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Vermont Officials: Wear Masks In Public, Continue Social Distancing

Blue and red cloth masks on a bathroom sink.
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Vermont officials are recommending everyone wear cloth facial coverings in public, and that everyone continue to stay home as much as possible.

Updated 5:45 p.m.

Vermont's top health official is recommending everyone wear face masks in public in line with evolving guidance from the Centers for Disease Control.

"Now we know, from more recent data, that pre-symptomatic spread of COVID is possible, especially in the 48 hours prior to symptoms' onset," Health Commissioner Mark Levine said at a press conference Friday. “Wearing a face mask may help people from spreading the virus."

Levine added two caveats: People should wear cloth face masks, not medical-grade masks, which should be saved for health care workers. And people should continue practicing social distancing.

"What Vermonters are already doing, the sacrifices they've been making with social distancing, is beginning to show promising results with slowing the spread," he said. "But we still must keep up this good work for a little while longer, even as we see the curve of illness in Vermont potentially flattening."

Click here for answers to some frequently asked questions about COVID-19 in Vermont.

Levine said there were no new deaths related to COVID-19 in Vermont, though there were 51 new cases in the state, bringing up the total to 389. He added the state's rapid response teams are continuing to work closely with Vermont's longterm care facilities.

Gov. Phil Scott said Friday that while there was some cause for optimism, there would also be "ups and downs" and "more outbreaks."

“It’s important to know that while recent trends have given us some hope, we know this can easily change day to day," he said.

On Thursday, members of Scott's administration presented computer models showing what could happen in the "best-case," "worst-case" and "likeliest-case" scenarios at the peak of COVID-19 cases in Vermont. In the "likeliest-case," the state is projected to be short on ICU beds and ventilators.

On the same day, the state announced another four "surge" sites would be set up in addition to the three already in place.

Go outside, but close to home

Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore joined the press conference Friday to ask Vermonters to recreate close to home.

"Nature can and is helping maintain our physical, mental and even spiritual well-being," she said. "But in these unprecedented times, it's important to be smart about if and how far you travel."

Moore said Vermonters should stick to spots they can walk to, bike to, or drive to in under 10 miles, maintain six feet from other people, and avoid crowded trailheads.

"Now's not the time to explore far-flung corners of Vermont, but rather to focus on backyard adventures," she said.

Increased masks, testing

Officials said they are increasing the state's capacity for both personal protective equipment and test kits.

"We're purchasing any and all PPE," Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling said. "If everything holds, and our trajectory is where it is today, we’ll have enough."

Schirling said that the state currently has about 1.9 million gloves, 59,000 face protectors and 283,000 N-95 respirator masks.

According to Levine, the health commissioner, Vermont has also increased its testing capacity with a second analysis machine at the Department of Health Lab.

"We still have capacity at the Mayo Clinic," he said. "And the UVM Medical Center is in the process of validating its own test, and trying to secure the reagnets it would need for that test, which would provide further capacity."

Levine said the state has what it needs for 10 days, and perhaps longer, to continue testing at current levels.

More directives?

According to the computer models released by the state Thursday, Vermont will hit its peak in COVID-19 cases sometime in late April or early May. Before then, the governor said he hopes to continue with the current directives he's issued.

“We’ll continue to monitor, making sure that we’re enforcing some of the actions ... we’ve already put into place," Scott said.

Schirling, the public safety commissioner, said no fines or penalities have been issued.

Scott added he has more orders lined up if they become necessary, but did not specify further. He did say he expected to extend his stay-at-home order in the next two or three days, which was originally set to expire April 15.

“The mitigation efforts are having a beneficial response, and we want to continue down that path,” Scott said.

Post-peak

As for what happens after Vermont hits its peak, the governor said the state will continue to be guided by science and data.

"We’ll continue to wait until we peak, and then make certain that we’ve done so, and then mitigate our way out of this as well," he said. “This is so new – this is such a new virus that we don’t have a playbook – we don’t know what to expect."

Scott added: "We may be in for a bit of a bumpy road in the next year or two. This will be longterm. We’re going to have to monitor this for quite some time.”

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