By Polly Mikula
Governor Phil Scott said he was “cautiously optimistic” at the regular news conference, Tuesday, Dec. 1. Thus far, the mitigation measures enacted Nov. 13 banning multi-family gatherings among other restrictions, have decreased the rate of Covid-19 spread, he said.
But it’s too early to tell what the effect of the Thanksgiving holiday will have, he said. It will be another week or two before data reflects how well Vermonters followed the guidance.
“If Vermonters followed the guidelines and our numbers continue to decrease, we will be able to ease restrictions in the not too distant future,” Scott said.
Commissioner of Financial Regulation Michael Pieciak echoed the governor’s cautious optimism pointing to two early indictors that show promising signs regarding compliance with the state orders.
In the past two weeks, Vermont has seen a decrease in mobility with 20% fewer Vermonters commuting to work and 27% more time spent at home. “We were the second least mobile state in the country over Thanksgiving weekend,” Pieciak said.
Additionally, travel into Vermont decreased 52% on the Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving and decreased 55% on Thanksgiving day, compared to 2019.
Vermonters traveling out of state was also down 58% over the three day period (Wednesday-Friday) around Thanksgiving.
Across the country 60% fewer people traveled through airports, with 77% fewer traveling through Burlington International Airport compared to last year.
While travel was reduced significantly, and particularly in Vermont, there is still much uncertainty about how the Thanksgiving Day holiday may affect infection rates, Pieciak said echoing Scott.
And November was the worst month — by far — for Covid infections in Vermont. November saw 46% of the state’s total of Covid cases since the beginning of the pandemic — more than all cases March through September combined. Vermont now has more active Covid infections than it ever has, which elevates the risk of coming in contact with someone that’s infectious, Scott noted.
“We have tough days and month ahead, we are not out of the woods yet,” Scott said. “But we are at a point where we can see that light more clearly than we have throughout the pandemic. We have to keep focused on it so that we can get through this dark tunnel as strong as possible. We can’t give up when we’re finally seeing a way out.”
Long term care facilities
There are currently 165 cases at eight facilities in Vermont ranging from skilled nursing facilities to assist living, said Dr. Mark Levine, state health commissioner, on Tuesday.
“The virus is entering these facilities as a silent traveler the majority of the time,” Levine said. “Present in the nasal passages of staff who have yet to develop symptoms and are unknowing vectors. The fact that they are infected at all is testimony to the fact that more virus is present in our communities.”
To help combat outbreaks at long term care facilities, the state will be increasing surveillance testing with PCR and antigen tests, ensuring facilities have enough PPE and are adhering to all health and safety protocols.
Locally, Rutland Health & Rehab in Rutland has 54 cases, as of Tuesday, Dec. 1, with 13 new cases since last week. It now has the highest total case count and highest new cases count of the eight long term care facilities the state is monitoring.
Scott reiterated that all travelers must quarantine for seven days with a negative test or 14 days before participating in recreation, shopping, running errands or any other permitted activities in Vermont.
Lindsay Kurrle, secretary of the Agency of Commerce & Community Development, clarified that visitors can quarantine at home for either seven days with a negative test or 14 days prior to arriving in Vermont, but only if they drive directly to Vermont. No commercial travel is permitted.
Second homeowners are not exempt from this requirement. Nor does recreating count as quarantining — that, too, is prohibited by executive order until after the quarantine period, Scott said.
On Friday, Dec. 4, the state will present an update on winter sports guidance. Perviously, on Nov. 20, the state announced that all youth and adult winter sports were postponed until further notice. School and recreation level winter sports had been scheduled to begin Nov. 30.