Health Care

Officials urge extra caution in light of new Covid strain

Stephen Leffler University of Vermont Medical Center president
Dr. Stephen Leffler, president at the University of Vermont Medical Center. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

There hasn’t yet been a confirmed case of the new, more contagious strain of Covid-19 in Vermont, but officials warned at a press conference Wednesday that there’s reason to believe that it is already circulating within local communities — or will be very soon. 

“We should assume it’s already in Vermont,” said University of Vermont Medical Center President Stephen Leffler. 

The updated stance comes two days after the strain first detected in the United Kingdom was reported in Saratoga Springs, New York, a town just 30 miles from the state border. 

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger doubled down on the safety measures already in place during the press conference, including the importance of wearing quality masks, and limits on activities like nonessential travel and indoor gatherings between households. 

Weinberger said he would defer to the Vermont Department of Health’s recommendations when asked whether the 10 p.m. curfew on restaurants and bars was something he would consider moving up, but added that “it’s possible that what has been safe up until now could shift with this variant.” 

“We have seen how quickly circumstances can change, even here in Vermont,” Weinberger said. “Our enemy has shifted, and has new tools that we need to be aware of just at a time when I think a lot of people are pretty sick and tired of this. I do have full faith in folks, but it isn’t just going to happen.” 

Weinberger and Kara Alnasrawi, Burlington’s business support director, also announced that the city would be using $25,000 in emergency funds to purchase high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters to be distributed to qualified small businesses and nonprofits. 

Kara Alnasrawi, Burlington’s business support director. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Upgrading ventilation systems in buildings used by members of a large number of different households falls in line with the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control as part of a broader defense strategy against the virus. HEPA filters help to quickly replace air that may contain infectious droplets with clean air. 

“Keeping proper ventilation in areas where there’s mixed households has become a priority,” Alnasrawi said. “There is most likely this new strain, or we should assume it’s already in our community. … I can’t stress enough how quickly we’re looking to move with this.” 

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Applications for the filters will open on Monday on the city’s website, and will be considered based on the volume of people who frequent small business and nonprofit spaces. 

There has been a reported 20% rise in Covid-19 cases in the region, and a 2.68% rolling seven-day average positivity in Vermont — numbers that could well increase should the more infectious strain take a firmer hold. Weinberger declined to call for any changes in the state’s current vaccine rollout plan. 

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

“We know that age plays an enormous role, as does existing health,” Weinberger said. “Given that, and given the need to keep this as simple as possible, I see some wisdom in the way the state has decided to do this.” 

“I know they have some details still to iron out, and I have some questions and will be engaging in those details, but I’m supportive given what I’ve heard so far and given my understanding of the thinking behind why they have chosen this straight-forward methodology.” 

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Seamus McAvoy

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