In COVID-19 town hall, Vermonters say schools, bars and holiday travel remain concerns

Local News

BURLINGTON, Vt. – Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine, UVM Medical Center President Dr. Stephen Leffler, and Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger fielded questions from the community in a COVID-19 Town Hall on Tuesday evening.

The trio has gathered virtually for town hall events before, often at critical stages of the pandemic in Vermont. Their latest installment comes as the region grapples with a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases – the latest model shows a 34 percent increase in cases across the Northeast since last week.

Dr. Levine attributed the spike in part due to people spending less time outdoors as winter approaches. He also said ‘pandemic fatigue’ has set in, and people are letting their guard down.

“I cannot say this enough – to stop the spread, to protect each other, we need to act now,” Dr. Levine said.

During the Q&A portion of Tuesday’s town hall, someone said they noticed elementary schools have been getting more relaxed on social distancing in gym class and cafeterias. They asked if Vermont should return to phase two of its school reopening plan.

“We’re not at that point yet, but I do understand where you are coming from,” Dr. Levine said. “Though I’ve been sounding my alarm here in my opening comments, I don’t want to sound an alarm so loud that we lose some of the ground we’ve gained.

Dr. Levine said the Vermont Agency of Education and Vermont superintendents should work together to ensure all of the current guidance is being adhered to.

Given Vermont’s rising caseload, there have been similar questions asked about bars and restaurants. Mayor Weinberger said he considered ordering bars to return to an early closing time, but decided it wasn’t necessary after consulting with the Department of Health.

“Today, I said we had about 20 outbreaks and 60 situations we’re following, I can candidly say none of them are really related to bars or restaurants,” Dr. Levine said. “People let their guard down so much more in familiar settings.”

“I think the Vermont approach for months now has been to try to be as surgical and direct with our intervention as possible, targeted at the areas we’re seeing problems,” Weinberger said.

On the subject of familiar settings, Vermonters also questioned whether they should be inviting family over for Thanksgiving. One caller outlined a specific situation his family is considering:

“Our daughter and son-in-law who live in New York City want to come up for Thanksgiving,” the caller said. “They’re planning to get quick response tests before leaving New York, and I mean within the day before leaving. How safe is it for them, how safe is it for us and our community?”

At a time when the States around Vermont have been dubbed “a sea of red” due to their uptick in COVID-19 cases, Dr. Levine said there’s no way to ensure total safety.

“Testing on the day of travel is a great strategy for a lot of things, but it is not totally protective,” Dr. Levine said. “You could still, within the window of time, which is a 14 day incubation period, test positive at any time within the next 14 days.”

Dr. Stephen Leffler said there’s currently three people hospitalized at UVM Medical Center with COVID-19, and the hospital has returned to their springtime procedures.

“Our ER is seeing an increased number of cases now, both rule-outs and positives,” Dr. Leffler said. “We’ve increased the number of COVID beds, we’ve set aside some ICU beds. As we’re seeing the State of Vermont start to ramp up in cases, we’re matching that with hospital capacity.”

If you were unable to watch the live broadcast, the town hall can be viewed in its entirety on Mayor Weinberger’s Facebook page.

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