Virus modeling shows why Vt. can't turn spigot faster

MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) Vermont officials say new modeling that illustrates viral activity in the region gives them hope that the state will soon be able to reopen some tourism-related industries, but is also shows why reopen other sectors of the economy faster could be a mistake.

Another Friday and another set of good news from state leaders about COVID-19 in Vermont.

"We see -- despite our reopening, despite our increased mobility and the increased testing -- we continue to follow our best case estimate and see a very low-level case count. Again, when taken together, we view this as a very favorable outcome and trend," said Vt. DFR Commissioner Michael Pieciak Friday.

But despite all the data in Vermont pointing to low virus activity -- just 24 total confirmed cases in the past week -- state officials remain worried about what's happening outside Vermont. "One false step, opening up too quick, and we'll set ourselves back a month, and that's something I can't stand by and watch," said Gov. Phil Scott.

The updated heat map shows how within a one-hour drive from Vermont's borders, there are about 35,000 active cases. Scott said about 41 percent of the country's confirmed cases are within five-hours of Vermont. "How our neighbors are doing is one of the biggest factors in determining how quickly we can reopen, especially when we're talking about travel and tourism," he said.

But we asked why areas of the economy that didn't rely on out-of-state visitors couldn't reopen at a greater capacity given the state's low numbers. Scott said the goal is to get everyone to 25 percent and then work towards 50. "We have to see the ripple effect. Are we doing any damage?" he said. "If we do this in a measured way, we'll be able to reflect on that."

One thing the data does seem to indicate is that it will be safe for schools to reopen in the fall. Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine cited data from studies in other countries showing children were not likely to transmit the virus to others. "The conclusions of all these studies together were that schools may not be as significant a driver of these infections as previously thought, and that adults may be more likely to be the source in a family unit than the child," he said.

When asked whether Vermont's mitigation measures are sustainable, the governor said continuing them as they are now wouldn't be. He also said that until there's a vaccine, another outbreak is always possible.

HERD IMMUNITY IS NOT A STRATEGY TO PROTECT VERMONTERS

Dr. Levine said even in hard-hit places like New York, there's only about 20% of people who have antibodies to the virus. Some experts have said to be effective, it would have to be closer to 60 percent.

Levine said he expects only 5% of Vermont's overall population has been exposed to the coronavirus and he made it clear protections would have to come from the medical field. "Meaning, we eagerly and anxiously await the development of a vaccine and antiviral therapeutics," he said.

Levine said if Vermont conducts serology testing, which looks for antibodies in a person's bloodstream, the state will likely see few positive tests from those too. But he said while some tests may be reliable enough, there isn't a plan yet to roll them out here. He said he's waiting for a final report from a state working group which met a couple of weeks ago.