COVID-19 Update – November 1, 2020

I hope you found creative ways to have a safe and fun Halloween yesterday! My son hosted a small gathering of friends around a campfire in our backyard. Steaming bowls of chili and mugs of hot chocolate (and candy!) kept them warm and happy for several hours. One of his friends came appropriately dressed as a ballot box!

Voting During a Pandemic
Election Day is this Tuesday, November 3rd. This a crucial election year, so please be sure to take the time to cast your ballot, even if you’ve never been a voter before. If you received a ballot by mail, it’s too late to mail it back in time for the Tuesday deadline. However, most towns have official drop boxes where you can deposit your completed ballot on Monday. You can also bring your completed ballot with you to your polling location on Tuesday to drop it off or bring it and fill it out at the polls.

If you received a ballot by mail and have misplaced it, you can still vote in person on Tuesday, after signing an affidavit indicating that you have not already voted. If you have not received a ballot by mail, you can vote in person at the polls on Tuesday. If you are not already registered to vote, you can both register and vote on Tuesday – please bring an ID and proof of residency if you need to register to vote. An ID is not needed if you are already registered to vote.

If you are voting in person, please wear a mask, wash your hands, and keep your distance from others at the polls. For more information about voting, visit the Secretary of State’s website to find polling and drop box locations, voting procedures, safety guidelines, and general FAQs. Many town websites also have information about voting and Election Day procedures, including Bristol, Huntington, Lincoln, Middlebury, and Shoreham. Wherever you live, please be sure to cast your ballot on or before Tuesday. Thank you for being a voter!

COVID-19 Update
Unfortunately, like most other places in the country, Vermont currently has an increasing number of positive COVID-19 cases, which are creating the beginnings of community viral spread in some regions of the state. An outbreak associated with an ice rink in Montpelier and some of the hockey and broomball teams that play there has led to nearly 90 cases and rippled out to nearly 475 contacts as of Friday. This outbreak has also been linked to other cases and outbreaks at a school, college, and workplaces. It is an example of how quickly the virus can spread as people with the virus and their contacts frequent multiple locations throughout the course of several days.

This outbreak has lead to stricter health protocol requirements for organized sports, including youth and adult leagues, practices, games, and tournaments. These protocols include more stringent masking and physical distancing procedures, a requirement that sporting events only involve Vermont-based teams, limits on off-field/rink/court gatherings, and stricter limits on spectators at games and practices. Especially now that most activities will be indoors, if you or your child is involved with recreational sports, please be sure the club or team is following all of the guidelines appropriately.

With the number of cases on the rise throughout the region and country, travel restrictions have tightened and people from fewer locations are eligible for quarantine-free travel to Vermont. Most travelers coming to Vermont, including Vermonters returning to their homes after out-of-state travel, must quarantine for 14 days or quarantine for 7 days followed by a negative COVID test result. See Vermont’s Cross State Travel Information website for more details about the status of counties throughout the region, quarantine requirements, and other protocols related to travel to and from Vermont. Regular pop-up testing sites continue throughout the state, including every Tuesday at the local Department of Health Office in Middlebury. Pre-registration is required.

Middlebury College Update
Unlike in many parts of the country, Vermont colleges have been doing a great job of keeping their campuses and surrounding communities safe from COVID-19. However, a recent outbreak at St. Michael’s College in Colchester shows that even in Vermont, the virus can infiltrate nearly any campus and spread quickly at these residential locales. Because of this, I am very grateful to Middlebury College for their ongoing vigilance, clear messaging, and strict protocols that have thus far been effective at preventing an outbreak in Middlebury. I know it has not been an easy semester for college students anywhere, but most Midd students, and the faculty and staff too, have risen to the occasion. With only a few weeks remaining on campus, keep up the great work Middlebury College folks, and thank you for your efforts.

Next semester, College officials have wisely decided to hold January Term fully remotely and begin the spring semester late on February 24th. Once students return, they will be subject to the same entry testing procedures and health protocols as this semester. Keeping the campus closed during the heart of Vermont winter will hopefully be an effective prevention measure, particularly because there are fewer opportunities for outdoor activities during colder months. However, the Middlebury College Snow Bowl and Rikert Nordic Center will be open this winter, starting December 2. They will operate under strict COVID protocols and reservations are required for all activities. Happy, healthy skiing!

Finally, if you live in a household that will welcome a college student back to Vermont at the end of this semester, please remember to make arrangements for your student to complete a 14-day quarantine or 7-day quarantine and negative test result before the student interacts with other family members, particularly vulnerable relatives, or embarks out into the community. Returning college students are subject to the same cross state travel protocols as everyone else traveling (back) into Vermont.

UVM Health Network Cyberattack
Last week the UVM Health Network was the victim of a cyberattack similar to other recent attacks on health care networks throughout the country. Such an attack on crucial services is disturbing and dangerous, especially during a health care emergency like the COVID pandemic. Vermonters are understandably shaken. UVM Health Network is working with the VT Department of Public Safety and the federal FBI to determine the source of the attack, and has provided information to patients and the general public stating, “UVM Health Network experienced a confirmed cyberattack that has affected some of our systems. We expect that it will take time to restore normal operations throughout the network. Our top priority is caring for our patients and we have well-practiced standby procedures in place to ensure that we are providing that care safely.” While some local services at Porter Medical Center, which is an affiliate of UVM Health Network, were disrupted, as of Saturday UVM Health Network reported that “all Porter Medical Center services remain available and patients should come to their appointments unless they are contacted by Porter and told otherwise.”

Vaccinations Update
In order to keep Vermonters healthy and preserve medical resources during these difficult times, the Vermont Department of Health is encouraging all Vermonters to get a flu shot this year, especially if you are part of a high-risk group or around others who are. You can get a flu shot at your medical provider, most pharmacies, many employers, or at local health offices. While a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccination is likely many months away, Vermont is preparing for how our state would distribute such a vaccine when it is available. You can read the Vermont Interim COVID-19 Vaccination Plan developed by the Department of Health, which outlines how officials would put safety first, identify priority groups to receive the vaccine early, implement a phased-approach to distribution, and ensure equitable access to all Vermonters.

Finally, check out this cool simulation from the New York Times: Masks Work. Really. We’ll Show You How. It’s a great animation of the science and design behind why masks are so effective at preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus. It also provides tips on the best way to wear a mask and which types of masks are most effective. Be sure to wear multi-layer masks that fully cover your nose and mouth. Loose fitting masks, gaiter-style masks, and single-layer masks do not work as well and should be avoided if possible. Pass it on!