Burlington’s mayor hosted a tele-town hall Tuesday evening to discuss the public health implications of the COVID-19 pandemic and how Vermont’s largest city should respond to the crisis.
Democratic Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger hosted the head of Vermont’s largest medical center and an expert from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health to examine ways to move forward as the pandemic enters a new phase.
Dr. Joshua Sharfstein directs the Office of Public Health Practice and Training at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. During the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic the strategy of stay-home and social distancing helped flatten the curve. Sharfstein says while that helped reduce the number of cases, it also created challenges in the economy. “We want to be able to open slowly maintaining the conditions that keep the virus at bay. But the virus will succeed sometimes and when that happens we need to break the chains of transmission when they happen. And when you combine those two things then hopefully we will be able to achieve essentially a new normal where a lot can happen that is important for the economy and for our lives and we’re essentially buying time for these promising therapies to hopefully start to pan out.”
University of Vermont Medical Center President and Chief Operating Officer Dr. Stephen Leffler reported that the state and region are in good shape with no new cases reported on Monday and only one on Tuesday. “The mitigation that we did in Vermont bought us time to blunt the curve so that we could have enough PPE. We have much more testing in the state than we had eight weeks ago. We have more ventilators available. And so we’re preparing for the next phase of this when COVID is part of the new normal. We’re planning for a future when we regularly have some COVID patients in the hospital but we’re doing other care as well, we’re not shutting down everything elective like we did in the first phase of mitigation.”
Caller questions focused on how phased reopenings might affect businesses and larger gatherings such as weddings. Amy, who provided no last name, has concerns about how to open child care centers. “We know that the governor has talked about a June 1st date for child care to reopen. And we know that kids won’t effectively wear masks, let’s get real. Do we have a good enough understanding of the disease’s impact on young children to reopen child care?”
Dr. Leffler: “You can try to isolate the classes. If you do have a child that gets it then you can mitigate the spread. You can measure kid’s temperatures going in with thermal scanners and do a symptom check which we’re doing in many different locations now. But I think the trick is to try to mitigate and manage the risk as much as you can.”
Mayor Weinberger: “We’re gonna go to Deb. Go ahead and ask your question."
Deb: "I just wanted to ask about gatherings. Social distancing is the key here but this is wedding season coming up and there are a lot of weddings planned in Burlington and throughout Vermont.”
Mayor Weinberger also weighed in on that question. “We haven’t yet fully canceled all the festivals and events planned for the summer. How are you thinking about gatherings this summer?"
Dr. Sharfstein: "Big gatherings are you know really great opportunities for the virus to pass from person to person."
Mayor Weinberger: "Dr. Leffler did you want to add anything?"
Dr. Leffler: "There’s two huge issues with big gatherings. Number one it’s a lot of people together and the one that I was most concerned about is that it’s bringing in people from a lot of other states. So when those people get here whatever the disease burden is the state they’re in that’s suddenly back in Vermont. And so as difficult as it is to delay these big gatherings in the short term that is going to be the reality.”