Vermont may be near peak, but mitigation measures will be needed long-term

Gov. Phil Scott removes a face mask to make remarks at a press conference on Wednesday.

MONTPELIER - Although Gov. Phil Scott and Commissioner of Health Mark Levine said at a Wednesday press conference that Vermont may be nearing its peak of COVID-19 cases, remarks throughout the event painted a picture of a long-term altered way of life here. Scott said he hopes to open parts of the economy in the short term, but he and Levine said they don't anticipate that life can completely go back to its pre-virus normal until after a vaccine is available, which could take 12 to 18 months. 

Levine said that while original projections anticipated 20% to 50% of people becoming infected in this initial wave of the virus, current thinking is that the number will be closer to 10%.

“That means that there are a lot of people who will not have had experience with the virus,” said Levine. “So as we go into our future of trying to reopen things again, one of the major thrusts of our energies will still have to be on protecting Vermonters from getting infected prior to the time we have effective treatment, or even more optimistically, a vaccine.”

Levine said it’s his hope that widespread testing, serology testing for antibodies, and aggressive contact tracking for local outbreaks will bolster efforts in that period. However, he said, social distancing, face covering, public hygiene efforts, and managing gathering sizes will remain a part of life. 

“This is a novel virus that has never infected the human race before,” he said. “We don’t know what level of disease suppression is going to occur, how long that’s going to last or how many episodes of outbreaks or areas of containment there will need to be.” 

Gov. Scott said despite Vermont not initially being included in a consortium of East Coast states that will work together to inform how and when sectors of their economies are reopened, Vermont will participate in those discussions. He said he received a call from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office late Tuesday night apologizing that Vermont had not been informed of the initial discussions. 

Gov. Scott said he does not anticipate that those discussions will lead to a holistic approach where all states do the same thing at the same time, but rather that the states will share strategies.

“What New York is trying to formalize is talking to other states and making sure there’s not a ripple effect of an action they might take that would put another state in a tough place,” said Gov. Scott. “For instance, (if you consider) Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, if they were to open their beaches or if one did and the others didn’t, everyone would come to (the open) beaches, which would cause a problem.”

Gov. Scott said he does not think it would make sense for all of the states to do the same thing at once. 

“Gov. Lamont of Connecticut doesn’t expect to open up anything until the end of May,” said Gov. Scott. "With the numbers we’re receiving, I think we’re somewhere near peak, and we want to be able to open up some of our economy. I don’t want to wait for Connecticut, but I want to convey to them what we’re doing that might be helpful to their state.” 

Gov. Scott said he also does not see it as practical to think the federal government could make a blanket decision about when all the states should open their economies. 

“I just don’t see how one body in Washington can determine when we open this up,” he said. “Every state is different, every region is different. We will continue to do what I think is right based on the data, the science, and information and advice from experts. We will get through this that way and I believe history will show that was right. We didn’t have (the federal government’s) input in some respects when we got into this, and we don’t need their perspective. We’ll take their advice, but we don’t need them telling us how to get ourselves out of this either.” 

Gov. Scott said he can’t make predictions about when he will open up sectors of Vermont’s economy, or whether or how, for example, farmers’ markets may operate this year. 

“We’ve done a good job mitigating outbreaks here in Vermont, and I believe that we have this well in hand,” he said. “We want to make sure that we protect Vermonters and those who are here in our state by just turning this on a quarter turn of the spigot at a time.” 

Gov. Scott said that he hopes that over time, people can meet in groups again. He recalled that when mitigation measures began, group sizes were limited incrementally and said incrementally increasing group sizes may be prudent. But he noted there are a lot of questions that remain to be answered.

“It will be determined by whatever data we’re seeing, the number of positive cases, and so forth,” he said. “It’s about how. Not what sectors, but how do we accomplish what we need to? How do we get back to work in a way that is safe and responsible? We have to think about the hows. How are we going to go back to some sort of normal?” 

The Deerfield Valley News

797 VT Route 100 North
Wilmington, VT 05363

Phone: 802-464-3388
Fax: 802-464-7255

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