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By Susan Smallheer

Brattleboro Reformer

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott has some advice for Vermonters coping with the stress and anxiety of the 2020 political year and the coronavirus pandemic.

Go get a maple creemee this weekend, the governor said, while you are out leaf peeping or hiking in the mountains.

The governor's advice came during one of his regular coronavirus press briefings and amid information about schools reopening, the diagnosis of President Trump, and Tuesday's chaotic presidential debate.

Trump's own disclosure early Friday morning via Twitter that he had tested positive – as had First Lady Melania Trump – showed that the virus "knows no boundaries," Scott said.

And Scott had sharp criticism for this week's chaotic presidential debate. "It was a low moment in our history in so many respects," he said.

"I was a bit embarrassed to be an American," he said. "The two potential leaders of the most powerful country in the world... they can do better, particularly the president."

Scott gave a homily of sorts at the beginning of his press briefing, and urged Vermonters to "be kinder to each other" and avoid the divisiveness that is damaging much of the social fabric in the country. "Take care of yourself," he said during his political homily.

"Let's give each other the benefit of the doubt," he said. Instead of focusing on areas of disagreement, we should emphasize "where we agree."

"Let's listen and learn from each other. Let's be kinder to each other."

"Fortunately, we all live in Vermont," he said, and then delivered his creemee advice.

Scott said that he was appalled at Tuesday's debate, and criticized the behavior of both Trump and former Vice President Joseph Biden, but held his sharpest criticism for Trump.

He said that he wished Trump and his family well, in addition to the people the president had come in contact with in the past week.

And he said he was hoping that any remaining gubernatorial debates in Vermont would be held virtually, rather than in person, given the heightened awareness of the transmission of the coronavirus.

Vermont has one of the lowest – if not the lowest – rates of infection in the country, but Scott and health officials said Vermonters needed to remain vigilant to keep it that way.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine announced there were 13 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, six of which were in Bennington County, where the state is investigating a COVID outbreak after a golf tournament two weeks ago at the Mt. Anthony Country Club.

Education Secretary Dan French said that with Vermont lightening restrictions on schools, as it shifts from Step 2 to Step 3, teachers would be assessing how far behind their students are after a disrupted end of the last school year.

Since schools closed, Vermont food service kitchens had produced 5.5 million meals, he said, distributed to children. And he urged all Vermonters to get a flu shot.

"Everyone needs to get a flu shot to help our schools stay open," he said.

French conceded the Agency of Education did not have a "Step 4" to help guide school districts on how next to act. But he said that the few isolated cases of COVID-19 in the schools had shown administrators that state agencies were prepared to help them.

The past four weeks since school reopened have gone smoothly, French saiid.

But he stressed the importance of in-person schooling. "We can't afford to lose another six months," he said.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com.

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