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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Gov. Scott Hints That Statewide Mask Mandate Is Coming Soon

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Gov. Phil Scott, citing concerns about rising COVID-19 cases nationally, said he is considering issuing an order requiring that people wear facial coverings in public. Scott said the mandate could come as early as Friday.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott expects to issue a statewide mask mandate in the near future, possibly as soon as Friday.

The Republican governor has resisted calls to require residents to wear facial coverings in public, though he has repeatedly said people should be wearing masks.

Scott has said his reluctance is due in part to concerns he has about how the order would be enforced. He’s also said that, given Vermont’s generally low COVID-19 infections rates, he hasn’t thought that a mask mandate was necessary.

More from Vermont Edition: Beyond The Mask: What You Need To Know About Mask-Wearing, Making And Buying

But during his twice-weekly press conference on Tuesday, Scott said he was concerned about the soaring number of coronavirus cases across the country.

“If it continues to look like this fire is headed back towards us, an expanded mask policy will be part of the mix,” he said.

"If it continues to look like this fire is headed back towards us, an expanded mask policy will be part of the mix." - Gov. Phil Scott

The state already requires facial coverings in some situations, like when people are riding public transportation or working in stores. A number of municipalities around Vermont, including Burlington and Brattleboro, have passed ordinances that require people wear masks inside businesses.

Nationally, a growing number of states require people wear masks in public. While the rules vary, most require facial coverings when people are inside shops and some, such as Massachusetts, California and Arkansas, require masks when people are in outdoor spaces where physical distancing isn’t possible.

More from Vermont Edition: How A Statewide Mask Mandate Is Playing Out In Massachusetts

Scott said a mask mandate in Vermont might also be needed as the fall tourism season approaches and out-of-state college students begin to return.

Scott said he’ll have more information on Friday when the state presents its modeling data for coronavirus infections.

When asked if people should expect a mask mandate to be issued on that day, he said if not on Friday, “it would be sometime in the future.”

Manchester update

The Vermont Department of Health says most of the possible cases of COVID-19 associated with a suspected outbreak in Manchester appear to be false positives.

Last week, the Manchester Medical Center said 65 people in the area tested positive for the virus using an antigen test, a procedure that returns results more quickly than a PCR test, but is not used by the state for confirming coronavirus cases.

More from Vermont Edition: The Latest On Manchester's Potential COVID-19 Outbreak

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said the state has tested 52 of the 65 suspected cases using PCR testing, and only found four confirmed instances of the virus. Levine said further testing of around 1,600 at popup sites in the region using PCR testing only revealed an additional five cases.

“The percent positivity rate in the two counties remains as low as the state overall, below 2%,” he said. “Therefore, we do not believe community transmission of COVID-19 is occurring.”

"The percent positivity rate in the two counties remains as low as the state overall, below 2%. Therefore, we do not believe community transmission of COVID-19 is occurring." - Dr. Mark Levine, Commissioner of Health

Levine said the state and Manchester Medical Center are investigating why the antigen and state tests yielded such different results.

“The clinicians at the Manchester Medical Center continue to work cooperatively with us and are just as concerned about finding the explanation for the discordant test results between antigen and PCR as we are,” he said.

More from VPR: 'Our Bubble Is Popped': Apparent Outbreak Puts Manchester, Vt. Area On Edge

Levine said the health department is also discussing the situation with the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.

Vermont has generally seen low numbers of new COVID-19 cases in recent weeks and there have been no fatalities associated with the virus in more than a month.

On Tuesday, the health department reported seven new cases of COVID-19. Two of the new cases are in Bennington County, four are in Chittenden County, and one is in Franklin County. Three people are currently hospitalized with the disease.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Liam Elder-Connors @lseconnors

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