Vermont Governor Phil Scott and members of his administration provided the latest update on the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic on Friday morning. Their focus was on the effectiveness of the public use of masks and the need to maintain social distancing in order to stem the spread of the disease.
The briefing began with an update on coronavirus numbers in Vermont. Health Department laboratory results on Thursday determined 51 new positives for a state total of 389 cases. No deaths were reported in Vermont on Thursday.
Governor Scott said recent trends provide some hope but he expects the coronavirus pandemic to linger for some time. “Today we saw a significant increase in positive cases, well above what we’ve experienced in the last few days. We’re going to see ups and downs. We’re going to see outbreaks. And my team will continue working hard to adapt as we’ve done with our rapid response teams to address these challenges in order to keep Vermonters safe. Social distancing and washing your hands continue to be the most effective tools we have to reduce the spread and make sure we don’t overwhelm our hospitals.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was expected to issue new guidelines imminently regarding the use of masks in public. Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says knowledge about the efficacy of wearing masks is evolving. “So now I am joining other health leaders in recommending that Vermonters wear cloth-based masks in public even if they have no symptoms. Now we know from more recent data that pre-symptomatic spread of COVID is possible especially in the 48 hours prior to symptom onset. So wearing a facemask may help people from spreading the virus.”
Dr. Levine emphasized wearing a mask does not eliminate the need to maintain social distancing. “We must still reserve medical-grade masks for health care workers and secondly social distancing is still the most effective way to slow the spread.”
Governor Scott added that masks are only one precaution to help prevent the spread of the virus. “As Dr. Levine said this is not a substitute for staying home. And it is not an excuse to mingle with others. Please continue to follow the measures we put into place even if you’re wearing a mask.”
With warmer weather expected over the weekend, officials anticipate more people will be outside. Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore said you should think before venturing out too far. "Now’s not the time to explore far-flung corners of Vermont. Spend time in places that you can walk or bike to. And if you must drive to get outside work to limit your trips to less than 10 miles. Be sure to continue to observe social distancing outdoors. If you arrive at a crowded trailhead or a place with an unmanageable parking situation, see that as a sign. When you’re outside engage in low-risk activities. If you have an accident you’re putting health care providers and emergency responders in danger. Their sole focus should be on combatting the COVID-19 crisis.”
Governor Scott said he plans to extend his original stay home and business closure order within a few days and will update it as necessary.