Health Care

Levine warns against complacency as Scott says Vermont is ‘envy of the nation’

phil scott wearing mask
Gov. Phil Scott wears a face mask while Health Commissioner Mark Levine provides an update on the latest Covid-19 statistics at a press briefing on April 17. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

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As Vermont again reported zero new cases out of 700 tests conducted on Sunday, Health Commissioner Mark Levine began Monday’s press conference warning Vermonters against complacency. 

Levine noted that Vermont’s coronavirus curve has continued flattening since mid-April, with 940 total confirmed cases in Vermont and 54 deaths from the virus. “We continue with minor oscillations at a very low level of new cases on a daily basis,” Levine said. 

Meanwhile, the state government — in press conferences and on its Covid-19 web pages — continues to talk a lot about what people should and shouldn’t be doing: social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands regularly, he added. 

“Are these things still important when we have such great data?” Levine asked rhetorically. “Let me tell you about Clinton County, New York.”

Levine said the border county, which includes the city of Plattsburgh, had been following 46 individuals as part of its testing and tracing program. Over the weekend, the county reported nine new cases of Covid-19, and an additional 27 people who had come into close contact with those individuals during parties in Plattsburgh. 

“So they essentially doubled the number of people they are now following in that part of the state,” Levine said. 

Both Scott and Levine said that the majority of Vermonters continue to make the sacrifices necessary to keep the virus from rebounding, based on geolocation data from mobile phones showing how much people are moving around and gathering. 

And although Scott has cautioned against making too much out of days with zero new cases — “it doesn’t make for a trend,” he said of this Sunday — he has said the continued low numbers do give him confidence in making further reopening moves, and show that there is no need for stricter orders, like requiring people to wear masks in businesses and public places.

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“Again, when you look at last week, we’re the envy of the nation in some respects,” Scott said. “I have governors texting me and saying, ‘You give us hope.’ So what we’re doing is working. And when we see otherwise we’ll take action.”

The state has continued expanding testing, even as the new case numbers remain low. 

Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said many of the pop-up testing sites, which can be accessed by people without Covid-19 symptoms, have quickly filled up the 408 available spots per site (though sites in Newport, Springfield and Morrisville later this week still have openings).  

Enjoying the outdoors 

Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore said Monday that Vermonters are showing an “unprecedented” interest in outdoor activity, as the state considers how state parks will operate this summer. 

She said that 300 seasonal staff at the state parts are being trained, with an eye toward opening camping by June 26 or earlier. 

“We’re working hard to have as many of our parks fully operational as possible, as soon as possible,” Moore said. “I also want to be upfront,” she added, “our parks will likely look a little different this year.”

Moore said that firewood would remain on sale at all state parks, but that other supplies would not, except for ice at locations where there are no stores nearby. She also said that cottages and camps in state parks would not be available this summer.  

“While state parks will continue to provide innumerable opportunities for swimming, picnicking, fishing, hiking and camping,” she said, “other services, such as lawn and play equipment, camping and fishing gear, sales of merchandise, boats and bicycle rentals in concession stands are unlikely to be available this summer.”

Moore also suggested that folks looking for an outdoor adventure consider staying away from popular places — like beaches in Waterbury and Burlington, and hiking trails on Mount Ascutney and Camels Hump — and instead explore the state’s 99 wildlife management areas or find a less traveled trail online

Upcoming announcements

The Scott administration also previewed some of its upcoming reopening steps on Monday, as well as an economic recovery package that it plans to present on Wednesday. 

Vermont has already issued guidance for child care centers and day camps to reopen starting in June, and retail stores were allowed to reopen starting today, as long as they follow safety measures and limit occupancy to 25% of their usual legal limit. 

Hospitals have also returned to scheduling outpatient elective procedures and surgeries, which were not allowed for weeks during the peak of the pandemic. Smith, the human services secretary, said next steps for alternative medicine — such as chiropractors and massage therapists — would be coming on Friday. 

The governor said he would be discussing an economic aid package on Wednesday that will “provide relief, hope and initiatives to get us moving towards recovery.”

He declined to discuss the details of that package, but said it would include support for businesses across the state that depend on tourism, but added that he was “not going to get ahead of the announcement on Wednesday.”

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Colin Meyn

About Colin

Colin Meyn is VTDigger's managing editor. He spent most of his career in Cambodia, where he was a reporter and editor at English-language newspapers The Cambodia Daily and The Phnom Penh Post, and most recently at Southeast Asia Globe, a regional current affairs magazine. He is a native of Maine and studied journalism at Northwestern University.

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