As Vt. Readies for Coronavirus, Catholic Students Monitor for Symptoms

Nearly five dozen people were actively watching for possible coronavirus symptoms as of Monday afternoon, the state said, but no confirmed cases have been identified

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A Catholic school in Vermont's Chittenden County is taking steps to protect against the coronavirus.

Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington sent an email to families Monday notifying them that language students in Latin classes who recently returned from a trip to Italy will stay home for the rest of the week.

The email, obtained by NECN affiliate NBC 5 News, did not specify the number of students, but said if they have no symptoms, they can return to school next week.

The faculty advisor will also stay home, the email said, after he self-reported symptoms of a cold. His return to school will be determined after the Vermont Department of Health, Rice said.

As of Monday, there are no confirmed coronavirus cases in Vermont, according to the Vermont Department of Health.

At the University of Vermont Medical Center, infectious disease specialist Dr. Tim Lahey is bracing for the possible arrival of the newly-identified coronavirus.

"It is new, it is moving fast, and it is hurting some people," Lahey observed. "So we have to be ready for it."

Lahey noted he believes the risk to the general public in Vermont is low at this time.

The Vermont Department of Health said Monday afternoon it was in touch with 57 people who are being monitored for possible symptoms.

The department also wants to hear from any Vermonters who have recently traveled to places with active spread of the disease, like Italy or China, so they can be advised on how to watch for symptoms.

"Right now, the likelihood of getting coronavirus without travel is still quite low," Lahey said. "We think that probably is going to change. So stay tuned. Keep an eye on the CDC website and the Vermont department of public health website and keep informed — but don't be too alarmed."

The Vermont Department of Health is posting daily updates on the coronavirus, at this website, which also has more information about the disease.

Monday, Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, announced the formation of a task force to support the health department in preparing for what the Scott administration called the likelihood of coronavirus cases in Vermont.

The task force will communicate steps that could slow or minimize the potential spread of the virus, and coordinate planning and communications across state government, Scott announced.

The new group is made up of representatives from Vermont Emergency Management, and the Vermont Departments of Public Safety, Health, Human Resources, Buildings and General Services, Agencies of Education and Human Services, according to an announcement from the Republican's administration.

The Vermont National Guard, Vermont Healthcare Emergency Preparedness Coalition, E-911 Board, Governor's Emergency Preparedness Advisory Council Chair and Federal Emergency Management Agency are also represented on the task force, the governor's office said.

"I want to thank our public health and emergency response teams for the work they've done to monitor and respond to this quickly evolving situation over the last several weeks," Gov. Scott said in a news release. "As this virus continues to spread globally, ensuring we stay ahead of it with a long-term mitigation plan is an important step in our response process, and I appreciate the expertise and leadership of this interagency group."

Nurse Mary Ann Ray, who works at the UVM Medical Center, said she hopes the attention around coronavirus serves as a reminder to wash your hands well, and frequently.

"The amount of time you scrub them for should be about 20 seconds," Ray said.

The nurse advised people to scrub the fronts and backs of their hands, in between their fingers, and even up their wrists a little before eating, and after sneezing or blowing their noses.

Ray said it's best practice not just to shield against the new disease, but also to keep the flu or common cold at bay.

Certain business impacts from coronavirus are being felt in Vermont already.

At Milne Travel, advisors said more than half the calls they get these days are about the virus.

The business told NECN it has seen a million dollars in cancelled trips in just the past few weeks, from key corporate accounts, student travel, as well as personal trips.

"This is a bump along the road," Scott Milne of Milne Travel said. "We're not going anywhere. We're a financially stable company. If we need to get through this year and lose some money to take care of some people and tell them the truth, it's in our long-term best interest to do that."

Nurse Mary Ann Ray also suggested using a paper towel to shut off the sink and open the door in public restrooms after washing your hands.

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