Updated at 1:57 p.m.
As Vermont sets new records for daily Covid-19 case counts, the state has reimposed stringent restrictions on hospitals and will set up new testing centers across the state and bolster its contact tracing teams.
During a Tuesday press conference, Gov. Phil Scott and his administration painted a grim picture of the spread of the virus in Vermont.
“I’m hoping by laying out what the stakes are, it will motivate Vermonters to follow this guidance, so we can get back together again soon and safely,” he said.
The governor lectured “skeptics” of guidelines he released on Friday, which allowed restaurants to stay open but banned all inter-household gatherings.
“There’s not much we can do to stop you,” he acknowledged, of those who defy the rules. “Please, don’t call it patriotic. Don’t pretend it’s about freedoms. Because real patriots serve and sacrifice for all, whether they agree with them or not.”
Scott explained that 71% of outbreaks reported from Oct. 1 to Nov. 13 were linked to “social events, parties and people hanging out at home or bars and clubs.” He added Vermont has not seen the virus spread widely at schools, restaurants or other businesses.
Dr. Mark Levine, the state health commissioner, said those parties came in a variety of sizes of parties — Halloween gatherings large and small, dinner parties, baby showers, “people in the high single numbers at a deer camp.”
The virus spike stemmed from “opportunities for people to get together from different households in very modest-size circumstances. And I would say that a modest-size circumstance could be a Thanksgiving, a dining room table with six people at it, three couples from different places. That’s all it would take. It’s very, very well documented.”
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Vermont reported 95 new cases of the virus Tuesday, down from the record-setting 122 new cases reported Monday. Washington County, center of a recent outbreak of cases, reported 32 new cases.
Seventeen Covid-19 patients are currently hospitalized statewide, down from 19 on Monday’s report.
Hospital lockdowns and more testing
Scott and Mike Smith, his human services secretary, outlined new hospital guidelines and an expansion of the administration’s Covid testing program.
The governor said new testing sites are being opened this week in Burlington, Middlebury, Brattleboro, Rutland and Waterbury. Smith said the sites will be open seven days a week, and the tests done there will be free of charge.
The state plans to have 14 sites operating by the end of the month, so that every Vermonter will be within a 30-minute drive of getting a Covid test. “We hope to have the capacity, with all our testing, to do 30,000 tests a week,” Smith said.
Scott also said the state’s contact-tracing workforce, now at 40 investigators, will almost double in size, with 20 new members from the Vermont National Guard and 10 from the Department of Public Safety.
Smith said he ordered hospitals on Monday to reimpose the tight Covid restrictions that were imposed in March and April, but later relaxed.
“So what does that mean? It means no visitors are permitted at this time, and until further notice, with some limited exceptions,” he said. Among those exceptions are one guest allowed for labor and delivery, one support person with a child patient, and other potential exceptions for special needs patients.
In defending the ban on multi-household gatherings, Scott sought to differentiate personal “wants” from societal “needs.”
“In my view, in-person education, protecting our health care system, and keeping people working, as long as we can do it safely, are things we need. Parties and cookouts, hanging out with people you don’t know, just to socialize, may be fun. But they’re wants, not needs,” he said.
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