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Gov. Scott declares state of emergency

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MONTPELIER — Vermont Gov. Phil Scott declared a state of emergency Friday to help the state cope with the growing outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

The Friday order bans most visitors to the state's nursing homes and other long-term care facilities and prohibits non-essential gatherings of more than 250 people. But Scott did not order the closing of the state's k-12 schools, although he said that could be changed depending on the circumstances.

"'I know this will be very difficult for everyone involved, but we also know the residents of these facilities and those seeking care at our hospitals are most at risk and we must take short-term measures to protect them," Scott, a Republican, said of the ban on nursing home visitors during a late afternoon news conference in Montpelier.

In addition, Scott suspended non-essential out-of-state travel by state personnel, he encouraged state employees to work from home when possible and he's encouraging private employers to do the same.

Scott said the order would be disruptive, but such actions have been effective in other countries.

"We must do our part," he said.

The decision to keep Vermont's K-12 schools open came after close consultation with health officials.

"'We believe that keeping them in schools, rather than at home alone or with parents or grandparents who are at risk is the best approach at this time," Scott said. The order to keep schools open can be re-evaluated as conditions warrant.

The order also says parents who choose to keep their children home won't be penalized for doing so.

To date, two Vermonters have tested positive for COVID-19, but more than 100 additional tests are pending and officials are expecting the number of cases to go up.

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. Most people recover from the virus in a matter of weeks, as has happened in mainland China.

Scott's action came after leaders of the Vermont Legislature decided Friday to suspend the current session through at least March 24 due to concerns about the spread of the virus.

The Statehouse will be deep cleaned during the break.

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"Vermont's State House, while an example of democracy and accessibility across the county, has extremely close quarters which means viruses and illnesses have the potential to spread rapidly," Democratic House Speaker Mitzi Johnson said in a statement.

The numbers

Two patients in Vermont have been diagnosed with the disease, although experts say it's likely more cases will become known in the coming days. The latest patient, a Chittenden County man in his 70s, is in critical condition at the University of Vermont Medical in Burlington. More cases are expected.

Prisons

On Thursday, the Vermont Department of Corrections suspended inmate visits at all of the state's correctional facilities. The department's Alan Cormier said the decision will be reviewed in two weeks. Rather than in-person visits, inmates will be allowed to communicate with family and friends through video calls. Inmates will also have access to text and photo messaging on digital tablets provided by the department. No cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Vermont's prison system.

Higher education

A growing number of Vermont colleges and universities are going to online classes after extended spring breaks.

On Thursday, the Vermont State Colleges, which includes Northern Vermont University, with campuses in Johnson and Lyndon, Vermont Technical College, Castleton University and the Community College of Vermont, told students they'll need to vacate dorms on campuses by March 15. Starting next week classes will move online.

At Bennington College, students are being told to leave campus by March 21. Remote classes will begin March 30.

Cancellations

Many public events in Vermont are being canceled due to concerns about COVID-19.

Ice cream maker Ben & Jerry's announced Friday it was suspending factory tours and closing its shop in Waterbury.

On Friday, organizers of the Vermont Maple Festival in St. Albans postponed this year's event, which had been scheduled for April 24-26.

The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


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