Vermont Gov. Phil Scott is ramping up coronavirus testing and tracing, he announced Wednesday, as he takes steps to reopen the economy.
Over the next few weeks, Vermont will “ramp up” testing capabilities with a goal of conducting 1,000 tests a day, 7,000 a week, tripling their average over last several weeks. He said he hopes the measure will place Vermont in the top-5 for coronavirus testing in the country.
"Enhanced testing and tracing will give us more information on where we need to focus more of our resources and help us better understand the infection," Scott said Wednesday.
As of Tuesday, the state had reported 862 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, including 47 fatalities. Wednesday was the first day where the state reported zero new cases and zero new deaths since the start of the outbreak.
Scott established a task force to move forward in what he is calling a "phased approach" to increased testing and tracing while maintaining a supply chain that's prepared for potential future outbreaks. He warned residents that they should continue social distancing and taking safety precautions.
"It's important to remember that no matter what amount of testing we do, it won’t completely eliminate the risk," Scott said.
State labs have "literally been working nonstop for two months," Health Commissioner Mark Levine said. The initial roll-out of testing will focus on essential workers, high-risk individuals and childcare program employees.
The state has allowed limited business operations to resume after seeing a sustained reduction in the number of new cases over a two-week period.
Scott said he would continue taking slow and careful steps to reopen the state’s economy, but has signaled if COVID-19 infections pick up, progress could be dialed back again.
Additionally, the state also established a brand new system to provide unemployment benefits to people who aren’t traditionally covered.
As of Wednesday morning, there were 9,500 claimants in the system, 8,500 of which are eligible, Scott said. People have submitted total of 39,000 weekly claims so far, which includes back-pay. A first round of payments, totaling to approximately $24 million, will be sent through direct deposit this week. Paper checks will be sent out next week, Scott said.
Levine previously outlined the criteria that officials are looking for as they reopen the economy: A sustained reduction in cases for at least two weeks; a health care system that is safely able to treat all patients; the ability to test all people who have symptoms and the ability to carry out contact-tracing.
This week, the state has begun allowing five-person work crews, provided their jobs are outside. Teams of five are also allowed for manufacturing and construction in unoccupied spaces — but those workers must keep their distance, the governor insisted.
Certain retailers such as garden centers, which had been offering curbside pickup only, have been allowed to resume in-person sales, too — outdoors — with no more than 10 shoppers and staff total at a time.
More guidelines are available here to inform businesses about the phased-in reopening of Vermont’s economy.