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Scott Orders Lockdown On Social Gatherings As COVID Cases Spike

A person wearing an orange hat walks past the Roxy Theater in Burlington with a green fight COVID sign out front.
Elodie Reed
/
VPR File
A special poster outside the Roxy Cinema in Burlington. Gov. Phil Scott announced new restrictions Friday, including a ban on multi-household gatherings beginning at 10 p.m. Saturday.

Effective Saturday at 10 p.m., Gov. Phil Scott has imposed a moratorium on virtually all social gatherings in Vermont. The move comes after an unprecedented spike in COVID-19 cases this week, which Scott says has ushered in a “new phase of this pandemic.”

Scott issued the executive order Friday, and it prohibits any social gatherings, whether indoors or outdoors, that involve people from different households.

Scott also ordered the closure of all bars and clubs in Vermont for in-person service, effective Saturday night. Restaurants will have to abide by a 10 p.m. curfew for in-person dining.

"I want to be clear: We're in a new phase of this pandemic. The days of very low risk are over." - Gov. Phil Scott

Levine says this ‘key’ for college students, who must quarantine upon their return from campus even if they got a negative test upon departure from college.

“I want to be clear: We’re in a new phase of this pandemic. The days of very low risk are over,” Scott said during a media briefing. “Given our recent case growth, we have no choice but to restrict social gatherings, whether at a home, in a bar or in a parking lot after a game.”

More from VPR: Some Patients See Delays As UVM Medical Center Works To Recover From Cyberattack

The new executive order comes at the end of a week in which Vermont experienced its highest daily coronavirus case counts since the beginning of pandemic. On Wednesday, the state reported 72 cases of COVID-19; on Thursday, the number jumped to 109; and on Friday, the Department of Health confirmed an additional 84 cases of the disease.

Commissioner of Health Mark Levine said Friday that 21 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, and that emergency departments in some counties have become “exceedingly busy” treating coronavirus patients.

“And that data has shown us a clear picture of a rising tide that could have serious consequences,” Levine said.

Chart showing case growth for the coronavirus pandemic in Vermont
Credit Vermont Department of Health, Courtesy
In a presentation Friday, public officials with the Scott Administration told media and the public that Vermont is seeing a surge in coronavirus cases.

Last week, Scott issued guidance that limited social gatherings to 10 people or fewer.

But his latest executive order prohibits almost any type of non-essential social interaction, including outdoor walks with friends, or gatherings with family members who don’t live in the same home.

Scott’s order also puts a stop to all youth and adult sporting events, with an exemption for school-sponsored sports, which are subject to Agency of Education COVID safety guidance.

Data show small social gatherings fed outbreaks

Levine said the focus on social gatherings is based on data collected by contact tracing teams at the Vermont Department of Health.

“Since Oct. 1., 71% of the cases that are associated with an outbreak are associated with an outbreak from a private party or a social gathering,” Levine said.

Chart illustrates case growth around outbreak of coronavirus
Credit Vermont Department of Health, Courtesy
A slide from a presentation offered Friday by Health Commissioner Mark Levine shows how cases spread following an October outbreak related to Central Vermont ice sports participants.

Officials emphasize the importance of contact tracing

Levine said contact tracing will play a key role in curbing the current alarming rate of growth in coronavirus cases in the state. And Scott’s executive order codifies a requirement that people “comply with requests made by the Vermont Department of Health Contact Tracing Team.”

More from NHPR: N.H. Scales Back Contact Tracing Efforts As COVID-19 Cases Surge

Specifically, people must “promptly answer calls or otherwise respond to the VDH Contact Tracing Team,” and “provide full, complete and truthful information concerning places they have been, activities they have engaged in and persons with whom the individual has had close contact, including contact information when possible.”

People who fail to comply with the contact tracing orders will now be subject to legal sanctions from the Attorney General’s office.

Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith said contact tracing teams encountered lack of cooperation from some individuals who attended recent high-risk gatherings.

“We had a Halloween event where people were not answering the phone, and not getting back to the contact tracers, and in some cases not providing info that was fully truthful, to be honest,” Smith said.

Gov. Scott calls for more federal aid

Scott said orders he issued Friday will exacerbate the financial distress already being experienced by many small businesses in Vermont.

“I have a lot of sympathy for the bar owners in particular,” Scott said. “They’re another business, and they have a lot of employees who count on them for their income as well.”

Scott said the state’s economic recovery hinges on another massive infusion of federal aid.

“We’re going to need some more help from Congress,” Scott said.

While the number of active coronavirus is on pace to exceed what Vermont experienced at the beginning of the pandemic, administration officials say they’re prepared for the surge.

“When we entered into March, we were building the airplane as we were flying it,” Smith said. “In this instance, and in this spike, we’ve got the infrastructure in place, we’ve got the airplane built, what we have to do is make sure we fly through this turbulence in the best method we can.”

Health Commissioner Mark Levine's 'essential' COVID-19 safety points:

1. Quarantine: “Travelers, close contacts of a positive case, must stay home and away from others for 14 days, or seven days with a negative test, assuming you have no symptoms.”

2. Get tested: “If you have COVID symptoms, or you’re a close contact of a positive case, or … if you’ve attended social gatherings, get tested. It’s an essential tool to finding and containing COVID.”

3. Follow health guidelines: “You still need to wear a mask, stay six feet away, and stay home if you’re sick … and avoid all non-essential travel.”

4. Cooperate with contact tracers: “The more cases and situations we have, the more we need your help so contact tracers can do their work. The quicker and more complete the information, the more likely we are to stop transmission and prevent an outbreak.”

Correction 3:10 p.m. 11/13/2020: The story has been updated to reflect the fact that bars and social clubs will be required to close for in-person service, but not for takeout, at 10 p.m. on Sat. Nov. 14.

Correction 5:43 p.m. 11/13/2020: The story has been corrected to report that school-sponsored sports are exempt from the order, and are subject to Agency of Education COVID-19 safety guidance.

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

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