Masks may be coming off in Vermont, but other COVID protocols are here to stay
As Vermonters prepare to enter public life unmasked after two years of pandemic protocols, the Scott administration is urging continued adherence to less visible forms of COVID mitigation.
Monday marked the lifting of state guidance that recommended the use of facial coverings in all indoor public spaces.
Dramatic declines in COVID case counts and COVID-related hospitalizations, according to Commissioner of Health Dr. Mark Levine, mean “this is the right time to make the changes that we’re making.”
Levine, however, said Vermonters will still need to take precautions to avoid a spike in COVID cases in the future.
“I want to emphasize that the virus is still here, and frankly will be with us for some time to come," Levine said. "So following these recommendations is still critical to protecting yourself and others."
Those “recommendations” center largely on isolation and quarantine guidance for people who test positive for COVID-19, or people who come into close contact with a COVID-positive individual.
"Because of the tools we now have and the knowledge we’ve gained, we won’t need to relive the experience of that past 24 months."
Levine said anyone who tests positive for the virus should quarantine for five days, though they no longer need a negative test to leave quarantine.
If someone is a close contact — defined by the Centers for Disease Control as being less than 6 feet away from a COVID-positive person for a total of 15 minutes over a 24-hour period — then they no longer need to isolate.
But Levine said close contacts who are not fully vaccinated and boosted should get tested for COVID. And he said anyone who develops symptoms should get tested regardless of their vaccination status.
“I … want to acknowledge how important it is that we not let our guard down with this virus,” Levine said.
He said being on “guard,” however, will look different than it did in even the recent past. And he said the state is no longer recommending regular COVID testing as a useful mitigation measure.
“When there is less virus in our communities, there is less of a chance that you might be infected and don’t know it,” he said. “This means we don’t need to test as often, such as around social gatherings.”
Levine said testing should now be reserved only in situations “where the risk is highest.”
He said those situations include when people have symptoms of COVID, or they’re a close contact who isn’t up to date on vaccines.
Levine said Vermont’s testing strategy will change accordingly: The state-run PCR testing clinics will begin to ramp down, and starting Wednesday, Vermonters will be able to make an appointment with the state to pick up either a rapid antigen test, or an rapid at-home PCR test, called a LAMP test.
Gov. Phil Scott said Tuesday that Vermont has begun the transition from pandemic to endemic.
“And because of the tools we now have and the knowledge we’ve gained, we won’t need to relive the experience of that past 24 months,” Scott said.
But as Vermont marked the two-year anniversary this past weekend of the emergency order Scott signed in March of 2020, Scott said the effects of the pandemic linger.
Saturday, March. 19 is the two-year anniversary of the first COVID-related death in Vermont.
Scott said he’s ordering all flags to be flown at half-mast that day.
“Even though we’re transitioning to a new phase as a country, and COVID isn’t having the same effect on our daily lives as it once did, we can’t forget what we’ve gone through,” he said.
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