Vermont to add testing sites, expand contact tracing team amid COVID-19 surge

You might find a testing site near you as Vermont adds locations this week in Brattleboro, Burlington, Middlebury, Rutland and Waterbury.   

The locations will operate seven days a week, meaning two-thirds of Vermonters will be within a 30-minute drive from a testing site, Gov. Phil Scott said during his regular COVID-19 briefing Tuesday.

The state’s contact tracing staff, which currently has 40 members, will expand in the next two weeks to include 20 from the Vermont National Guard and 10 from the Department of Public Safety.

Health officials prepare to screen Vermonters for COVID-19 at a pop-up test site at Champlain Elementary School on July 23, 2020.

Vermont is taking these steps and more in face of the surge in COVID activity across the state.

The state also announced tightening restrictions in hospitals, which will no longer allow visitors except in certain cases, such as a need to accompany a minor, said Mike Smith, secretary for the Agency of Human Services, during the governor’s call. 

More:UVM hospital network suspends most visitation due to COVID surge

More:Governor announces sweeping restrictions as Vermont nears COVID ‘tipping point’

In a separate announcement, Vermont’s judicial system also unveiled changes on Tuesday in response to the rising number of COVID cases.  In the a news release, Vermont State Court Administrator Patricia Gabe wrote:

“The Vermont Chief Superior Judge and the Vermont State Court Administrator today announced a delay in the restart of criminal jury trials scheduled to begin in the Windham unit of the Vermont Superior Court in Brattleboro on December 7.” 

Scott: Send them my way, I can take it

Scott issued an executive order Friday that banned gatherings among people from multiple households. He addressed criticisms from those who wondered why Vermont limited in-person gatherings, but continued to allow in-person dining at restaurants. 

“The fact is from Oct.1 to the time of Friday’s announcement, 71% of outbreaks were linked to social events,” he said. “Parties and people hanging out at home or at bars and clubs. We’re just not seeing these types of outbreaks linked back to people dining at restaurants or working out at gyms.”       

The state expects to provide clarity on gatherings by Friday. 

In an effort to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott announces a state of emergency for Vermont during a press conference Friday, March 13, 2020 in Montpelier, Vt. The vast majority of people recover from the new coronavirus. According to the World Health Organization, most people recover in about two to six weeks, depending on the severity of the illness.

For those unwilling to comply with steps to limit the spread of the new coronavirus, the governor offered strong words:

“The skeptics are right. They can do what they want. Bur please don’t call it patriotic or pretend it’s about freedom. Real patriots serve and sacrifice for all, whether they agree with them  or not. Patriots stand up and fight when our nation’s health and security is threatened, and right now, our country and way of life are being attacked by this virus, not the protections we put in place.”

Scott said he empathized with the frustrations and anxieties people are feeling, but stood firm on the steps his administration was taking as necessary.

“If you need to take it out on someone, send it my way, I can take it. But what I can’t take is seeing this continue to grow.” 

Contact Maleeha Syed at mzsyed@freepressmedia.com or 802-495-6595. Follow her on Twitter @MaleehaSyed89