Vermont is requiring a 14-day quarantine for every person coming to Vermont, or back to Vermont, for nonessential travel.
The quarantine can be cut in half, to seven days, if the person tests negative for Covid-19.
Gov. Phil Scott announced the new measure to combat the pandemic at a press conference Tuesday amid a surge in Covid cases and multiple outbreaks spreading across the state.
The state had been relying on a 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.”
Highlighting the dire situation in surrounding counties and nationwide, officials showed 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. The state reported 46 cases and 12 hospitalizations Tuesday, and 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 to skeptics. “Simply refusing to do your part is dangerous to the rest of us,” he said.
Thanksgiving past and future
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.
That outbreak currently has 125 cases, including 76 at St. Michael’s College, Levine said. The Department of Health is tracking 20 different outbreaks and 63 situations at schools, workplaces, health care facilities and other settings.
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.
Sign up for our guide to the global coronavirus outbreak and its impact on Vermont, with latest developments delivered to your inbox.