With COVID Rising in Vt., Including Rurally, Leaders Plead for Social Distancing

Gov. Phil Scott defended new coronavirus restrictions put in place by his administration and called into question the patriotism of people who don't obey them

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Vermont’s governor and health commissioner Tuesday called on residents of their state to get even more serious about disease prevention, following sharp spikes in coronavirus infections recently.

Gov. Phil Scott defended strict coronavirus restrictions put in place by his administration Tuesday, saying those who choose to flaunt guidelines should not call themselves patriotic.

"The skeptics are right: they can do what they want. But please don't call it patriotic," Scott said. "Don't pretend it's about freedom. Because real patriots serve and sacrifice for all, whether they agree with that or not. Real patriots stand up and fight when our nation's health and security is threatened.

"And right now, our country and way of life are being attacked by this virus, not the protections we've put in place," he continued.

Officials' concern is statewide, but especially acute in relatively small Orange and Washington counties, where testing shows the sharpest recent jumps in COVID-19 infections.

Some 40% of all the state’s new cases the past two weeks came from those counties, according to the Vermont Department of Health.

“People aren’t being very smart,” said Toni Potvin of Northfield, referring to how contact tracers have linked disease spread in Vermont primarily to parties involving friends eating and drinking together at private homes, where measures like mask-wearing and physical distancing are skipped, rather than dining in restaurants. The governor said there had not been much person-to-person transmission at schools.

Officials believe Halloween parties helped fuel the growth of cases in the state, saying there was a marked increase in cases in the 10 to 14 days following Halloween. Scott also mentioned people gathering and drinking for televised sports games as a source of cases.

Scott said some Vermonters had complained the new restrictions, which target small gatherings, were "inconsistent" because people are allowed to gather in restaurants and schools.

He said Vermonters should view activities in two categories: those that are needed and those that are wanted. He said activities such as in-person learning and those that provide jobs are needed and should be prioritized.

Vermont officials announced 95 new cases of COVID-19 cases Tuesday, a day after reporting a record 122 cases the previous day.

Scott said the state was increasing its testing capacity by adding testing centers in Burlington, Middlebury, Waterbury, Rutland and Brattleboro, all of which will be open seven days a week.

State officials have suggested there are two lessons to be learned from Washington and Orange counties. First, mirroring the Great Plains states, the virus certainly is spreading in rural areas; it isn’t just a big city problem.

“I’m a little surprised that we are now at a higher case count than Chittenden County,” said Liz Atems, who works in the Washington County town of Northfield. “But I’m not surprised that the number of cases increased here.”

Secondly, even your most trusted friends could have the virus and be infectious before symptoms show up, health officials have warned.

“I think it’s easy for people to get a little complacent and forget the dangers,” observed Ally Manousis of Barre.

In Vermont, aid is being provided to two industries hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

When he last spoke on Friday, Scott announced that Vermont would temporarily prohibit gatherings involving more than one household and close bars and social clubs in an effort to curb the recent spike in coronavirus cases. The ban on multi-household gatherings, which began Friday, applies to indoor and outdoor settings and public and private spaces.

Bars and social clubs, meanwhile, are required to close to in-person service Saturday at 10 p.m. Restaurants can remain open, but must close in-person services at 10 p.m.

Museums, gyms, restaurants and other customer-facing businesses will be required to keep a daily log of all who enter their facilities.

On Monday, the state announced it would reimpose restrictions to limit the amount of visitors at hospitals. Visitors will be limited to one support person for labor and delivery, pediatric visits and same-day surgeries.

College students returning for the holiday break are required to quarantine for 14 days, or for seven days with a negative coronavirus test result. This applies to in-state and out-of-state students.

“Please, make these sacrifices now, keeping Thanksgiving and any other social gatherings within your own household,” Dr. Mark Levine, Vermont’s health commissioner, said Tuesday. “So we can have a holiday to truly be thankful for next year.”

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