Vt. health officials: Social distancing 'here to stay'

Published: Apr. 27, 2020 at 9:09 AM EDT
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Vermont health officials say coronavirus cases will continue even after Vermont reopens and that social distancing and mask-wearing "is here to stay" until a vaccine is available.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott and administration officials Monday provided the latest updates to the state's coronavirus response. As of Monday, Vermont health officials reported 855 coronavirus cases in the state and 47 deaths.

Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine acknowledged that it can be confusing why some states are reopening and others are not. He said the different approaches range from cautious to reckless. Levine says he remains guided by four four principle criteria: Sustained reduction cases 14 days, a health care system able to treat all patients without exceeding capacity, testing all people with symptoms, and active monitoring and contact tracing.

Levine says he remains concerned about a so-called second wave of the virus. He cautioned that cases will continue even after Vermont reopens and that social-distancing and mask-wearing "is here to stay" until a vaccine is available. He says the World Health Organization has determined antibody testing does not safely guarantee a return to work or immunity and that the accuracy of the tests is not where it needs to be.

Vermont Economic Development Commissioner Joan Goldstein says the Small Business Administration's re-upped Paycheck Protection Program reopened Monday to applications and has about $300 billion on a first-come-first-served basis, so she recommended small businesses to check on their status or to apply as soon as possible and to be sure you've got a participating lender.

Governor Scott Friday outlined additional openings of the economy based on modeling that shows a significant slowing of the spread of the virus.

Scott says the state continues to monitor the data to determine who gets to go back to work next. He asked businesses not to push the envelope. The state is using guidance and education to advise companies, not enforcement right now.

Some people are making more right now on unemployment than they would be if they were back on the job. As businesses reopen and employees are offered their jobs back, the labor commissioner says those employees are required to take that job back and get off unemployment. There are some exemptions, like if you're caring for a loved one.

Some people are still waiting for unemployment benefits after filing claims and the Governor says if that backlog continues, the state will once again take a look at cutting checks for those Vermonters to pay upfront. About 100 new call-takers are on board right now at the labor department and another 50 will be available by Tuesday, and 70 more after that. And even some lawmakers are now helping take calls from people seeking unemployment.

The administration secretary says the state is looking at how to safely open child care facilities but that's unlikely to happen until June 1. It will coincide with other industries opening.

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