Montpelier, Vt. – At a press conference Tuesday, Governor Phil Scott and members of his Administration outlined the trends that informed new mitigation measures enacted last week.
A full transcript of the Governor’s remarks is embedded below. Click here to view the full press conference.
Governor Scott: As you’ve seen, our cases have continued to grow, and Commissioner Pieciak will present more on that in a few minutes. This growth has led to some big steps to slow the spread which we announced on Friday and are now in effect.
As I said last week, each of these steps are targeted to address the areas that our contact tracing data tells us are driving this spike. What was found is that it’s mostly adults from multiple households getting together with friends, inside and outside, and it usually involves alcohol and food with little, if any, mask wearing and distancing. After we urged against these activities and advised limiting them to one or two trusted families, these gatherings - like Halloween house parties and beers with friends after games - continued. And it’s led directly to our record growth.
So, as a result, in addition to requiring quarantine for all non-essential travel, we unfortunately had to ban multi-household gatherings. I know this is incredibly difficult and frustrating, especially with the holidays right around the corner, but it’s necessary and we need Vermonters’ help to get this back under control.
I’d like to take a minute to address some of what we’ve heard since we made this announcement, including questions and concerns from people who believe there is inconsistency in our approach, and from people who would prefer we shut down restaurants or schools, or close businesses like gyms and salons but not restrict private social gatherings.
So, let’s talk about consistency. The steps we took were based on data from the contact tracers because from the beginning, we have consistently used data and science to guide our decisions.
I understand it may seem counter-intuitive that restaurants remain open and yet you can’t have neighbors over for dinner. But the fact is, rom October 1 to the time of Friday’s announcement, 71% of outbreaks were linked to social events, parties and people hanging out at a home or at bars and clubs. We’re just not seeing these types of outbreaks linked back to people dining at restaurants or working out at gyms. This tells us the protocols at these businesses are, for the most part, working.
And while we have a number of cases that have shown up at schools, we have very few schools that have experienced transmission from one person to another, which means schools are not driving this either.
And this brings me to the next point: In the environment we’re in, we’ve got to prioritize “need” over “want.”
In my view, in-person education, protecting our healthcare system and keeping people working (as long as we can do it safely) are things we need. Parties and cookouts, hanging out with people just to socialize, may be fun, but these things are “wants” not “needs” and they put a lot of people at risk.
Put a different way, with pediatricians making it clear that in-person education is critical to the well-being of our children, I’m going to prioritize keeping kids in school. And, again, schools are not the root of the problem.
I know for many, getting together with family and friends over the last few months has been so important. But I’m hoping by laying out what’s at stake, it will motivate Vermonters to follow this guidance so we can get back together again soon, and safely.
I also want to speak to the skeptics again. Make no mistake, I understand that if you want to ignore the science or choose not to believe it for one reason or another, there’s not much we can do to stop you.
But I want to be clear: The number of people in hospitals is growing because some care more about what they want to do rather than what they need to do to help protect others, keep kids in school, keep people working and prevent the healthcare system from being overwhelmed to the point where care is being delivered in makeshift hospitals. It’s a fact that the consequences of an overwhelmed healthcare system will have a far greater impact on our economy and our well-being than all the prevention and mitigation measures in place across the country.
So, again, the skeptics are right. They can do what they want. But please don’t call it patriotic or pretend it’s about freedom. Because real patriots serve and sacrifice for all, whether they agree with them or not. Patriots also stand up and fight when our nation’s health and security is threatened, and right now, our country and way of life is being attacked by this virus, not the protections we put in place.
Look, I understand getting together with family, especially during the holidays, is important. And I understand how hard it is to be asked to keep making sacrifices. As I said last week, I haven’t seen my mom or my daughter in nearly a year. But right now, we’re in the middle of a pandemic and we’re seeing record growth.
And this growth is not because of tourists. It’s not because of restaurants. It’s not because of gyms. It’s not because of schools. It’s because adults continue to get together with other adults - multiple households, inside and outside - in situations, usually involving alcohol, where they stop taking precautions. And then they’re going to work, sending their kids to school, visiting another neighbor who works in a nursing home and spreading the virus at each stop. I don’t believe anyone is doing this on purpose, but it is what’s happening.
I hear the anger out there, the frustration, the anxiety and the sadness. And I get it. So, if you need to take it out on someone, send it my way - I can take it. But what I can’t take is seeing this continue to grow, because it’s putting our healthcare system, our economy and many lives at risk. So, you can question our methods but I’m asking you to please do your part to help.
And by Friday, we’ll be providing more clarity on social gatherings based on questions we’ve gotten to help folks understand what we need from them.
I also want Vermonters to know we’re stepping up at the state level as well because this is not all on your shoulders. As we announced last week, we’re continuing to expand our testing and tracing capacity which will help slow this further and hopefully without more restrictions.
Even though Vermont already does more testing per capita than any other state, our goal is to make testing more easily available. To start, we’re opening five testing centers this week in Burlington, Middlebury, Waterbury, Rutland and Brattleboro, which will operate seven days a week. By opening these centers, two-thirds of Vermonters will be within a 30-minute drive of a testing site, and we’ll continue to build on this.
Additionally, we’ve started offering testing for all teachers and school staff, with about 1,700 tested yesterday, and that will continue throughout the week. We’ve also brought on additional contact tracing staff, with 40 now working full time, and we’ll be adding approximately 20 Vermont National Guard members and 10 Department of Public Safety staff over the next two weeks.
Please remember, that even during these tough times, there is reason for optimism. We continue to see progress and good news about vaccines. As Dr. Fauci said recently, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
And we know we can change our trajectory when we all pull in the same direction because we’ve done it before, and we can do it again. Once we do, we’ll get back to where we were and safely roll back these latest restrictions while we await a vaccine.