By MIKE DONOGHUE, Islander Staff Writer
Gov. Phil Scott announced on Friday a series of new temporary restrictions designed to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in Vermont in the wake of a major upturn in positive tests throughout the Green Mountain STate and the northeast.
“We’re moving in the wrong direction,” Scott said at his twice-weekly news conference.
Vermont set a daily record on Wednesday with 72 cases, but busted that mark the following day when 109 positive tests were announced. The report on Friday showed 84 more cases.
Grand Isle County trickled along in single digits for several months, is now at 33 cases as of Friday. The breakdown by towns shows North Hero reported 9 cases and Grand Isle with 8. Alburgh, South Hero and Isle La Motte all have at least 5 each, the state said.
“We’re in a new phase of this pandemic. The days of very low risk are over,” Scott said.
Under questioning from The Islander, the Governor said he did plan to extend his Executive Order giving him full control of the COVID-19 situation in Vermont. By late Friday afternoon Scott had signed an order extending his authority until Dec. 15.
Dr. Mark Levine, Vermont health commissioner, said the state continues to be hit by many COVID outbreaks.
Under questioning Levine tried to defend the state's action of not releasing any public information on a major outbreak at a large Rutland nursing facility until asked by the final reporter at the end of a two-hour news conference on Tuesday. Seven patient and one staff had tested positive and those numbers have since grown, officials said Friday.
Levine said he did not think it was an intentional coverup by the state nor was it due to COVID fatigue -- the numbing of disease-related issues.
Scott meanwhile said he was sorry that he was going to have to ask more from Vermonters.
“We’ve had tremendous success thanks to the hard work of Vermonters, but we are at a pivotal moment,” said Scott, who was elected to a third term overwhelmingly last week.
“We have an opportunity right now to get our arms around this record growth and return to the case stability we’ve grown accustomed to, but we all have to step up and recommit to following all current health guidance and to limit our contacts as much as possible," he said.
"At the same time, the State is actively expanding testing and contact tracing protocols, so we are even better positioned to hunt this virus down and stop it in its tracks,” Scott said.
To try to slow the spread, ensure hospitals are not overwhelmed, help schools continue to offer in-person instruction and keep as many Vermonters working as possible, the State has targeted new mitigation strategies to address the areas that appear to be driving the spread.
Since October 1, the state said 71% of the cases associated with an outbreak are associated with a private party or social gathering.
Gov. Scott's office provided an outline on the following directives as of 10 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 14), unless otherwise noted. The Agency of Commerce and Community Development will provide additional guidance as needed.
Public and Private Multi-Household Social Gatherings Prohibited
Attendance at all public and private social gatherings, indoor and outdoor, including social gatherings incidental to ceremonies, holiday gatherings, parties and celebrations, shall be limited to participation with only members of a single household. Individuals who live alone may gather with members of their immediate family residing in a different household.
Restaurant Hours and Seating Limits
Restaurants must close in-person dining at 10 p.m., but may provide curbside and delivery service after 10 p.m. For in-person dining, restaurants must seat only one household per table, in accordance with existing capacity limits and the new restriction on multi-household gatherings.
Closure of Bars and Social Clubs
Bars and social clubs will be closed for in-person service until further notice. Curbside and delivery service is allowed.
Pausing Recreational Sports
Youth and adult recreational sports activities, not related to Vermont Principals Association sanctioned school sports, are suspended until further notice. Bowling leagues are required to stop, but families can still go to the lanes.
All businesses, non-profits and government entities shall reinstitute telework policies for all employees to the maximum extent possible. In person meetings are strongly discouraged and should be held by telephone or video conference whenever possible.
Contact Tracing and Testing Requirements
All restaurants and other businesses hosting non-essential activities shall maintain a 30-day log of employee and guest names and contact information in case contact tracing is required by the Health Department. These individuals are consenting to be contacted by the Health Department Contact Tracing Team. Further, all Vermonters are directed to comply with requests made by the Contact Tracing Team. Finally, college students returning home in Vermont (from in-state and out-of-state schools) shall quarantine for 14 days or seven days with a negative COVID-19 test and testing is strongly encouraged.