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MONTPELIER — At his Friday news conference, Gov. Phil Scott reminded Vermonters how Americans came together after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"Our country desperately needs to find that unity again," he said. "As we seek answers to how we can possibly get through these unprecedented times, we need look no further than to the humanity and courage that got us through those events we're remembering today ... It's so important for us to be united because [COVID-19] is going to be with us until there's a safe vaccine in place and it's been widely distributed."

Scott reminded Vermonters, "When we work toward a common purpose as Americans, we can do almost anything."

He also credited Vermonters for taking COVID-19 seriously and making the state the safest in the nation when it comes to the virus.

"Because of the work and sacrifice of all of you, we've been able to methodically open the economy since late April, with most sectors open in some capacity," said Scott. "This week, we saw excited kids get on buses so they could physically go to school, see their friends and learn from the teachers they desperately missed seeing in person. Vermonters should be proud. You've stepped up, put on a mask, been smart about keeping your distance and limited the number of people you connect with. You've found ways to work from home. You've 'staycationed' instead of vacationed."

However, noted Scott, while the state's numbers are low, Vermont can only keep them low by continuing to adhere to the preventative measures recommended in March, when a national emergency was declared. Scott extended the state's emergency order to Oct. 15, saying the state of emergency "allows us to manage and continue to suppress this virus, and makes sure supports like unemployment benefits and the eviction moratorium remain available for workers and families."

He noted that if Vermont continues on this path, the economy, and especially the hospitality sector in advance of foliage season, will slowly keep opening.

"We'll get through this with Vermont ingenuity and perseverance, and I believe we'll be stronger as a result," Scott said. "We'll be able to harness this creativity for a stronger, more versatile economy; a better, more equitable education for our kids from cradle to career; better systems to serve our neighbors in need; and stronger communities that are already attracting more people to the state."

Vermont's strong approach to containing the virus was on display during the reopening of colleges and universities in the state, said Michael S. Pieciak, the commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation, which has been tasked with modeling the effects of the coronovirus on the Green Mountain State.

Of the more than 42,000 tests conducted on incoming college students, said Pieciak, there were only 38 positives and all of those positives have now recovered.

He noted that colleges and universities in New Hampshire and Maine have recorded similar numbers, with more than 70,000 tests and 110 positives in New Hampshire and more nearly 40,000 tests in Maine with 42 positives.

In general, said Pieciak, the Northeast is faring fairly well when compared to the South and the Midwest, which could be one of the reasons positive tests in the schools are so few in number. This is because most of the students who come to Vermont for higher education come from the Northeast.

"Vermont is the safest place in America to go to college," said Richard Schneider, the former president of Norwich University, who served as the chairman of the higher education restart committee. "We are entering the phase of keeping the students healthy and keeping the health contracts honored."

Dr. Mark Levine, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health, assured Vermonters that the state is ready to distribute a safe and effective vaccine in a quick and equitable manner when the vaccine is available.

"The Vermont Department of Health is keeping a close watch on the vaccine development process to be sure we can trust that politics don't trump science," he said.

While there is "tremendous pressure" to rapidly develop a vaccine, said Levine, state health officials around the county, the Association of Immunization Managers, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have all indicated the process must adhere to international standards, despite the urgency.

"We stand with science," said Levine, who also warned Vermonters that flu season is approaching.

"If you are six months or older, get your flu shot," he said, adding that the precautions put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are also good measures to prevent the spread of the seasonal flu.

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


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