Mark Levine, 4-27-2020

Dr. Mark Levine, Vermont’s health commissioner, speaks with reporters during an April 27 press conference.

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott began his press conference on Wednesday by addressing an incident in Hartford in which a family that had moved to Vermont from New York a couple of months previous was harassed.

The governor and Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine also discussed steps to continue minimizing the spread of the coronavirus even as businesses in the state slowly reopen.

Scott said the family, whose vehicle still has New York plates, was stopped while backing out of their driveway and told they were not welcome here.

“I have no tolerance for this kind of thing. It does not represent my views," Scott said.

There were also racial overtones to the incident, he said. 

“Let me be very clear, this is not acceptable," Scott said. “This virus cannot be used as an excuse for hate, bigotry and division.”

Scott said he had called the family personally to apologize for the harassment on behalf of the state and to thank the family for moving to Vermont.

The governor reiterated that while casual visits to the state are discouraged those with second homes or family here are welcome. However, they must self-quarantine for 14 days.

“We can be both neighborly and compassionate while staying safe," Scott said. “Our borders are not closed.”

“We’re all in this together and human decency will get us through this," he concluded.

Scott then turned his attention to the steps people must take to prevent the spread of the virus, which has claimed the lives of 53 Vermonters. He reiterated the importance of keeping social distance from those not in your household, wearing a mask in public, frequent handwashing and staying home if you are sick.

Levine then stepped up to explain why and how masks work.

Coronavirus is spread through respiratory droplets whenever someone who is infected speaks, breathes, sneezes or coughs. Sneezing and coughing spread the virus farther than simply speaking does, up to 20 feet.

People who are infected don't show symptoms for several days, during which they can unknowingly spread the virus.

Wearing a mask stops those respiratory droplets from reaching surfaces and other people, helping to reduce its spread.

“This is a habit we all need to adopt," Levine said.

Children under age two and people with breathing difficulties should not wear a mask.

Spreading becomes more likely when contact is close, involves a lot of people or lasts for an extended period of time, Levine explained.

He offered examples, including a woman who dined in a restaurant in China and how which of the nearby diners became infected was determined by the ventilation system and the direction in which it carried respiratory droplets from her.

In Washington state, one woman infected 53 of the 61 members of her choir during a choir practice, Levine said, pointing out that the contact was close, prolonged and involved an activity likely to release a large number of droplets -- singing.

Although Vermont meets all the criteria for a gradual reopening-- few new cases, a low rate of positive tests, hospital capacity and the ability to test and trace contacts -- Levine said "this is not really a time to relax."

Instead, he said, “this is really a time to capitalize on our ability to contain the virus should it flare up.”

"Physical distancing and facial covering are here to stay," Levine said.

Symptom checks when entering workplaces are also here to stay, he continued, as is testing for the coronavirus, especially for those who work in long-term care facilities, prisons and other congregate locations.

"Restricted visitation to vulnerable populations are here for awhile," Levine added.

“The summer concert of old won’t be the summer concert this year," he said. Many concert venues and sponsors, including St. Albans City, have cancelled their summer concert series. 

“I am very optimistic about Vermonters' ability to get through these challenging times," Levine said.

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