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Winooski Outbreak Expands To Include Cases In Neighboring Municipalities

A man in a suit and tie stands at a podium with a screen and flag behind him.
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Gov. Phil Scott speaking a press conference Monday. There are now 62 cases of COVID-19 associated with an outbreak in Winooski.

Some 62 cases of COVID-19 have been identified in connection with an outbreak in Winooski, including more than a dozen cases outside of the city, according to the state health department.

While 48 of the infections are in Winooski, there are now nine cases in Burlington and five in other towns in Chittenden County.

Gov. Phil Scott said at his thrice-weekly press conference on Monday that the outbreak was contained to a “socially interconnected group.”

“Transmission is all within a close-knit web of people,” Scott said.

Public health officials didn’t offer many specifics about how the virus spread, but state epidemiologist Patsy Kelso said the health department has identified shared activities between some of the infected individuals.

"We think there has been transmission in households as well,” Kelso said. “We think this is a pretty well-contained situation, or outbreak, and while the case numbers may go up because there may have been exposures in the recent days even, we don’t think this is something that we’ll see pop up all over the state.”

Winooski and Burlington are two of Vermont’s most diverse cities and both have large New American populations. Last week, Health Commissioner Mark Levine said the outbreak highlighted gaps in the health department’s translation services.

"In these two cities that have the most diverse populations in the state we must learn from them how to work in a way that is culturally sensitive and doesn't stigmatize either people or places." - Health Commissioner Mark Levine

The health department has not commented about the racial demographics of the individuals affected by the outbreak, but Seven Days reported the initial cases in Winooski were predominately among black and Asian individuals.

More from VPR: Race, COVID-19 And Health Disparities In Vermont

During Monday’s press conference, Levine reiterated that there were lessons to learn.

“In these two cities that have the most diverse populations in the state we must learn from them how to work in a way that is culturally sensitive and doesn’t stigmatize either people or places,” he said. “And we must continue to work at communicating clearly, without relying on the language of public health officials.”

The department did offer some additional details about the individuals with the virus. Levine said 38 were adults and the rest are children.

The ages span from one to 64 and the median age is 21. There are currently no hospitalizations or deaths associated with the outbreak, Levine said.

“It’s become apparent that many did not even know they were infected,” Levine said. “In fact, only about one in five that that we’ve interviewed so far report that they’ve had symptoms.”

For a timeline outlining Vermont's response to COVID-19, head here.

Scott and public health officials said the state’s expanded testing and contact tracing efforts were allowing them to contain the outbreak. The health department is offering testing all week in Winooski and in Burlington.

Levine said people should feel comfortable walking around both cities, but he urged people to follow social distancing guides, to wear a cloth mask and wash their hands frequently.

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