MONTPELIER — While Vermont is ranked best in the country for the number of COVID-19 infections per capita, Gov. Phil Scott strongly encouraged the continued use of mask wearing and social distancing as the colder months approach.
"With the positive trends we've had for months, I know it can be easy to let your guard down," he said Tuesday at his twice weekly news conference on the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic. "I get it. We're a victim of our own success."
Scott also urged Vermonters to follow state guidance on traveling and make thoughtful decisions about gatherings. He called for expanding on the gains made in the state since declaring a state of emergency in March and being an example for the rest of the United States.
Michael Pieciak, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation, said the world just surpassed 1 million deaths from the virus and the country has exceeded 200,000.
"We have very low prevalence here in the northeast, particularly in Vermont," he said. However, he noted there are new places emerging as hot spots or areas showing higher case growth.
Pieciak said Quebec, just north of the border, has experienced "a dramatic increase" of cases in the last three weeks.
"This is approaching the levels they saw at the height of the pandemic back in April and March," he said, adding that measures are being implemented there to slow the spread of the virus.
Pieciak also discussed outbreaks in Maine linked to a wedding in August. He said at least 180 cases and eight deaths are associated with the event, although none of the guests were among the dead.
As of Tuesday, about 4.2 million people in the U.S. could travel to Vermont without quarantining, according to modeling used by the state related to the number of cases per capita in counties. Pieciak said the number is down from 4.7 million last week.
Data in Vermont was described by Pieciak as "all very encouraging, all very favorable to us." This week's confirmed case count was at 26, compared to 25 last week.
"This is the lowest two-week period we've had in cases since back late in May," Pieciak said. "So that gives you an indication of how low our case count is even with pre-K-12 reopening and higher education reopening."
No schools are said to be sources of transmission of the virus.
Health Commissioner Mark Levine said Vermont is set to receive 12,000 antigen tests in the next week to 10 days, and 180,000 by the end of the year. He described the test as a card that works like a pregnancy test, provides results within 48 hours and is conducted in a clinical setting.
The antigen tests can produce false-positive results, Levine said. He anticipates they will be used in long-term care facilities for their quick turnaround time.
Asked for his take on planning for Thanksgiving and Christmas, Levine said, "I think we should be a little circumspect as we do that."
"There's a lot of data in the region we're concerned about," he said. "If you layer that on top of the traditional concerns about the colder months and people congregating more indoors, I think frankly for me to say too much about those two holidays would be premature and I don't want to steer people wrong."
His hope is that for those two holidays, the state's prevalence rate will still be low — like when Halloween planning began earlier this month.
"We don't advise kids to get into huge parties or for their parents to sponsor those huge parties for kids," he said about the October holiday. "And we don't want them going house to house in huge hordes that are all next to each other. Much smaller groups."
Reach staff writer Chris Mays at email@example.com and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.