With low Vt. Covid cases, Scott focuses on school reopening, easing hospitality sector restrictions

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With state K-12 schools set to open on Tuesday, Sept. 8, Vermont continues to lead the nation with the lowest positivity rate in the nation, as well as the lowest per capita case total in the country.

Gov. Phil Scott said that Vermont’s low-Covid data continues to show why it’s possible to resume in-person instruction. “Our public health experts continue to support our return to school,” he said.

Looking ahead, Scott said that for this week the focus will be on reopening schools but that he will look to help the hospitality sector by easing restrictions in the near future, after schools have been opened for a few weeks.

With the Labor Day weekend beginning on Friday, Scott encouraged Vermonters to continue to be smart and vigilant in following health department guidance, specifically avoiding large gatherings and not traveling to areas with higher prevalence of infection. “We don’t want to lose any ground,” he said.

When asked about a recent report from the state teachers union, the Vermont National Education Association, which awarded the state a D+ for reopening preparedness, Scott said he hoped the report wasn’t politically motivated and that “we need to work together.” Scott reiterated that pediatricians and other child experts have continued to say that it’s really important to get kids back in school, noting that some students are “slipping through the cracks.” He said he had not heard from individual schools but if any are not prepared, the state wants to hear from them and will help in any way they can.

53 new cases this week; testing increases

As for specific Covid-19 case updates, the Vermont Department of Health reported a total of 53 new Covid-19 cases this week, slightly up from the 48 cases reported last week, for a total of 1642 total cases. These numbers are based on data published on the Health Department’s daily dashboard, tracking cases reported during the span from Friday, Aug. 28 to Friday, Sept. 4. There were no new deaths reported this week. That number continues to hold at 58.

Robust statewide testing increased even more this week, with a total of 15,443 new individuals tested, a significant jump from the 9,777 tests conducted last week, for a daily average of over 2,200, twice the ideal daily average of 1,000 test per day the Health Department had targeted. Increased testing can be linked to higher education students who have arrived at colleges and universities throughout the state as well as increased testing in the Killington area in response to a recently identified outbreak.

During the Friday, Sept. 4 press conference, Michael Pieciak,  commissioner for the Vermont Department of Financial Relations, who does ongoing predictive modeling for the state, said that all higher education students have now arrived and of the 27,000 tests that have been conducted across all colleges in the state, only 33 students have tested positive. In the Burlington area, of 16,000 tests to higher education students given, only 13 were positive.

Dr. Patsy Tassler Kelsoe, state Epidemiologist for Infectious Disease, said college reopening “has clearly been a success,” with virtually all students having had their zero-day test and most having had their seven-day test as well.

Scott was quick to point out that the state does not want to declare victory in college reopening but instead said “we must remain vigilant.” His biggest concern was possible out-of-state visitors arriving to campuses, something the state would “have to keep our eye on.”

The Rutland outbreak, which was been traced to a private party on Aug. 19 at The Summit Lodge in Killington, has resulted in 17 cases in total to date with two identified on Thursday, Sept. 3.  All positive cases are Vermonters and 11 of those cases attended the party, the other 6 were the result of community spread. Of the 49 guests at the party, 34 have been reached for contact tracing. Kelsoe said there might be additional community spread in the coming weeks and that multiple testing sites have been set up in the area. Scott said that Health Department may not learn of cases stemming from the gathering that have returned to their home states. Of note, Scott confirmed that the Summit Lodge had adhered to all state Covid-19 prevention health guidelines at this event.

Chittenden County continues to lead the state in new cases with an increase of 22 for a total of 801. Rutland County (Killington) saw an increase of 14 new cases for a total of 125. Windham County gained three cases this week, and now stands at 123, down from the nine reported last week. Windsor County reported three new cases, totaling 80.

Hospitalized patients with Covid-19 has dropped to one person, down from three. The “hospitalization under investigation” number has dropped significantly, going from eight to one.

Contacts Monitored, which includes close contacts of people who have already tested positive, has increased from 68 to 79. Travelers being monitored, which includes those participating in the Sara Alert system, has dropped from 769 to 595.

Pop-up testing continues in Springfield

The pop-up Covid-19 testing schedule for Springfield has Tuesday dates through September available on Sept. 8, Sept. 15, Sept. 22 and Sept. 29. The testing location is at the Springfield UU Meetinghouse on Fairground Road.

To schedule a test, click on this link and scroll down to the appropriate date. This site has recently added a link to sign up to be notified of future testing dates in the area of your choice.

The Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development updated Vermont’s cross-state travel information map on Friday, Sept. 4. This map identifies the surrounding counties throughout the Northeast that can now freely travel to Vermont without quarantine. This is a county-by-county list for those areas that have less than 400 active Covid-19 cases per million residents and is updated weekly. Eligible travel counties have dipped this week, with possible travelers to Vermont going from 6.6 million down to 5.2 million. Click this link to see the latest updates to this interactive county map.

Scott has released new recreational sports guidelines for both indoor and outdoor youth and adult clubs and leagues, closely mirroring their school sports guidance. Specifics to this category can be found in section 9.1 Sports/Organized Sports including Youth Leagues, Adult Leagues, Practices, Games and Tournaments on the Agency of Commerce and Community Development website. Scroll down to the appropriate category for details.

For more state-wide details on Covid-19 information and resources, click here.

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