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Despite Small Outbreaks, Vt. Officials Say COVID Curve Is 'Starting To Flatten'

Gov. Phil Scott stands at a podium next to a screen
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ORCA media
Gov. Phil Scott gives a progress report on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic at his press briefing Wednesday. His administration said Vermont has effectively slowed the growth in new cases, despite small outbreaks around the state.

Vermont's top health official says the state has effectively slowed the growth of new COVID-19 cases, despite scattered outbreaks in Rutland, Windham and Chittenden counties.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said 12 people associated with an unnamed business in Fair Haven have tested positive, and that testing will soon be available in that community. The Chittenden County cluster has reached 114 cases, but that outbreak has slowed, Levine said at Gov. Phil Scott’s Wednesday press briefing.

“The [Chittenden County] peak was in early June, and even with additional cases occurring sporadically through this later part of June, we are clearly on a downward and stable slope,” he said.

Levine added the outbreak in Windham County is confined to one family of under 10 people, he said.

"The [Chittenden County] peak was in early June, and even with additional cases occurring sporadically through this later part of June, we are clearly on a downward and stable slope." ?— Health Commissioner Mark Levine

Levine declined to give more details about the Fair Haven cases, saying to do so could disclose the identity of the people involved.

“I really cannot convey the name of the worksite as that would be identifying to the individuals who work there and who are actively isolating and quarantining,” he said. “Nor can I say how the virus got there, not because there’s anything to hide. So often it’s impossible to understand how a case became a case.”

But overall, Levine said, Vermont has flattened the growth curve of new coronavirus infections. Yet he warned the public not to get complacent, even as the state continues to loosen up restrictions on businesses and public gatherings.

More from VPR: ‘We Need To Remain Vigilant’: Vt. Officials Urge Residents To Continue COVID-19 Prevention

“This achievement can be fragile,” he said. “But I am very hopeful, and cautiously optimistic, that the way to stay safe is not through top-down edicts. It must be people-powered effort, and that means taking personal responsibility.”

Levine said it’s still very important to remember the basics of coronavirus prevention: maintaining the proper physical distance, frequent hand washing, and wearing masks in public.

A curve with text describing vermont's curve flattening
Credit Vermont Department of Health, Courtesy
A slide in Health Commissioner Mark Levine's presentation on Wednesday, June 24.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also shuttered businesses and caused a huge surge in unemployment. Gov. Scott said Wednesday that recent job cuts at two prominent Vermont companies show that the economic impact is becoming more severe.

Montpelier-based National Life Group has cut 53 jobs in Vermont, which are among the almost 100 lost company-wide. And Darn Tough Socks has laid off nearly 50 of its approximately 330 people.

Scott said the layoffs show the need for a strong state response to help businesses.

More from VPR: Scott, Lawmakers Tussle Over COVID Relief For Vermont Businesses

“And I think this is indication, whether it's National Life, or Darn Tough Socks, or the many, many restaurants, hospitality sector, lodgings and so forth, who are going to feel the brunt of this,” he said. “That's why the economic package that we first initiated and provided to the Legislature is so, so needed.”

Scott proposed an economic relief package that included using $200 million dollars in federal COVID relief funds for loans and grants to businesses. The Legislature has whittled down that request, preferring instead to spend some of the federal money on broadband improvements, child care and food security programs.

"Since we face a global pandemic, and an economic crisis that followed, making sure that we get every dollar of federal relief that we can is so important to our recovery." — Gov. Phil Scott, urging people to respond to the 2020 Census

Scott opened his briefing with another request for Vermonters to fill out the 2020 Census. He noted that Vermont gets its portion of federal programs based in part on census figures. Officials say that amounts to about $2.5 billion annually in federal money.

“Since we face a global pandemic, and an economic crisis that followed, making sure that we get every dollar of federal relief that we can is so important to our recovery,” Scott said.

The state now has about a 54.7% response rate, said Jason Broughton, the state librarian and chair of the 2020 Vermont Complete Count Committee.

More from Vermont Edition: Census 2020: Vermont's Low Response Rate & Counting Amid A Pandemic

Broughton said Chittenden County has the highest rate of census responses at 70%. But the Northeast Kingdom is lagging, with Essex County, seeing the lowest numbers, with about 34% responding.

He said the Northeast Kingdom is a challenge because fewer people are spread out over a wide area. Poor internet service may also be a factor, since the census can be completed easily on line.

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