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Governor doubts vaccine can be ready by Nov. 1

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MONTPELIER — Even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told governors last week to prepare for a "large-scale" distribution of a coronavirus vaccine by Nov. 1, Gov. Phil Scott said he is not convinced a vaccine will be ready by then.

"That's a very aggressive timeline, from my perspective," Scott said during his Friday media briefing. "We don't want this to be a political gimmick. We want this to be a success story."

But Scott also noted that he sees the letter from the CDC as a recommendation to be prepared to distribute the vaccine.

"And we are prepared," said Scott, with a working group established several months ago to address this particular issue.

Patsy Kelso, state epidemiologist for infectious disease, also said Nov. 1 seems a little early to be expecting a vaccine, though the state is well positioned to distribute a safe and effective vaccine when it's available, she said.

Kelso noted that Vermont has a network of immunization specialists that are ready when the vaccine is available.

Mike Pieciak, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation, said compared to the rest of the country, the Northeast "continues to look strong."

Vermont had 52 new cases this past week, which is the lowest per capita infection rate and the lowest positivity rate in the country, said Pieciak.

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In August, Vermont conducted 68,000 tests with 214 positives. He said 27,000 of the tests were conducted in the state's institutions of higher education. Those tests resulted in 33 positive cases, Pieciak said.

It's because of Vermont's success in dealing with the coronavirus, said Scott, that gives him confidence the state is ready to open its elementary and middle and high schools.

"There is still a lot of anxiety about returning to school," said Scott, but he said state and local school officials have been working hard to make sure the kids are safe in school. "I believe in them. I have faith in them."

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However, said Scott, to keep the kids safe, it's important that over the Labor Day weekend, Vermonters continue to use common sense and practice safety.

"Have fun," said Scott. "Celebrate the unofficial end of the summer, but do so using common sense and following health guidance. Get out this weekend. It's good for the heart and soul."

He also warned Vermonters to not travel to areas of the country with high case counts.

"Our kids need us to do our part in order to keep cases low in our communities," Scott said.

"This is not the year for big cookouts and gatherings over the Labor Day weekend," Kelso added.

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Pieciak noted that growth in case rates has corresponded to both the Memorial Day weekend and the July 4th holiday.

"We can't, as a state ... rest on our laurels," warned Scott. "We have to remain vigilant."

Mike Smith, the secretary of the Vermont Agency of Human Services, said Vermont has identified 21 child care hub programs around the state that are able to serve up to 4,600 children.

"We've had more local partners step forward," said Smith, who noted Vermont has been providing child care for essential workers since the beginning of the pandemic. "We have quite a bit of experience in child care with minimal impact in terms of the virus. I'm pretty confident we are going to have the same success moving forward ..."

The state has released updated guidance for youth and adult recreational sport programs and leagues for both indoor and outdoor sports that mirrors the guidance released on school sports, said Scott.

The governor also urged Vermonters who have not filled out their census forms to visit my2020census.gov and do so as soon as possible.

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


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