Vermont schools set to close as four new COVID-19 cases reported

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Vermont schools set to close as four new COVID-19 cases reported

Mon, 03/16/2020 - 2:51pm -- tim

Health Commissioner Dr Mark Levine discusses the new cases of COVID-19 identified in Vermont, as Governor Phil Scott and Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling listen. VBM photo.

by Timothy McQuiston, Vermont Business Magazine At Governor Phil Scott's press conference this morning he announced that he has amended his executive order on mass gatherings to a maximum of 50 people or 50 percent of occupancy of the facility, whichever is smaller (the White House Task Force as of Thursday afternoon at 3:45 pm is now recommending gatherings of no more than 10 people). This excludes places like airports, bus or train stations. Meanwhile, the Vermont Department of Health Laboratory also today reported another four cases of the new coronavirus COVID-19. All are Vermont residents. To date, the lab has reported eight positive cases among Vermonters, and four cases among non-Vermonters. These Vermont lab results are considered confirmed.

Scott also further explained his mandate that all public schools close by the end of Tuesday.

The school closings mandate was a change from a Saturday statement by the administration to keep them open to a Sunday statement to close them by Wednesday. The governor and Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD, explained that new data drove the change in policy and that it should come as no surprise in the state's effort at "bending the curve" in the number of new cases.

"I believe we're right on schedule," the governor said, in making a change in such a fluid situation.

The details of how the schools will operate remain in flux with many questions remaining to be answered. There are three main points the Agency of Education is working on: Distance learning; special needs students; and meals.

For instance, how will distance instruction work? Suggestions include drive-up packets for the students and of course online teaching. But questions remain, such as what if homes don't have that kind of Internet/computer capability? What if parents can't get to the schools to pick up packets?

For students on Individualized Education and 504 programs? How will they receive a free and appropriate educational services as required by law? Many of these students also cannot simply be left home by themselves or with a sibling. How are they to be cared for if a parent or guardian is not available?

Over 200 schools right now provide free breakfast and lunch and just over 40 percent of all students in Vermont receive free or reduced priced meals. How will this be fulfilled? Again, said Deputy Education Secretary Heather Bouchey, they are working out a plan that could include driveup meals, perhaps distributing both breakfast and lunch at the same time. Perhaps meals can be delivered. Of course, many households have children at different schools and often in different towns, which is another issue to solve.

The good news in this regard, she said, is that cafeteria workers, para-educators and bus drivers (though there was some uncertainty with contracted bus services) will remain on staff at the schools and could be employed in solving these issues.

Governor Scott said they are working on financial issues related to at-home child care services. The money should be available but the logistics of distributing funds have to be worked out.

The governor said waiting until Wednesday to enact these changes gives the educational system two days to work out plans.

As for the economy, the governor was on less firm ground (the stock market fell again today despite a steep cut by the Fed in interest rates down to zero percent and the Dow was down about 13% or 3,000 points by mid-afternoon).

Scott said he has been in frequent touch with Congressman Peter Welch and Senator Patrick Leahy, who have said that Congress is working hard to come up with an economic package to help small business and individuals.

Otherwise, the governor is asking Vermonters to buy local to support local businesses and as much as possible to work remotely.

All of this social distancing, of course, is to limit the spread of the coronavirus and, as Dr Levin said, "to stay ahead of the curve."

As for the new patients, the VDH issued a statement saying the new patients were:

  • A female in her 60s, from Bennington County, is hospitalized at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.
  • A male in his 60s, of Orange County, is self-isolating at home.
  • A female in her 30s, of Chittenden County, is self-isolating at home.
  • A male in his 30s, of Chittenden County, is self-isolating at home.

The Health Department’s contact tracing team has been working to investigate the patients’ travel history and related community activities, and to identify anyone in Vermont who may have been in close contact with the patients. They will be assessed for their exposure risk and provided with guidance for their health and recommendations for self-isolation or other restrictions.

Vermont cases of COVID-19 8
Vermonters tested negative for COVID-19 421
Vermonters being monitored 274
Vermonters who have completed monitoring 143

In addition, four non-Vermont residents tested positive at the Vermont Public Health Laboratory. This table is updated daily by 1:00 p.m. Last updated: March 16, 2020

Go to for the most up-to-date information and guidance about COVID-19, including from the CDC.

According to Levine and Human Services Secretary Mike Smith, there are 297 beds available in Vermont for COVID-19 patients, 80 percent of those infected will not require hospitalization, several are quarantined at home already, and none of those few who were hospitalized initially are out of the hospital yet.

The governors press conference was held in the ornate Vermont Historical Museum in the executive Pavilion Building overlooking State Street in Montpelier. A smaller than usual press corps greeted the governor (about a dozen including reporters, videographers and a VPR engineer), while several other reporters were on a conference call and asked questions remotely.

Who to call for help or information:

  • If you have questions about COVID-19: Dial 2-1-1
  • If you are returning from Europe, the United Kingdom, Ireland, China, Iran or South Korea:
    Call Health Department Epidemiology at 802-863-7240.
  • If you are sick or concerned about your health: Contact your health care provider by phone. Do not go to the hospital, except in a life-threatening situation. Do not call the Health Department.

Person-to-person spread of the virus occurs mainly via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Take these everyday preventive actions to help stop the spread of germs:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with your arm or a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

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Source: BURLINGTON, VT – The Vermont Department of Health 3.16.2020