Scott press briefing: Masks, journey map, nursing houses, Shoreham farm staff
by Timothy McQuiston, Vermont Business Magazine Governor Phil Scott’s press briefing today featured several data presentations, an update on the outbreak at Champlain Orchards in Shoreham and indicated that guidelines to increase indoor nursing home visitation should be available this week.
At the briefing (see full video below), Scott acknowledged “Vermont Mask Day” to encourage facial coverings to prevent transmission of COVID-19.
Scott in particular praised the Rossi Foundation, Burton Snowboards, and Concept 2 for providing thousands of masks. The state has distributed 400,000 free masks, mainly through the local municipalities.
Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling also updated on Vermont’s availability of personal protective equipment. He said the state is in good shape at the moment but is looking to increase reserve’s as a contingency.
Schirling noted that the state’s goal is to have a 60-day supply of PPE and another 60-day reserve. Already, 3.4 million PPE items have been distributed by the state.
Right now, the state has 5.3 million surgical gloves on hand, which is a 37-day supply and has a 58-day supply of N95 masks.
Because of the progress of treatment, the number of ventilators required has been scaled back, Schirling said, with 83 in reserve and another 45 on order; no COVID patients currently requiring one.
Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Pieciak then presented the state’s weekly COVID-19 data modeling report.
Vermont continues to have the lowest case count in the nation and one of if not the lowest rate. There have been no deaths due to COVID-19 in Vermont in two months.
There have also been only four cases reported at K-12 schools and only 51 cases among college students from nearly 100,000 tests
However, Pieciak that while the health news in Vermont continues to be good, it is edging up in October. September was the best month since the pandemic began for Vermont, but October has seen more general cases, with the outbreak in Shoreham being the largest single event.
But the news elsewhere in the region and the nation is getting worse.
In the state’s travel map, which extends as far as Virginia and Ohio, cases are increasing and more counties have moved into red or yellow. The result, Pieciak said, is that Vermont is now at its lowest population level for non-quarantining travel into Vermont at 2.9 million. The free (green counties) travel population peaked in late August at 6.6 million.
Green counties have nearly disappeared south and west of northern New England and Upstate New York.
Also concerning is a spike in cases in Quebec. But the Canadian border is still closed to recreational travelers.
Across the US, all regions are showing an increase except for the Midwest which has recently leveled off.
Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD, updated the briefing, as he did on Monday, with the COVID cases at the Shoreham apple orchard.
He assured the public there is no on-going health threat, nor is there any threat to earing apples or consuming any other product from Champlain Orchards.
The migrant farm workers likely brought the virus with them and were still in their quarantine period when the “index” case presented.
There are no more guest workers scheduled to come to Vermont until next year, but those already here may move on to other agricultural work in Vermont.
There are a total of 27 positive cases associated with the Shoreham event, Dr Levine said, with all the cases confined to the guest workers. One worker was eventually hospitalized.
Despite the setback, the apple crop is expected to be harvested on time.
Governor Scott then took questions from the press corps.
Scott last night vetoed the Act 250 upgrade bill which he said had been stripped down in the Senate.
He said he was disappointed that after nearly two years of work that went into the House version was then left with only two provisions: an extension of the temporary trail provision and the forest fragmentation piece.
He then signed an executive order basically putting those pieces into temporary measures and then urged the Legislature to restart the process in the new biennium which starts in January.
The Legislature could possibly reconvene for a veto session, though that seems unlikely at this point.
Human Services Secretary Mike Smith was asked what would happen to test sites, many of which are conducted outdoors now.
Smith said they are already moving sites inside and have plans in place. For instance, he said the state building in Rutland, with its spacious lobby, will be pressed into service as a test site.
Scott said the state is still on course to conduct over 1,000 tests a day.
The governor was asked about President Trump removing his mask and meeting with staff after returning to the White House from the hospital, where he was treated for COVID-19.
Scott has previously voiced his displeasure with the actions of his fellow Republican and said, “I’m concerned with the president’s lack of leadership.”
Scott said the only way to fight the virus until a safe and plentiful vaccine is available is to continue to practice the four principals that Vermonters have been practicing: wearing a face covering; social distancing; staying home when sick; and washing hands frequently.
The governor also seems very wary of opening the economy even more (“turning the spigot”) as health data worsens in the region and across the country.
For now he said he will wait and see and move forward as guided by the data and science.
Scott said the administration is working with the ski industry in order to proceed with a safe and economically viable season. Indoor activities are still limited to 50 percent capacity.
Most ski areas are already putting in place many of the protocols, which include more distancing, limits on lifts, how the lodge can be used, and food service (expect a lot of box lunches and more outdoor service).
Scott said that anyone can still visit Vermont as long as they follow the travel guidelines, which for most people involve a quarantine of two weeks before going out in public, or in this case umping on your snowboard.
Mike Smith provided good news to those residents in long term care facilities (nursing homes, etc), their families and friends.
He said within a few days there will be new guidelines for more flexibility and an increase in the opportunity for indoor visitation.
Because of the vulnerability of older people to COVID-19, the LTCs faced severe visitation guidelines and were basically shut down early on in the pandemic.
The guidelines are expected to further increase the opportunities for residents to engage with family and friends. Guidelines already had been loosened for outside visitation within strict protocols, but with cold weather closing in, guidelines are being expanded indoors.
Finally, the governor was asked about his reaction to a widely distributed photo from a wedding at the Woodstock Inn in which it appears that guests were not sufficiently masked or socially distanced.
Both Michael Schirling and Commerce Secretary Lindsay Kurrle already were in contact with the inn and reported that the inn explained their procedures and would work with the state on further gatherings.
Schirling said the photo probably looked worse than what actually transpired, but he acknowledged that it does appear that not all protocols were followed by the inn or the guests.
He said while there potentially could be action taken against an individual or organization for not following protocols, in general the state has taken a successful “education and engagement” approach in such cases.
Governor Scott Press Briefing (presentation starts about the 32 minute mark. Video courtesy Orca Media)