In an attempt to ease looming concerns over students returning to college campuses in Vermont, Gov. Phil Scott extended the state of emergency declaration Friday.
"Looking at case growth in other states and hearing through other governors about what they saw what they did, it appears uncontrolled parties in crowds of bars and clubs are a big part of the problem," Scott said. "So I believe giving our towns, especially the college towns, some additional mitigation measures to work with is the right thing to do."
The emergency declaration give cities and towns additional tools, Scott said, including the ability to limit gathering sizes and reduce hours of sale for alcohol.
"This is a vehicle that allows us to manage and continue to suppress this virus as college students return to school," Scott said. "We always have, and always will put the health of Vermonters first."
The state has implemented quarantine and testing requirements for higher education institutions. Hundreds of results have come in as colleges test students upon entry, according to Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine said, and thousands more are expected. Some tests have come back positive, Levine said, and in one case, a student tested positive prior to leaving their home state.
"While we understand hearing about new cases of COVID-19 is cause for concern, these positive tests mean the system is working," Levine said. "We've said many times, in all of our conversations about restarting Vermont, that we expect to see cases of COVID-19 and colleges and universities are no exception."
Both Scott and Levine touted the state's contact tracing program, which interviews 90% of people within 24 hours on average and 96% within 48 hours. Approximately 11% of contacts have gone on to become cases, Levine said.
Health officials reported 39 new cases of COVID-19 this week, bringing its total to 1,501. Vermont's death toll remains at 58. They are predicting a slight uptick in cases over the next few weeks as college students return to campus.
"Many of these students are returning from areas of the country with a higher disease prevalence than Vermont. This, combined with the robust testing program, means that we are likely to see spikes in our case counts," Financial Regulation commissioner Mike Pieciak said.
The Friday press conference came after Scott earlier this week promised regular updates over the next month in an attempt to ease concerns as the state unveils detailed plans for the resumption of school.
Vermont education officials presented changes to their back-to-school guidelines Wednesday, including a push for in-person K-5 learning, reduced distance restrictions and at-home symptom screenings. Phased guidance for sports programs were announced as well.