Vermont could expand its mask guidelines as it prepares for out-of-state college students to arrive in the fall and as coronavirus cases surge around the country, Gov. Phil Scott said Tuesday.
In a press conference, Scott said he was concerned about rising cases in states including California, Texas and Florida and that his administration considers an expanded mask mandate as a possible tool to prevent an increase in cases in Vermont.
"This is a tool we have in our toolbox, and with every health decision we make, when to use that tool will be driven by the data," he said, adding that the data did not yet support a change to the status quo.
"If it continues to look like this fire could be headed back towards us, an expanded mask policy will be part of the mix," Scott said.
He said the administration was considering the start of the school year and more residents gathering inside as the temperature drops when "trying to anticipate when to deploy this tool, as well as others, so we keep once step ahead of the virus."
Vermont's health department currently recommends all Vermonters wear cloth face coverings outside of the home in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19. Scott has not yet issues a statewide mask-wearing requirement.
Scott and other officials on Tuesday hailed residents for practicing social distancing, saying the state was far ahead of many others in containing the virus.
On Monday, the Vermont Health Department reported 10 new cases of the virus that causes COVID-19, bringing the statewide total since the pandemic began to more than 1,350.
Vermont has not reported a COVID-19 fatality in more than a month. The number remains at 56.
Health commissioner Dr. Mark Levine also provided an update on possible cases in the southern part of the state.
He said 65 patients had tested positive at Manchester Medical Center using antigen test. However, he added that all 65 had been interviewed, and among them 52 took a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) diagnostic test, of which 48 people tested negative. Four tested positive.
Through the interviews and PCR tests, the state has determined that 59 of the 64 patients who took the antigen tests did not have COVID-19.
The update comes after the health department reported Monday officials had reached 63 of the 64 people who tested positive using an antigen test at the Manchester Medical Center since July 10.
In May, Quidel Corp., of San Diego, became the first company in the country to win an emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for a COVID-19 antigen test. Company spokesman Ruben Argueta said via email Monday that the Manchester Medical Center was one of its customers.
“We have only recently become aware of the current issue that was mentioned although it has not yet been formally reported into Quidel,” Argueta said after being asked about the Vermont cases. “Our process is to thoroughly investigate complaints in order to determine the root cause of the issue. Until we have been notified and can begin and complete an investigation, we are unable to specifically comment.”
A message left at the medical center Monday seeking comment was not immediately returned.
After officials were notified of a possible outbreak in southern Vermont, the health department collected 1,423 samples from people in the Manchester area and other parts of southern Vermont. Of those, one additional person tested positive.
“So far, as the vast majority of these cases have been determined not to be a case of COVID-19, we do not believe COVID-19 is spreading in the community,” Health Department spokesman Ben Truman said in a statement.