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Scott eases some travel restrictions

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MONTPELIER — With Vermont's COVID-19 numbers continuing to trend in the right direction, Gov. Phil Scott announced Friday he is opening up unrestricted travel to people living in about 260 counties in the Northeast that have low rates of active cases.

Scott said Vermont's hospitality industry is not bringing in enough customers for many businesses to make ends meet.

"And it's not just about businesses and tax revenue," he said. "It's about employees' livelihoods."

At least 10,000 Vermonters are out of work right now, he said, with only about one-quarter of that number being "traditional" unemployment claims.

To help get people back to work, Scott urged Vermonters to spend money in the state, and lifted self-isolation requirements for residents of counties that have fewer than 400 active COVID-19 cases per million.

Beginning on July 1, those new counties are located in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia and Ohio. Washington, D.C. is also included.

Dr. Mark Levine, the state's health commissioner, said the one caveat is they have to drive here on their own.

Residents of other counties must continue to complete either a 14-day quarantine at home or upon arrival in Vermont, or a 7-day quarantine followed by a negative test in their home state.

The map will be updated each Friday, using raw data from Johns Hopkins University.

Residents of Washington and Rensselaer counties in New York and Berkshire and Franklin counties in Massachusetts had already been exempted.

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The Agency of Commerce and Community Development has also issued new guidance for playgrounds. Levine said the state is recommending playground operators make available hand washing stations or sanitizer if they plan to open their outdoor parks.

While Vermont and most of the Northeast is trending in the right direction, growth rates in some other places around the country, such as Arizona, Texas, California and Florida are "growing at a considerable clip."

Vermont, which has the fourth lowest case rate in the nation behind Montana, Alaska and Hawaii, is trending in the right direction, said Michael S. Pieciak, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation, who is in charge of monitoring and analyzing trends related to the pandemic.

"We expect low-level case growth over the next two weeks," said Pieciak.

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He also noted that Vermont's ICUs have been free of COVID patients for the past month.

"We remain committed to staying in the top five," said Scott, noting that Wyoming comes in at No. 5.

"We have a lot to be proud of and thankful for," Scott said.

Levine noted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has refined its list of people who are at an increased risk of a COVID infection.

Those include people who are obese or have a chronic kidney condition, sickle cell anemia, asthma, hypertension or liver disease. Also at risk are people who have had stroke or are struggling with dementia and similar neurological conditions. Those who smoke or vape are at risk of severe complications if they are infected with COVID, he said. Women who are pregnant also have to take extra care to protect themselves and their fetuses, he said.

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The Vermont Department of Health is keeping an eye on a family outbreak of COVID-19 in Windham County.

Levine said seven cases have been confirmed in that particular outbreak.

Levine said he couldn't release any more information, as it's essential to protect the privacy of people infected or affected by COVID-19.

"If we find through contact tracing you could be at risk, the Department of Health will contact you," he said. "Only if the risk occurred in a public setting ... would the Health Department make a public announcement."

The latest numbers show a total of 97 cases in Windham County with three deaths since the pandemic started. More than 25 of the total are located in Brattleboro, with Wimington having between 11 and 15. Putney, Whitingham and Rockingham have between six and 10 each, and Townshend, Athens, Newfane, Dover, Dummerston and Londonderry have between one and five.

Seventy-one cases have been reported in Bennington County. Twenty-four of those cases have been in the town of Bennington; Manchester has had seven cases, and Pownal, Woodford, Readsboro, Shaftsbury, Sunderland and Winhall have each had between one and five.

In Vermont, nearly 62,000 people have been tested, with a total of 1,198 positives and 56 deaths.

DOH is monitoring two other outbreaks in Vermont. Levine said the Winooski/Burlington cluster is now at 115 cases and a work site cluster in Fair Haven is up to 12 cases. He said in Fair Heaven, only two of the positives were Vermont residents. The other 10 workers come from Washington County in New York.

Bob Audette can be contacted at raudette@reformer.com.


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