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Pandemic state-of-emergency extended a month

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MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott made it official: the coronavirus pandemic state-of-emergency has been extended a month to July 15.

Scott made the announcement Monday morning during his thrice-weekly press conference, but he made clear that the emergency declaration is a tool for his administration to guide the steps it is taking to control the virus and reopen the economy.

"Vermont is not an island and this is not over," he said, noting that within a five-hour drive of Vermont, there were more than 100,000 active COVID-19 cases.

Scott said that since March 13, when he first declared the state of emergency, Vermonters' actions have "saved hundreds of lives."

The governor took pains to say the state-of-emergency extension should not be confused with his "Stay home, Stay safe" order that he issued in late March, and which has been lifted in some degree.

The other major announcement during the two-hour press conference was that Vermont campgrounds will be allowed to open 100 percent this week, and that the administration will be releasing new information dealing with long-term care facilities and families who wish to visit their loved ones.

Scott and Dr. Mark Levine, the commissioner of the Department of Health, said the recent outbreak centered in the Chittenden County city of Winooski has been largely contained, although Levine hesitated to say the Winooski outbreak was "under control."

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But Scott said that through contact tracing and testing, the state is confident that the outbreak was "boxed in."

Vermont's recent coronavirus statistics have skewed dramatically upward because of the Winooski-based outbreak, which health officials have said is centered on a few families in a social network. A total of 83 cases have been identified in the Winooski outbreak, with 60 percent of the cases in adults, and 40 percent in children. Of those numbers, only 17 percent of all the positive cases showed any symptoms of COVID-19.

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Levine warned against reading too much into the increasing Winooski statistics, and he and the governor both said they remain pleased at the "positivity" testing rating, which showed the incidence of the virus in Vermonters to be less than 2 percent.

"We're not finding a lot of disease in other sectors of the state," Levine said, referring to Chittenden County, which has seen the majority of the COVID-19 cases statewide.

He noted that there haven't been any COVID-19 deaths for two weeks, with the death toll still at 55.

Toward the end of the press conference, which has trended toward two hours, three days a week, he was asked by a reporter how much longer the press conferences would continue.

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Scott said the press conferences will continue as long as the state has new information it needs to share with the public, as well as how long the media wants the press conferences.

In recent weeks, questions about the Black Lives Matter demonstrations have also played a role in the press conferences, and Scott defended that despite the stated COVID-19 focus.

He said his guidance about gatherings no larger than 25 people had been "trumped" by people's First Amendment rights to demonstrate. And, he said, most of the protesters have been wearing masks and doing their best at social distancing.

"First Amendment right trumps the other," the governor said. "We don't want to out and arrest everyone."

He said the recent vandalism in Montpelier of a Black Lives Matter mural showed that Vermont has work to do when it came to racial injustice.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com.


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