In reversal, health department recommends wearing masks But save medical grade masks for those on the front lines

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2020 Telegraph Publishing, LLC

Vermont’s Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine stepped out ahead of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention today saying that Vermonters should wear cloth masks in public even if they have no symptoms. But his remarks were not without caveats and qualifiers.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine explaining the change in the recommendation for wearing masks

“At this moment in time, 11 o’clock in the morning on this date, CDC and health departments including Vermont’s have been advising people who did not have symptoms of the coronavirus to not wear masks in public and that they offered little or no protection to the public,” said Levine, “but in the past 24 hours that advice is evolving even though the definitive advice has not yet come from CDC.”

“Now I am joining other health leaders in recommending Vermonters wear cloth face masks in public even if they have no symptoms,” continued Levine noting that recent data shows that the virus can be spread by infected people before they show symptoms. “Wearing a face mask may help (pre-symptomatic) people from spreading the virus.” Levine said he fully expected that CDC would be making this recommendation soon.

Levine then outlined some caveats.

  • Reserve medical grade masks for health care workers on the front lines with patients
  • Social distancing is still the most effective way to slow the spread

“What Vermonters are already doing in social distancing is already beginning to show promising results,” said Levine, “but we still need to keep up this good work even if we see the curve flattening.”

Gov. Phil Scott repeated and emphasized Levine’s message saying that “we can’t take our foot off the gas.”

“Hand washing and social distancing continue to be the most effective tool we have to reduce the spread and make sure we don’t overwhelm our hospitals,” said Scott noting that masks are “not a substitute for staying home and not an excuse to mingle with others. Please continue to follow the measures we put in place.”

Get outside, but not too far

ANR Secretary Julie Moore recommends getting outside, but not too far from home

Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore told reporters that outdoor exercise is a way to maintain physical, mental and spiritual well-being and urged Vermonters to get out in what looks like it will be a great weekend. But Moore cautioned that anyone going out this weekend should do the following.

  • Stay close to home. Moore suggests not going farther than you can walk or bike and if you must drive stay within 10 miles of home.
  • Continue to observe social distancing. If you find it crowded at a place you have planned to go, find another place. And leash your dog.
  • Engage in low risk activities to avoid requiring medical treatment that would endanger first responders and medical staff.
  • Respect the land. Stay off trails that are closed and if you are on open trails, don’t leave anything behind.

Moore also asked people to continue to support outdoor gear retailers, but to do it online rather than visiting their stores.

What does it mean to be recovered and has anyone?

The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center Map   shows the numbers of infected, deaths, active cases and those recovered for jurisdictions all over the world. But the number that is most often a zero is those recovered. The Telegraph asked Dr. Levine what is the definition of “recovered” and how many there are in Vermont. (Note: with information pouring in from around the world, the map has up to date totals but appears to be showing a bit of a lag on details)

“That definition is evolving just like everything else is evolving,” said Levine, “the guidance from CDC has been seven days since the onset of symptoms and three days without fever or any of the associated symptoms that you’ve had.”

Levine said that a real number to get a good handle on is those who were hospitalized and have become well enough to be discharged and then fit into a recovered definition.

“But think of all of the people who are not needing hospitalization,” said Levine, “It’s very hard to get a handle on the percentage of the population who had a mild or moderate illness and recovered from that illness. It’s too early to give you a precise statistic.”

Asked if the state had a way to learn whether people who had tested positive have reached the point where they are considered recovered, Levine said “Not to my knowledge.”

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