Vermont officials say community groups helped contain Burlington-Winooski virus outbreak

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In June, a coronavirus outbreak in Winooski and Burlington led to almost 120 confirmed cases of COVID-19. On Wednesday, Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said the outbreak has been officially resolved, and he credited community groups for preventing even more infections.

Levine said the Association of Africans Living in Vermont (AALV-VT) and the U.S. Committee on Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI-VT) helped get the message out to local residents as soon as positive test results rolled in.

“Their incredible dedication and long hours were not only critical to reaching the people, but importantly, what we’ve learned about delivering culturally and linguistically appropriate information is now a fundamental part of our ongoing outbreak response plans,” Levine said.

An outbreak is considered resolved following two full incubation periods of the virus with no new cases. For COVID-19, that’s 28 days.

The early June outbreak, considered the first community outbreak in Vermont, accounted for 117 COVID-19 cases. There were no deaths and two people were hospitalized. The average age of confirmed cases was 24.

Amila Merdzanovic, director of USCRI-VT, said her staff worked with an interpreter to bring key safety information to immigrant communities.

“We worked around the clock to put out videos and voice recordings in 14 different languages,” she said. “We have a YouTube channel with over 200 videos. As well as being on the ground at those pop-up testing sites and interpreting, providing face to face information, which was critical.”

The impact of that immediate assistance was seen not only in Vermont’s low case rate, but in the day-to-day interactions that might have played out differently if collaboration wasn’t such a focus, said Thato Ratsebe, assistant director of AALV-VT.

“I was chatting with a family that needed support in understanding isolation and I could literally, in those moments, text someone at the Vermont Department of Health and say ‘I need you to explain the scientific side and simplify it,” Ratsebe said. “That’s how we worked throughout this pandemic..

Levine said the communication strategies have proven useful across the state.

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