During his regular pandemic update on Tuesday, Vermont Governor Phil Scott indicated he may change his mind regarding a state mask mandate.
Scott, a Republican, began his briefing noting that Vermont has the lowest number of COVID-19 cases in the country and there have been no deaths in the state in over a month. But he is concerned about what is happening elsewhere in the country and what the ramifications are if the virus shifts back to the region. Scott says as students return to college campuses and K-12 schools begin some level of in-person instruction it’s crucial that community spread remains low. But Scott says he is still reluctant to impose a statewide mask mandate. “My concern has been that a mandate will create unnecessary conflict. And with the numbers we see in Vermont the data hasn't yet supported a change to the status quo. And while that still may be the case, as we look ahead to more people coming into the state starting in September, and knowing Vermonters will be getting together inside as the temperature drops, coupled with these troubling regional and national trends, we've been trying to anticipate the appropriate time to deploy this tool as well as others so we keep one step ahead of the virus. And if it continues to look like this virus could be headed back towards us, an expanded mask policy will be part of the mix.”
There has been some concern and confusion about the results of tests taken at the Manchester Medical Center. The clinic used what is called an antigen test but state Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says antigen tests are not considered confirmed until redone with the more widely used PCR test. “A total of 65 patients tested positive and Manchester Medical Center. We have subsequent PCR testing data on 52 of the 65 for 80%. Ninety-two percent of those have tested negative while four have tested positive and are being considered confirmed cases. Through interviews and lab data we've determined that 59 of the 65 antigen positives are not cases.”
After the initial antigen positives were reported, the state tested 1,613 individuals in the Manchester and Londonderry area using the PCR tests. There were only 5 positive results. Dr. Levine says the conflicting results between the two types of tests is of concern. “We do not believe community transmission of COVID-19 is occurring. The clinicians at the Manchester Medical Center continue to work cooperatively with us and are just as concerned about finding the explanation for the discordant test results between antigen and PCR as we are. My epidemiologic and testing staff are meeting with the CDC to follow up on that.”
Governor Scott said a mask mandate may be necessary in the future and expects more information after further data is reviewed on Friday.