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Governor Phil Scott Issues Statewide Face Mask Mandate

Gov. Phil Scott Friday issued a statewide mandate that will require all people over 2 years old, with some exceptions, to wear facial coverings in public areas when physical distancing is not possible. The mandate will go into effect Aug. 1.

Scott had previously resisted calls to impose a mask mandate, saying the voluntary facial covering guidance issued by the Department of Health was a more effective way to suppress the transmission of COVID-19.

But Scott said during a press briefing Friday that rising coronavirus infection rates across the U.S. warrant a more forceful facial covering police in Vermont.

“Looking at the situation in the South and West, and knowing we’ll have more people coming to Vermont, and more Vermonters inside as the weather gets colder, we need to make sure we are protecting the gains we’ve made, because as I’ve said before, we all want to keep moving forward,” Scott said Friday.

Hundreds object to raising health insurance costs during pandemic

“Murderous,” “unconscionable,” “outrageous”: In no uncertain terms, Vermonters expressed their outrage Tuesday at health insurance companies seeking to raise the cost of medical care during Covid-19.

Nine hundred people submitted written comments and more than 50 tuned in to the Green Mountain Care Board’s public hearing, as they asked the state’s health care regulators to deny rate increases to insurers.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont has asked for a 5.5% rate hike and MVP Health Care has requested a 6% increase for 2021. The requests are down about a percentage point from their original applications. Both companies presented their case this week to the board, which will make a final decision by Aug. 14.

State officials have joined the call for the Green Mountain Care Board to hold insurance rates steady. Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said he had expressed “concern” about the impact that raising health care costs would have on residents who are struggling financially. “I don’t think Vermonters … should have to endure a rate increase,” he said. “Hopefully … the Green Mountain Care Board will do the right thing as we move forward.”

False Insecurity: State Tries to Sort Out Manchester COVID-19 Testing Snafu 
Seven Days

The "wave," as Dr. Janel Kittredge called it, started with a child's stomachache. That's not a typical sign of COVID-19, but the patient also had a fever, so Kittredge ordered a test.

Unlike most doctors in Vermont, Kittredge didn't have to wait days for an answer. Her urgent care clinic in Manchester was able to process the swab in just 15 minutes, thanks to a new COVID-19 test the federal government had recently authorized.

This rapid antigen test is less accurate but much faster than the gold-standard method the state uses to diagnose the infection.

The child tested positive through the rapid antigen method on July 10, Kittredge said. The next positive was a man in his early fifties who had a sore throat, then a "fatigued" 75-year-old man who'd just driven from Florida. Manchester Medical Center set up an outdoor tent as word spread and more people streamed in. Within days, the tiny clinic had tallied 65 positive antigen tests.

Kittredge and her partners appeared to have discovered a major outbreak in an overlooked part of the state — and believed their rapid test had saved critical time in the race to contain it.

New reporting guidelines for COVID-19 cases spark
transparency concerns

The Department of Health and Human Services recently updated its reporting guidance for COVID-19 in hospitals, shifting data collection away from the CDC and having it go directly to HHS.

Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, said the move streamlines data flow and reduces confusion with all the latest information going to one spot. Some health experts and elected officials, however, are concerned about the HHS system because it’s run by a private contractor and it’s unclear whether data will remain open to citizens.

Jeff Tieman, president and CEO of the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, said he feels reassured that transparency isn’t a concern based on two calls he listened in on with senior Health and Human Services Officials.
Online health learning tool connects Vermonters during pandemic
Vermont Business Magazine

OneCare Vermont (“OneCare”) partnered with statewide health organizations to launch an online learning system for Vermonters and health care providers. Vermont Health Learn (VTHL) was developed in collaboration with the Vermont Department of Health (”Health”) and the Vermont Blueprint for Health (“Blueprint”) within the Department of Vermont Health Access.

OneCare implemented Vermont Health Learn in 2019. Though the decision to create the learning system was made before the pandemic began, its launch was well-timed. “When the need arose for online programming due to COVID-19, we were able to take action and begin uploading content immediately,” said Rebecca O’Reilly, health systems program administrator with the Health Department. OneCare hosts and maintains VTHL and shares it with partner organizations. “Given the immediate needs brought about by the pandemic, it was very prudent of OneCare to reach out to share training and access to Vermont Health Learn,” said O’Reilly.

The platform gives program leaders and participants an online hub for course materials and discussions, and it also offers a live, virtual meeting space for classes. “The feeling of security for participants, as well as for the course leader, using this platform is wonderful,” said Walter Ziske, who leads sessions of the Diabetes Prevention Program through the Blueprint for Health’s self-management program.

The Health Department has been working with UVM Medical Center’s Community Health Improvement and the Blueprint to transition Blueprint-funded self-management and prevention programming from in-person to online, providing increased program accessibility. “Vermont Health Learn is simple enough for just about anyone to use. This is incredibly important to the Diabetes Prevention Program because our participants come from a wide range of backgrounds, ages, education levels, and technological experiences,” said O’Reilly.

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