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Vermont to begin campaign to encourage mask-wearing

July 1, 2020 GMT

The state of Vermont is set to begin a campaign to encourage people to wear masks to help reduce the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, Gov. Phil Scott said Wednesday.

The governor said the goal of the program is to get people in Vermont to wear masks willingly. In other parts of the country efforts to require masks have not always been successful and those efforts have caused friction between people.

“I would rather educate, lead and inspire people to do the right thing,” the governor said during his regular virus briefing. “Right now this is a good thing to do when you can, when you can’t physically distance yourself from someone else.”

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Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said the program is beginning now and will accelerate in the coming days and include social media, signs and paid messages.

“We’ll have Vermonters talking to Vermonters about why they think it’s important to wear a mask,” Smith said.

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ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

On Wednesday, Scott also announced the state is set to begin taking applications for grants of up to $50,000 for small businesses that have been hurt by the pandemic.

The funds, which will come from the federal CARES Act and were appropriated by the Legislature in separate bills, will be distributed by the state, which is preparing to take applications beginning Monday.

Economic Development Commissioner Joan Goldstein said some of the details of the program came together at the last minute and so there could be “a hiccup or two along the way,” but officials are working to ensure the program is as easy as possible for business owners to use.

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NUMBERS AND TESTING

The Vermont Health Department reported two new confirmed cases Wednesday of the virus that causes COVID-19, bringing the statewide total since the pandemic began to 1,210. The number of people who have died of COVID-19 remained steady at 56.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said there have been no new cases among the two outbreaks the state has been following, in Winooski and Fair Haven.

The number of total cases connected to the Winooski outbreak remains at 114.

Of the 12 cases connected to a Fair Haven business, 10 of the infected individuals live in New York state. All of the patients are adults and half are showing symptoms, Levine said.

Scott said he was on a call Wednesday where officials said some supplies for testing were being diverted by the federal government to some of the COVID-19 hotspots across the country. But he said Vermont has enough supplies on hand now to continue testing at the current rate for 52 days.

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Levine said Vermont uses a number of different kinds of testing systems.

“All of those platforms require different sets of reagents and equipment to do the assays so that principle we’ve really tried to adhere to here so we wouldn’t be overly dependent on one and if we lost the supply we’d be dead in the water,” Levine said.

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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.