10 takeaways from today’s coronavirus press conference

Public Health officials: Masks don’t keep healthy people safer, no plans to enforce quarantines (for now)

Photo: Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine advises press on what the State is doing to fight the coronavirus in Vermont. Page photo

By Guy Page

March 5, 2020 – Here are 10 takeaways from the Coronavirus press conference Governor Scott and his administration held in Montpelier today:

  1. There are no known active coronavirus cases in Vermont. Twenty Vermonters have completed the two-week screening and have tested negative. 156 other Vermonters are being screened. 
  1. Paper masks don’t help healthy people not get the virus, research shows. Paper masks do help sick people not spread the virus. So Vermonters – if you don’t have a mask, don’t panic that you can’t find any in the stores (and you can’t because many are made in China, which has mask production and priority issues of its own). “We have a stockpile in Vermont that we have released 50% of, and are reserving the other half,” Commissioner Mark Levine said. 
  1. The Vermont Agency of Education has no plans to close schools – but it could, if necessary. For now, schools are being advised to practice good prevention: wash your hands, stay home if you’re sick, etc. 
  1. The Vermont Department of Health has no plans to enforce quarantine of ill or suspected ill Vermonters – but it could, if necessary. For now, people who are symptomatic (fever, dry cough) should stay home. All Vermonters should practice good prevention: wash your hands, cover your mouth when you sneeze, etc. To date Vermonters have been very cooperative with voluntary 14-day quarantines, Levine said. 
  1. At the Canadian border, non-U.S. citizens coming from China and Iran are being turned back, Gov. Scott said. He has been holding conversations with U.S. Border Patrol officials about stopping transmission at the Quebec border. 
  1. There are no reports of nursing home workers calling out sick at a higher rate than usual, Health Dept. Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said. However, it’s flu season and employers should expect workers to call out at the usual rate. Nursing homes and all other health care providers have been issued safety guidelines. Vermont already faces a nursing home worker shortage and the elderly are the most susceptible to serious illness from Covid-19.
  1. The fatality rate for Covid-19 among people who have tested positive is about one percent. The fatality rate for the traditional flu is about .1 percent, state health officials said. 
  1. Vermont hospitals have 80 “isolation rooms” for quarantine purposes. It also has “negative pressure” rooms that reduce the accident spread of airborne germs, but capacity would be saturated if Covid-19 spreads considerably in Vermont. However, negative pressure rooms exceed the necessary standard of care, Levine said. 
  1. There is no charge to patients receiving the Covid-19 test, Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said. Medical costs in the event of widespread transmission are being worked out, he said. 

10. Don’t shake hands. “The custom of handshaking is probably going to fade away as a result of this crisis,” Levine said.Instead, some people are bumping elbows. Is the commissioner practicing what he preaches? Yes: “Since I started this job, every time I’ve seen the governor, we’ve shaken hands. We haven’t done that this week.”