The Burlington International Airport has ordered more sanitizer stations like this one.
Vermont is preparing for the likelihood of coronavirus cases and announced Monday the formation of a special task force to support the public health response.
“As this virus continues to spread globally, ensuring we stay ahead of it with a long-term mitigation plan is an important step in our response process," Gov. Phil Scott said, "and I appreciate the expertise and leadership of this interagency group.”
Vermont had no known cases as of Monday but some were reported close to the state. Monday morning, New Hampshire announced its first case of coronavirus, involving an employee of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Hanover — just over the Connecticut River from Vermont. Many Vermonters use the hospital.
That hospital employee had recently returned from Italy, whose northern region has been hit by an outbreak. The employee was in isolation at home, exhibiting mild symptoms. A case has also been reported in New York State.
Meanwhile, Rice Memorial High School students who returned from a Latin class trip to Italy over school break were being monitored for signs of the virus and have been told not to return to the school before March 9. A faculty member who accompanied the students and returned with symptoms of a cold was also being monitored.
Lisa Lorenz, the principal of the South Burlington Roman Catholic school, sent parents an email explaining the decision.
"Please know that over the last forty-eight hours we have tried our best to balance caution with perspective," she wrote. "The [coronavirus] context remains fluid in Vermont, our country, and throughout the world. We will respond further, on the advice of health experts, should the circumstances change. "
Burlington International Airport plans to increase hand sanitizing stations from 30 to 50 as a precaution. Employees are wiping down counters, railings and other surfaces three times a day, said director of aviation Gene Richards. So far, the virus has not had an obvious impact on passenger traffic, he said Monday morning, and the airport was monitoring the situation "day by day."
The new Vermont task force will try to ensure a coordinated statewide response, including communication measures to slow or minimize the spread if cases are diagnosed.
“We have plans in place for all hazards in the state of Vermont, including infectious disease," said Vermont emergency management director Erica Bornemann. "These are plans we update and exercise regularly, but each individual incident requires coordination of plans, resources and responsible agencies.”
The task force includes members from Vermont Emergency Management, the departments of Public Safety, Health and Human Resources, and the agencies of Education and Human Services. The Vermont National Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency will also participate.
After emerging in China, the virus has spread to multiple countries and infected 90,000 people. It has killed 3,000, affecting the elderly and people with underlying health issues the hardest.
The U.S. had 100 confirmed cases as of Monday, but the virus was spreading. In Washington State, six people have died. Four of them were residents of a long-term care nursing facility.
Some Vermont eldercare homes were already taking steps to limit the potential spread of the coronavirus.
Monday, the director of the Converse Home in Burlington informed patients and their families of new rules. The assisted living facility announced it was suspending guest meals in the dining room, advised that any visitors or employees with signs of respiratory illness would not be allowed to enter the home, and encouraged friends and family not to make unnecessary visits.
If necessary, the home will take additional steps, such as screening visitors by taking their temperature and serving meals in residents' rooms rather than the dining room. Residents could be asked to stay in their rooms.
The steps are similar to protocols to prevent the spread of the flu and in line with what the CDC is recommending so far with regard to coronavirus, according to Clayton Clark. He's the executive director of the Converse Home,
which has 64 residents.
"Any [care] home that is not preparing for coronavirus right now would be considered negligent. We're doing exactly what we should be doing," Clark told Seven Days. He is the former director of licensing and protection at the Vermont Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living.
It's difficult to predict what will happen, he added.
"Do I think it's likely that there will be a catastrophic event in Vermont or at the Converse Home?" he asked. "I don't think it's likely. But it's still something that we are going to prepare for."
Also Monday, Vice President Mike Pence announced that all Americans in Italy and South Korea will be screened before they can board U.S-bound flights.
Vermont has already issued an advisory asking people who recently traveled to affected countries such as China, Iran and Italy to contact the Vermont Health Department for information about tracking potential symptoms.