Vermont officials on Friday said the state would increase COVID-19 testing at long-term care facilities and bolster contact tracing efforts amid a spike in coronavirus cases.
The announcement comes after Vermont reported 178 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, its highest daily number since the pandemic began. The state reported an additional 73 cases Friday.
Starting Monday, assisted living and residential care facilities will test all staff members twice a week, officials said. The facilities will also be given antigen tests to use in cases of symptomatic residents or staff.
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All skilled nursing facilities will be provided with rapid antigen tests so that staff members can be tested on a daily basis in addition to weekly polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.
The administration of Gov. Phil Scott will also increase its number of full-time equivalent contact tracers to 100 in a bid to slow the spread of the virus.
In a press conference, Scott urged anyone experiencing mental health issues during the pandemic to seek help, saying the crisis was taking a toll on many people.
"There are resources available, and if you or a loved one are struggling with mental health or substance misuse or anything else, you should reach out," he said. "There is no shame in seeking help, no matter how serious or insignificant you think the issue might be."
The state has deployed federal grant funds to make sure there are enough mental health care providers and resources to help Vermonters, officials said. Scott added those needing information mental health resources should contact their health care provider or call 211.
Meanwhile, Scott on Friday said youth sports in the state would remain on hold.
Scott last month postponed the start of school sports, initially slated for Nov. 30, until further notice. Recreational sports have also been on hold.
"It is clear the virus is widespread and very active right now," Scott said at a press conference. "Our data does not support a return to school or recreational sports at this time."
Scott said his administration would continue to monitor health metrics to determine when youth sports can resume.
The state reported an additional 73 cases on Friday.
State officials are still waiting to see if there is a surge after Thanksgiving, but Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said Thursday that he believes that most Vermonters followed the guidance of not travelling or gathering with other households.
"This time of year, this year specifically, we expect to see higher numbers of cases,'' Levine said. "It's now clearly entering winter weather, people are indoors much more than they have been, and we know that those contribute to the ability for people to congregate together and for the virus to have conditions it thrives in.''
The cases came from around Vermont, he said. A total of 64 were in Chittenden County, 29 were in Washington County, and 17 were in Orleans County, with smaller numbers in the remaining counties, according to the Health Department.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Vermont did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 97.14 on Nov. 18 to 63.43 on Dec. 2. The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in Vermont has risen over the past two weeks from 0.14 on Nov. 18 to 1.43 on Dec. 2.