The Vermont Health Department says a June outbreak of COVID-19 in Winooski and Burlington is over. Vermont’s Health Commissioner says help from immigrant and New American advocacy organizations was key to containing the virus.
The outbreak and spread of the virus in early June resulted in 117 residents of Winooski and Burlington testing positive for COVID-19. It was Vermont’s first large community outbreak of the disease. On Wednesday Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said after 28 days with no new cases the outbreak has ended. “It is a success story and it’s a good example and a precedent for managing outbreaks. And I hope Vermonters look to this to know that we are prepared and able to quickly respond to any new outbreaks.”
The area has one of the largest immigrant, refugee and New American populations in Vermont. Dr. Levine praised Burlington and Winooski officials, school liaisons and groups including the Association of Africans Living in Vermont, the Vermont chapter of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants and the Vermont Multilingual Taskforce for their help to contain the spread of the disease. “Critical to all of our efforts to contain this outbreak was the ability to have effective community engagement, to reach the populations in culturally sensitive and linguistically appropriate ways. And for that I cannot thank AALV (Association of Africans Living in Vermont) and USCRI (U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants) enough. What we learned about delivering culturally and linguistically appropriate information is now a fundamental part of our ongoing outbreak response plans and this information has been utilized a number of times since.”
Association of Africans Living in Vermont Assistant Director Thato Ratsebe described some of the collaborative effort to stop COVID-19’s spread. “I was doing home visits and some at the beginning were confused about this idea of quarantining. I could pick up the phone and say I need somebody to help me explain this phenomenon. People were available even after hours. We all did not hesitate to help one another. And that’s what really made this effort a success.”
U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants Vermont Director Amila Merdzanovic says case managers and interpreters worked extensively to disseminate information during the outbreak. “Our two agencies both have professionally trained interpreters who speak the languages of our refugee and immigrant communities and who played a critical role both in disseminating information about anything and everything COVID-19 related as well as being on the ground at pop-up testing sites providing face-to-face interpretation which was critical.”
From June 8 to Aug 4th 9,976 tests were administered in Burlington and Winooski. Of the 117 positive cases there were two hospitalizations and no deaths. 60 percent reported no symptoms. The median age of those who tested positive was 24.
Although it borders states that have grappled with thousands of coronavirus cases, Vermont has one of the nation’s lowest infection rates.