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Outbreak aside, Vt. health officials say state remains on path to reopening

(WCAX)
Published: Jun. 12, 2020 at 4:43 PM EDT
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Almost 100 days into the coronavirus pandemic emergency in Vermont, the state has seen a total of 1,119 positive tests. Part of what's driving the current growth is a small outbreak in the Winooski area that has now sent one person to the hospital. But despite the spike in cases, the overall data shows Vermont can move forward with reopening.

"The outbreak obviously does skew our data," said Department of Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Pieciak. He said of the 84 new cases in Vermont in the past week, 38 of them were linked to the outbreak in Winooski.

And despite that outbreak causing a deviation from the state's best-case scenario projections, Pieciak says hospital ICU capacity, syndromic surveillance, viral growth rate, and percent positive test rates are still within the metrics to safely continue to reopen. "These four metrics continue to perform well and they do not have any signal of trouble at this time," he said.

And there's better news for travel to our region. Cases in the Northeast dropped by 35 percent this week. Seven more counties are now able to visit Vermont without a quarantine.

Still, despite another week of good numbers, Governor Phil Scott is expected on Monday to extend the state of emergency for another month. We asked Scott what the data would have to look like to lift all the COVID-19 restrictions. "You know, it all depends on the factors -- the data and the science," he said.

While he couldn't provide a specific data benchmark they're looking for, he did say when he hoped Vermont would be back to 100 percent open. "We're moving in the right direction. We haven't had to take any steps back at this point," he said. "We'll get to 100 percent -- hopefully within the next two or three months. But again, we'll base that on the data that we're seeing at that point in time."

Scott also said the state won't need to wait for a vaccine to fully reopen. "We can't wait for a vaccine. I mean, that would be the best case scenario -- if a vaccine magically appeared and could solve this problem for all of us, but I don't think we can wait for that," he said.

Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine reiterated Friday that it doesn't matter where people are in the state -- whether it's in Winooski, where there is a known outbreak, or somewhere that claims to have no cases -- everyone should be taking precautions including wearing a mask, staying six-feet apart, and washing their hands.

One of the last things to reopen will be Vermont's long-term care facilities. But administration officials say they are finalizing a plan to allow visitation, and will probably reveal it on Wednesday. Meanwhile, some facilities have begun allowing residents to have outdoor visits. More than half of Vermont's coronavirus deaths were residents of long- term care facilities.

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