For the first time since announcing new COVID-19 mitigation measures on Friday, Gov. Phil Scott and other state officials today provided additional information on the guidelines and up-to-date virus data.
As of Nov. 14, multi-household gatherings in public and in private are now prohibited in the state of Vermont. Bars and clubs are closed, and recreational sports leagues are suspended.
“Our cases have continued to grow,” Scott said during the Nov. 17 press conference. “This growth has led to some big steps to slow the spread.”
According to contact tracers at the Vermont Department of Health, the recent spike in cases is due to adult Vermonters who are ignoring the health guidelines.
“It’s mostly adults from multiple households, getting together inside and outside and it usually involves alcohol and food with little to any mask-wearing and distancing,” Scott said. “This has led directly to our record growth.”
Here’s what else you need to know.
1. Scott said keeping schools and restaurants open but banning multi-household gatherings is not contradictory.
“I understand that it may seem counterintuitive for restaurants to remain open and yet you can’t have neighbors over for dinner,” he said.
Since Oct. 1, 71 percent of outbreaks in Vermont have been linked to social events, parties and gatherings in private homes or at bars and clubs. Very few outbreaks have been tied to dining in restaurants or working out at gyms.
Schools are also not driving the current spike, Scott said, though 20 cases this week showed up across 12 K-12 schools.
“We have to prioritize need over want,” he said. “In my view, in-person education, protecting our healthcare system and keeping people working are things we need. Parties and cookouts...are wants.”
2. Coronavirus cases in Vermont are expected to increase by 50 percent over the next six weeks.
When Mike Pieciak, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation, approached the podium to begin the data portion of the conference, he was blunt and up-front about what was to come.
“I want to mention that there won’t be a lot of positive or optimistic news necessarily in this presentation,” he said. “However...the future is not inevitable for us; it’s truly in our hands.”
Since last Tuesday’s presentation, the U.S. has added one million new cases of COVID-19, the fastest it has ever done so.
It took Vermont about 88 days to report its first 1,000 cases, Pieciak said. It took 142 days to report the second thousand and just 23 days to report the most recent thousand.
The number of coronavirus cases in the Northeast this week increased by about 46 percent. With just under 80,000 reported cases, the number is quickly approaching the peak of 90,000 cases that was last seen in April.
Additionally, the number of people hospitalized with the virus in the Northeast is concerning, but Smith and Scott confirmed that as of this time, Vermont has enough hospital beds and ICU space to accommodate this surge.
As the weather cools and the holidays approach, cases in the Northeast are expected to increase by 153 percent. State officials hope Scott’s new mitigation measures will hold Vermont’s projected case growth to only 50 percent.
3. Five new testing centers are opening this week to make getting a COVID-19 test easier for Vermonters.
Additional testing centers are opening in Burlington, Middlebury, Waterbury, Rutland and Brattleboro, so that two-thirds of Vermont residents are within a 30-minute drive of a test site.
Mike Smith, secretary of the Agency of Human Services, said these five new centers will be open seven days a week with hours that extend into the evening. Tests at these five sites will be free.
Opening these additional sites will allow the site to conduct at total of 30,000 tests a week, Smith said. Vermonters will need to register online for a test ahead of time.
Smith said the goal is to open a total of 14 new testing centers by the end of November.
4. Scott spoke directly to the “skeptics,” stating that true patriots make hard sacrifices when called upon.
“If you want to ignore the science or choose not to believe it, there’s not much we can do to stop you,” he said.
Scott implored Vermonters to remember that the country’s economy and overall welfare will be hurt more by an overwhelmed healthcare system than by the restrictions and mitigations measures currently in place.
“The skeptics are right, they can do what they want, but please, don’t call it patriotic,” he said. “Real patriots sacrifice for all, whether they agree with them or not. Patriots also stand up and fight when our nation’s health and security is threatened.
“And right now, our country’s health and way of life is being attacked by this virus, not by the protections we put in place.”