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Vt. Health Department Declares End To COVID-19 Outbreak In Winooski

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State, local and community officials announced Wednesday during a Zoom press conference the end to an outbreak of COVID-19 in Winooski.

An outbreak of COVID-19 that began in the city of Winooski is now over, according to the state health department.

The outbreak was first identified in June in Winooski, a small and densely populated city, which is also the most racially diverse city in the state. The outbreak seems to have primarily affected some of the New American communities in the area.

A total of 117 infections were associated with the outbreak, with 77 cases in Winooski, 22 in Burlington and 18 in other towns in Chittenden and Grand Isle Counties. Two people were hospitalized, and there were no deaths.

Most of the cases, 65%, were among adults, and 35% were children. Of all infected individuals, 60% didn't report symptoms. Between June 8 and the end of July, the Vermont Health Department conducted about 10,000 tests at pop-up sites in Burlington and Winooski.

"Now keep in mind this isn't really a celebration. The pandemic is far from over." — Health Commissioner Mark Levine

The outbreak is considered over because 28 days have passed since any new infections were reported, according to Health Commissioner Mark Levine.

“Now keep in mind this isn’t really a celebration,” he said during a Zoom press conference on Wednesday. “The pandemic is far from over.”

Levine said one key takeaway from the outbreak was that Health Department needs to broaden its language services and translated materials.

In early June at a press conference the health department heard push back from community groups that it wasn’t providing enough resources to people who don’t speak English.

More from VPR: How Vermont's Multilingual Communities Are Providing Grassroots Translation, Resources For COVID-19

Levine on Wednesday acknowledged that had been a shortcoming, and said the department had increased its translation services and would make its public health guidelines available in more languages.

He added the department also learned it needed to do more outreach into those communities.

“People with questions will often turn to their trusted community organizations, their informal or formal leaders and cultural brokers,” Levine said. “We will make connections early with these partners, ensure they have current and accessible information, and when appropriate, that they are paid for their time and expertise in assisting us.”

But Levine said overall the effort to contain the outbreak was a success. Levine and others at the press conference said it was an example of how the state, municipal government and community groups could quickly mobilize to tackle a crisis.

"We all did not hesitate to get in touch with each other, to help one another, and that's why really this effort is a success." — Thato Ratsebe, AALV

Thato Ratsebe, with the Association of Africans Living in Vermont, said the health department was around at all hours to help her explain mitigation measures, like quarantining, to families.

“I could literally in those moments send a text message to someone at VDH and say, ‘I need you to explain this scientific side and simplify it,’” she said. “I did not hesitate, we all did not hesitate to get in touch with each other, to help one another, and that’s why really this effort is a success.”

Jacob Bogre, also with AALV, said he hoped the response to the Winooski outbreak could serve as a model.

“We were all able to overcome our frustrations and work together and look at the common good,” he said. “I hope this is something we can replicate, and look at how we can do better so we are prepared for … if outbreaks emerge again later.”

Correction 8:03 a.m. An earlier version of this story included a misspelling in Jacob Bogre's last name, and an instance of misnaming of Thato Ratsebe. We apologize for the error.

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

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