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Vermont battles pandemic, extends quarantine

The bottom line is, if you don’t need to travel right now, don’t.
— Gov. Phil Scott

VERMONT — As Vermont grapples with a surge in COVID-19 cases, like the rest of the country, state officials are putting in place slightly tighter restrictions designed to bolster social distancing and reduce the spread of the disease caused by the coronavirus. 
Gov. Phil Scott on Tuesday announced that Vermont is requiring a 14-day quarantine for every person coming to Vermont, or heading back into Vermont, for nonessential travel. The quarantine can be cut in half, to seven days, if the person tests negative for COVID-19.
The state had been relying on a color-coded travel map — people from counties with high COVID-19 caseloads had to quarantine, while others did not.
“When you consider the amount of red we’re seeing in the Northeast — and that is not likely to improve for a few weeks — it only makes sense to simplify the policy in order to ensure better compliance,” Scott said. “The bottom line is, if you don’t need to travel right now, don’t.”
Vermont reported 72 cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, breaking the previous record for the most cases reported in a single day, according to data from the Department of Health. On Thursday, Vermont reported another 109 new case, hitting another record. The state’s total case count to 2,651, with 59 deaths.
Since Nov. 1, Vermont has reported 339 new cases of COVID-19 — a 15% increase.
Over that period Addison County has seen nine new cases bringing the total to 135. That represents a 7% increase in COVID-19 cases this month.
Gov. Phil Scott has directed the State Emergency Operations Center to prepare for the coming surge, according to a statement released Wednesday. That includes re-deploying field hospital sites in case hospitals are filled to capacity with COVID patients.
 “I understand that Vermonters feel fatigued from the pandemic, its impact on all of us and the sacrifices it has required,” Scott said in a statement.
At Tuesday’s press conference, officials highlighted the dire situation in surrounding counties and nationwide by showing the latest national travel map — a “sea of red” that demonstrates the need for more caution, said Dr. Mark Levine, head of the Department of Health.
“The fact is our entire region is in danger from the surge of COVID cases happening right now; it’s very clear that things will not improve anytime soon,” Levine said.
The state predicts a 79% rise in cases nationally and a 105% rise in cases in the Northeast in the next six weeks, according to forecasts presented by Mike Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation.
Vermont is hitting case numbers not seen since the pandemic started in the spring, and recently announced another death from the virus, the state’s first since July.
Levine gave condolences to the family and loved ones of the person who died of COVID last week. He said that death should be a call to action for Vermonters. 
“I ask everyone in Vermont to join me in honoring this latest loss by recommitting to doing everything in our power to prevent this virus from spreading,” he said.
Scott said Vermont’s history proves it can change its trajectory with the virus. “But we’ll need to dig deep and double our efforts so we can protect the most vulnerable and keep our schools open, and our businesses.”
Scott also reminded Vermonters to follow important aspects of the state’s social distancing guidelines: Wear masks, limit gathering sizes and avoid unnecessary travel, including for the coming holidays.
He had a message for skeptics. “Simply refusing to do your part is dangerous to the rest of us,” he said.

THANKSGIVING 
With Thanksgiving coming up this month, Pieciak used Canada to show what the holiday could lead to without proper social distancing compliance.
The Canadian provinces that celebrated Thanksgiving in October all experienced a spike in COVID cases after the event, an indication that family and social gatherings led to a rise in cases. 
“If you celebrate in the traditional ways, it’s really a combination unfortunately of traveling, which we’re concerned about, and small indoor gatherings, which similarly, we’re concerned about,” Pieciak said.
The state recently issued a new advisory limiting social gatherings to 10 people or fewer. Levine emphasized the “fewer.”
“Because you can does not mean you should,” he said. “The safest approach is to stick to your own household.”
Pieciak also showed data that the average age of COVID cases in Vermont ticked up with the recent surge, hitting above the age of 50 for the first time after the outbreak in Washington County that started with recreational ice sports.

STEPPING UP SURVEILLANCE
Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling announced a return of randomized, plainclothes compliance checks on whether businesses are violating social distancing guidelines or travel restrictions.
The state will send out officers to do those checks starting Nov. 12 as a way to figure out the baseline level of compliance across different businesses, he said. They plan to target lodging and social businesses, particularly indoor ones.
“Right now we’re just trying to assess what the level of compliance is and also equally, you know, is the message getting to the key places?” Scott said.
He said egregious examples of noncompliance — multiple violations or flouting the rules — may be referred to the Attorney General’s office. 

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