing and using the response that’s needed to control outbreaks before they get too big,” Sharfstein said.

They also mentioned that Burlington will need to adopt a method called “box it in” to get everyone back to work. The four steps are testing widely, isolating all infected people, finding everyone who has been in contact with infected people and quarantining all contacts for 14 days.