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Positive tests in Manchester/Londonderry might be related to out of state travel

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MONTPELIER — On Tuesday morning, Mike Smith, the Secretary of the Agency of Human Services, addressed reports of a COVID-19 outbreak in the Manchester/Londonderry by reminding residents to remain vigilant.

"As a general warning that may pertain to this case in this potential outbreak, but also to others," said Smith, "do not travel out of state to a region that is not within our trusted travel designation, then fail to quarantine upon your return."

He also warned against attending social events and gatherings "that are bound to have close contacts."

"All I'm trying to do here is deliver a reminder for Vermonters that we all need to do our part," Smith said. "That we continually need to be vigilant. We have to do our part to contain this virus, and risky behavior can lead to outbreaks."

Monday, the Town of Manchester announced that Manchester Medical Center, an urgent health care clinic, reported it had 35 presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 via antigen tests. More than half of the cases are from the mountain communities east of Manchester, along Route 11 and Route 30, Manchester Town Manager John O'Keefe said.

Smith said he's been looking at the data and said "a handful" of cases involved people engaged in out of state travel.

Dr. Mark Levine, the commissioner of the Department of Health, cautioned that the state is still investigating the more than 30 positive antigen tests conducted by Manchester Medical Center and hasn't actually confirmed the infections. Levine said the antigen test is not the same as the PCR test, which is more accurate.

"It's a good screening test to identify people who might actually have a positive PCR," he said. "If it comes back positive, there is a reasonably good likelihood your PCR will be positive."

Because the antigen test is not as sensitive as the PCR test, said Levine, false positives are also more likely with an antigen test.

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Both tests are conducted with a nasal swab.

Free testing conducted by the state Department of Health has been scheduled for Wednesday at Flood Brook School in Londonderry.

Levine said until the state gets all the results, it won't be able to determine whether it's centered in Londonderry or Manchester or elsewhere.

He said the state does know that people who live in Londonderry travel to Manchester or Bennington for health care.

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"Where they are tested doesn't necessarily reflect where the cases are active," said Levine.

He also said that even though the cases aren't confirmed, it is conducting contact tracing and requiring quarantines.

"We know that when we get an outbreak like this, there is a lot of social connectivity that occurs," said Levine. "I believe that will be true [in this case]."

Levine acknowledged that some Vermonters and people traveling to the state are not abiding by the recommended protective measures.

"I get a lot of communications from Vermonters worried about what other Vermonters are doing or aren't doing," he said, "worried about out of state plates and what they are doing or not doing."

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Despite all the follow up and contact tracing though, there is no "true denominator," or something all these cases have in common other than ignoring the safety recommendations.

"But all it takes unfortunately is a mistake here or a mistake there," said Levine.

Levine said the state will have an accurate count of actual positive tests on Wednesday after it starts receiving the PCR tests.

Levine also reminded people that thousands of travelers will be arriving in Vermont in mid- to late-August, when the state's colleges and universities start to open.

"They will all be quarantined and be tested," said Levine. Students have to sign a contract that details their responsibilities to stay safe and also has penalties for those "not behaving well in one way or another."

Gov. Phil Scott said it's mandatory that people quarantine who come to Vermont from regions that are not safe.

"Is that being done?" he asked. "I don't think it is in every case."

He also noted that overall, Vermonters have responded well to the challenge, therefore a mandatory mask order is not required.

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


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