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As COVID Restrictions Relax, State Says Some Visitors Must Register With App

A website screenshot of the Sara alert website
Vermont Department of Health
A screenshot of the SARA Alert site, a mobile app that allows visitors to register with the state. A Health Department spokesperson said registration is mandaotry for vistors from areas with high coronavirus infection rates.

The state wants to stay in touch with travelers to Vermont using a mobile app. But it’s been unclear if it’s mandatory for visitors to register.

The state uses a product called the SARA Alert app to monitor people who may have been exposed to the new coronavirus. The app does not track you with GPS data on your phone, but it allows you to register with health authorities and would assist in contact tracing.

Inn owners say it’s not clear whether their guests are required to sign up. Mark Raishart and his wife, Catherine, run an Airbnb in Leicester, and he said some out-of-town guests are put off by having to register with the state. So the couple wanted VPR to ask the Health Department to clarify what’s required.

"It's actually meant to be helpful, and to be considered by the user to be an aid for them." — Health Commissioner Mark Levine

Health Commissioner Mark Levine tackled the question at Monday’s press briefing.

“SARA alert is not mandatory. It is voluntary,” Levine said. "It’s actually meant to be helpful, and to be considered by the user to be an aid for them in terms of their knowledge acquisition about what’s going on, and their ability to communicate in a relatively simple, direct way, daily if desired, with the Health Department about their condition.”

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But Levine’s answer wasn’t quite accurate. A Health Department spokesperson later said that registering using the app is mandatory for visitors to the state from areas with high infection rates.

Airbnb owner Mark Raishart said the state has mixed messages on its websites about what’s required for lodging owners and their guests. 

"One of the issues is that it's challenging to find consistent information in one place." — Mark Raishart, Vermont Airbnb owner

“That creates a challenge when we’re communicating to out-of-state guests what exactly they have to do before they come, or while they’re here," Raishart said. “One of the issues is, that it’s challenging to find consistent information in one place. Even this morning, I found conflicting statements on the ACCD [Agency of Commerce and Community Development] website about whether or not the SARA Alert is required.”

The state says about 607 travelers have signed up for the SARA Alert app so far.

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