VT health commissioner: ‘We don’t really have the regulatory power’ to enforce travel restrictions

Vermont News

MONTPELIER, Vt. (WFFF) — Vermont health and law enforcement leaders say there isn’t much they can do to anyone who violates the state’s pandemic-related guidelines. The subject came up because of the trip that several dozen Vermonters made to Wednesday’s protest in Washington, D.C.

A video posted to YouTube shows a nearly-full busload of people en route from South Burlington to the U.S. Capitol Tuesday night. Besides the passengers’ physical proximity to each other, no one is wearing a mask throughout the two-minute video.

“Clearly, it indicates lack of compliance with the guidance that we traditionally talk about with regard to distancing from people, capacity within the bus, wearing of masks, et cetera,” Vermont Department of Health commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said Friday.

The protest turned into a riot that left four rioters and a police officer dead. There’s no indication that any Vermonters took part in the violence, but Dr. Levine referred to the chaos on Capitol Hill as “a high-risk enterprise” for coronavirus transmission. Health leaders are watching for community impact as a result.

“We certainly made sure that communication went out to everyone on the bus at the time they arrived that we recommend—very strongly—quarantine, testing,” Levine said.

He added that in the absence of a positive test result, that’s about all they can do. “We don’t really have regulatory power to enforce somebody being quarantined when they’re not yet a case,” he said. “So, we have to be really careful about that in terms of how much authority we can exercise.”

“We were able to make contact with the bus company while the bus was still en route from Washington back to Vermont,” state Department of Public Safety commissioner Mike Schirling said.

The contact concerned the Green Mountain State’s quarantine guidance, and Public Safety will be in contact again in light of Vermont’s 50% occupancy limit for charter buses. “We will reach back out to the bus company for an educational conversation on that,” Schirling said.

Schirling noted that the responsibility for following travel restrictions is on individual travelers—not on bus companies, rail services or airlines. The commissioner also said public safety officials don’t have a list of the passengers on that bus, nor will they compile one.


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