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A COVID-19 outbreak that spread between Burlington and Winooski has officially closed, according to city officials and the state’s health commissioner.
The announcement came during a weekly news conference on Wednesday held by Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, who spoke alongside Winooski Mayor Kristine Lott, Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine, as well as representatives from the Association of Africans Living In Vermont (AALV) and the Vermont office of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI).
The outbreak initially spread in early June, when early reports noted over 30 cases of COVID-19 had been traced to Winooski. Monday marked 28 days with no new cases tied to the outbreak.
Dr. Mark Levine, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health, addresses the Winooski COVID-19 cluster at a press conference on Friday, June 5, 2020. (Photo: DAN D’AMBROSIO/FREE PRESS)
Early concerns over the outbreak included its disproportionate impact among residents of color in both cities. Black Vermonters represent the highest rate of COVID-19 cases in Vermont, according to recent statistics from the Vermont Health Department, showcasing a trend that parallels national health racial disparity data tied to the pandemic.
Coronavirus:How minorities are disproportionately affected, by state
Scale of the COVID outbreak
The total case count for the outbreak as of Aug. 8 is 117, with 77 cases tied to Winooski, 22 cases to Burlington, and 18 traced to residents in other parts of Chittenden and Grand Isle counties.
“We’re here to mark the formal end of the state’s first significant outbreak,” Levine said toward the beginning of the news conference. The Burlington-Winooski outbreak was the first case of community spread to occur outside of long-term care facilities in Vermont since the pandemic began.
A grassy, empty parcel of land — shown here among the Champlain Mill, Main Street, the roundabout and the Winooski River — is the proposed site for a new hotel in downtown Winooski. (Photo: Photo by Shirley Chevalier)
“Keep in mind, this isn’t really a celebration. There were 117 of our neighbors, friends and family members who were affected by this virus in some way. Some got ill, some got hospitalized, and as we know the pandemic is far from over,” Levine said.
Levine highlighted that the successful handling of the outbreak relied on building “effective community engagement” with impacted individuals and families through “culturally sensitive and linguistically appropriate ways.”
Case managers from AALV and USCRI, as well as local multicultural school liaisons and interpreters from the Vermont Multicultural Task Force, Levine added, worked “long hours” to provide timely information and resources through the pandemic.
For more:Vermont organizations share coronavirus information with immigrant communities
Connecting with community partners
Moving forward, ongoing outbreak response plans by the state’s Health Department will built off the feedback and support those community leaders and organizations provided.
“We recognize that a standard approach to messaging isn’t fully effective, and that people with questions will often turned to their trusted community organizations, their informal or formal leaders, and cultural brokers,” Levine said.
“We will make sure that we connect early with these partners, ensure they have current and accessible information, and when appropriate that they are paid for their time and expertise for assisting us.”
Mark Levine, Vermont health commissioner, speaks during a Aug. 12 news conference held by Burlington mayor Miro Weinberger. Included in the conference was Winooski mayor Kristine Lott, Amila Merdazanovic of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants Vermont, and Yacouba Jacob Bogre and Thato Ratsebe of the Association for Africans Living in Vermont. (Photo: ETHAN BAKULI/FREE PRESS)
Information related to the pandemic was translated in 14 different languages, said Amila Merdzanovic, director of USCRI-VT, who highlighted the work of translators and case managers from her organization and AALV to support residents applying for unemployment benefits, accessing information about testing, and communicating with employers and landlords.
“They are the unsung heroes that I want to recognize here,” Merdzanovic said.
How Burlington and Winooski will prepare in case of future outbreaks
Both mayors acknowledged their efforts to adapt to advice from community leaders. Prior to the outbreak in April, Burlington created a “Trusted Community Voices” program, intended to improve communication between the city and its’ refugee and immigrant communities.
Each stated that their cities would continue to offer resources and basic needs for residents required to self-isolate.
“Not everybody has the ability to isolate or self quarantine given their living situation,” Lott said.
“I think one thing that was really important was asking right up front if people are able to do that, if they need to be connected with support for rent because they’re missing work, or if they need to have food delivered to them to make sure they’re still able to eat.”
Contact Ethan Bakuli at (802) 556-1804 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @BakuliEthan.
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