coronavirus outbreak

While Vt. Readies for Coronavirus, Some are Cutting Out Hand-Shaking

Vermont's commissioner of health, Dr. Mark Levine, said he has cut way back on shaking hands--including when greeting the governor

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While Vermont leaders assure residents that state government is taking steps to prepare for the new coronavirus, others are cutting back on hand-shaking as an additional preventative step.

There were no confirmed cases in Vermont as of early Thursday afternoon, though the disease has been found in neighboring states and in Quebec.

“It’s only a matter of time,” warned Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, who expects a positive test for coronavirus will eventually be found in Vermont.

The Scott administration is now asking any Vermonters who return from hot zones, including Italy, Iran, South Korea, and China, to stay at home and monitor their health for possible symptoms for two weeks.

Symptoms of coronavirus include fever, a dry cough, and possibly shortness of breath, the Vermont Department of Health said Thursday.

Vermonters returning from Japan should also monitor their health for such symptoms, health officials said.

Leaders from across state government are sharpening their response plans for the virus’s expected arrival in Vermont—with an aim to mitigate any possible spread, Scott said.

While that work continues, the governor’s own health commissioner said he has changed an aspect of his daily routine, by cutting out hand-shaking.

“The custom of hand-shaking is probably going to fade away as a result of this crisis,” Dr. Mark Levine of the Vermont Department of Health predicted. “Every time I see the governor, even though we know each other, we shake hands. We haven’t done that this week.”

Levine is betting many others will press pause on that age-old tradition, too–at least for now, with heightened awareness around how the disease can spread.

Instead, the commissioner said we should all consider other kinds of greetings totally socially acceptable, such as an elbow bump.

Videos on social media from Europe and Iran are showing people tapping feet, which is apparently another way of saying hi in this era of coronavirus.

Back at home, the concept appears to be a bit of a culture shift for many.

“It’s strange,” acknowledged Renata Wheeler of Barre, who noted she has become much more mindful of disinfecting surfaces and taking other preventative steps in recent weeks. “It’s strange getting out of that norm— the norm you grow up with, because you’re always told to be polite and shake hands and have a firm shake and things like that.”

“I think it’s something to be aware of, but not something to be overly carried away with,” said Jack Garvin of Warren, who added that he will likely continue shaking hands with anyone else who is doing so.

Levine also reiterated familiar advice: reminding Vermonters to stay home if they’re sick, avoid others who are sick, to cough into their sleeves, and to wash their hands frequently.

As of Thursday afternoon, 170 Vermonters were being monitored for possible symptoms of coronavirus, the Vermont Department of Health said. Twenty people in Vermont have completed monitoring and five have tested negative for the illness, the department added.

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