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'Travel Now Equals Quarantine': State Officials Restrict Out-Of-State Travel

A mostly red map of the northeastern United States with a few spots of green, yellow and blue.
Department of Financial Regulation, Courtesy
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The cross-travel map updated by state officials, seen here with data for Nov. 10, is currently suspended, and all out-of-state travel now requires quarantine.

Gov. Phil Scott on Tuesday enacted new measures to limit interstate travel and expand coronavirus testing as the state’s top health official warned that Vermont is on the “threshold” of a major surge in COVID-19.A steady rise in new cases over the past month has sent COVID-19 case counts to their highest point since spring. With coronavirus infections forecast to jump by more than 100% in the Northeast over the next six weeks, Scott on Tuesday temporarily halted a travel policy that allowed out-of-staters to visit Vermont without having to self-quarantine.

“Even though we still lead the country in so many ways, and we’re not seeing the alarming growth many of our neighbors are, we have to take action to make sure we don’t,” Scott said during a media briefing Tuesday.

More from Vermont Edition: Vermont Urges Vigilance As COVID-19 Cases Increase

Surveillance testing

The new travel restrictions are part of a slate of new initiatives that public health officials are using to curb the recent spike in COVID-19 in Vermont.

Commissioner of Health Mark Levine said the state is also contracting with a Massachusetts-based firm, called CIC Health, to expand “surveillance” testing across Vermont.

"Everything's on the table, and we'll just have to see how successful we are in trying to put these measures forward." - Gov. Phil Scott

The company will offer daily testing at locations across the state, and will administer monthly COVID-19 tests to all teachers and staff at every public school in Vermont. 

Levine said surveillance testing will help his department more accurately gauge the prevalence of COVID-19 in Vermont.

More from VPR: Burlington’s Wastewater Surveillance Detects Localized Uptick In COVID-19

“So that that will allow us to quickly contain it and prevent the kinds of clusters and outbreaks we are seeing,” Levine said.

The Department of Health is now investigating 20 such outbreaks across the state. The largest outbreak, linked to an ice sports facility in central Vermont, has infected 125 people, according to Levine.

Vermont is ‘on a threshold’

Hospitalizations are also on the rise in Vermont. And Levine said Vermont is at a crossroads in its efforts to contain the virus.

“We are truly on a threshold here,” Levine said Tuesday. “And the decisions we make today will truly determine our future. And I don’t mean our long-term future. I mean our immediate future.”

Scott pleaded with Vermonters Tuesday to follow public health guidelines. And he again urged residents to forego out-of-state travel plans for the Thanksgiving holiday.

"We are truly on a threshold here, and the decisions we make today will truly determine our future. And I don't mean our long-term future. I mean our immediate future." - Mark Levine, commissioner of health

He said he’ll consider a return to the more restrictive “Stay Home” orders he issued at the outset of the pandemic, if case counts continue to rise.

“Everything’s on the table and we’ll just have to see how successful we are in trying to put these measures forward,” Scott said. “And we’ll take action as needed as we move forward.”

Scott said he’s taking more aggressive action now to ensure that lodging facilities are complying with public health guidelines.

More from VPR: Burlington Mayor Calls For Extra Caution As Local Case Counts Rise

Commissioner of Public Safety Michael Schirling said state police and other public safety officials will begin conducting random compliance checks at inns and hotels to make sure they aren’t admitting out-of-state guests who’ve violated quarantine orders.

Schirling said police will try to educate non-compliant establishments on public health guidelines. But he said authorities may resort to enforcement action if necessary.

“If substantial noncompliance is found – multiple violations, staff or ownership that are actively resistant to education efforts or safety guidance – referrals may be made to the attorney general’s office,” Schirling said.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Peter Hirschfeld @PeteHirschfeld.

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