Health officials urge Vermonters to avoid holiday travel

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WILLISTON, Vt. (WCAX) – Vermont health officials Friday warned the state is entering a new phase of the pandemic as COVID-19 cases rise and the weather cools down, and they’re urging people to avoid travel as the holidays approach.

In any normal year, Sally Dwyer would be gearing up to celebrate Thanksgiving with 60 of her family members from across the country. “Thanksgiving is probably the biggest holiday for us, it’s a family reunion every year, it’s just a special time,” she said.

But rising coronavirus cases in Vermont and beyond are forcing her to have hard conversations about postponing their family tradition — meaning many of her family members will be alone for the holidays. “My autistic brother is also going to be by himself in a group home and I don’t like it, I don’t like it one bit,” Dwyer said.

Health officials are urging all Vermonters to make similar sacrifices as the weather gets colder and the holidays approach. Right now, the health department is monitoring over 40 “situations” stemming from parties, weddings, baby showers, and other small gatherings.

Raw Video: Scott COVID-19 briefing – Pt. 2

“Even small gatherings can have a big impact and large gatherings can have a large impact,” said Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine Friday. He urged families to have an honest talk to discuss the risks and potential spread of the virus and to “lay low” for the holidays. “Our plans, our choices will have an impact on the lives and communities of Vermont.”

New recommendations issues to limit gathering sizes to fewer than 10 people are not mandatory — yet. Governor Phil Scott says conveying the state’s strict quarantine rules to out-of-state residents remains a work in progress. “It’s difficult enough for us to communicate within our own borders much less outside of our own borders, so it’s up to each and every one of us to get the word known to those we’re inviting in,” he said.

EDUCATION UPDATE

It’s been two months since K-12th grade schools reopened. Education Secretary Dan French said that there were 11 COVID cases in the last week in 39 schools since they re-opened. He said Vermont will not at this point return to remote learning after the holiday break. He strongly advised against travel and advised Vermonters not to host gatherings.

The Health Department has also developed a Holiday Travel Toolkit for Schools for use in helping to encourage families to consider their plans carefully.

Doctor Rebecca Bell with the American Academy of Pediatrics Vermont said schools are not the main driver of the spread of COVID in Vermont. She said she’s hearing that kids’ mental health has improved as they returned to the classroom and structure. She revealed a survey that shows that the vast majority of kids feel safe at school. Bell said kids need consistent in-person learning and said that’s why it’s important that Vermonters follow health guidelines to keep them in the classroom.

As of Friday, Vermont health officials reported 24 new coronavirus cases for a total of 2,326. There have been a total of 58 deaths. The state’s percent positive seven-day average is 0.6%. A total of 192,728 tests have been conducted, 236 travelers are being monitored, 10,410 have completed monitoring, and 1,904 have recovered.

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