State officials are asking anyone who rode a bus to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to quarantine themselves upon returning to Vermont and get tested for COVID-19 as soon as possible.

According to Ron Lawrence, chairman of the Essex Republicans, 51 people boarded a bus and traveled to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, “in response to President Trump’s call to march on January 6th.”

He described his experience on the bus and in Washington in a document posted to the Essex Republicans website, essexrepublicans.org.

Multiple phone calls made to Lawrence on Friday were not returned, nor were messages sent to Ellie Martin, chairwoman of the Underhill Republican Party, whom Lawrence credited with planning the trip.

What happened in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday will likely be long remembered in American history. While the U.S. Congress certified the Electoral College votes declaring President-elect Joe Biden the winner over President Donald Trump, Trump’s supporters pushed through police barricades at the Capitol building, gaining entry to secure areas. Five people died as a result of the chaos, four of them civilians, one a Capitol police officer.

“The clear intent in most of our minds was to show support for President Donald Trump on the day that the Senate was to review and certify the electoral votes,” stated Lawrence.

Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said Friday at a news conference that the state is aware of the bus trip, having seen media reports and online videos, and said the situation is “an important reminder that if you do travel out of state, and please don’t, that you need to quarantine and get tested for your safety and out of consideration for your families, Vermonters and your communities. We all rely on each other to do our part to keep the virus from spreading.”

He said cases and deaths are rising nationwide, overwhelming hospitals in some places. He said while Vermont has seen a leveling off since Thanksgiving, spikes can still occur, and people need to keep taking precautions.

From what he’s seen online of the bus trip, it appears there was a lack of compliance with Vermont’s COVID-19 guidelines.

“We know that from footage of what happened in Washington that none of those rules were abided by very well by a larger population,” he said. “So certainly a high-risk enterprise.”

He indicated that people getting off the bus were told by state officials that they should quarantine and be tested, but the state has little authority to enforce such measures when there isn’t a case of COVID-19 that’s been identified.

Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling said his people were in contact with the bus company about capacity limits.

“The restrictions are on travelers,” he said. “Interstate operations for transit are still functional, so folks’s responsibility is personal to the quarantine guidance.”

According to Lawrence, The bus started out from Burlington at the Hannaford supermarket parking lot and made stops in Vergennes and Rutland. The bus arrived in Washington, D.C., before 6 a.m. and left around 4 p.m., arriving back in Burlington at 3:30 a.m.

“I have to say that there have been some very negative comments targeting this trip,” stated Lawrence. “So I will not be sharing the participants’ names. However, participants are from all over the state of Vermont.”

He said some were from Plattsburgh, New York, and some people flew from “out West” to participate.

“Everyone brought masks,” Lawrence stated. “They were not required, but anyone who felt the need to wear a mask was encouraged to do so. It became clear from the beginning that most participants were NOT comfortable wearing a mask for the whole trip. Whenever the bus made a stop, however, masks were donned before entering the facility.”

He stated that masks were worn out of respect to others, but few felt the need for self-protection.

“A few people dropped out at the last minute because they were not feeling well,” he wrote. “So the group was more-or-less self filtering. No one was on the bus that showed symptoms of illness. The participants’ temperatures were taken as we prepared to depart. No signs of fever.”

They found the city had been largely shut down. Lawrence described the group’s movements throughout the day, saying some in the party were nearby during one of the medical events that led to a death, but didn’t participate in the chaos.

“To my knowledge, none of our party took part in ‘storming’ the barricades or entering the building,” he stated.

Lawrence wrote that he plans to quarantine himself and “seek to be tested as soon as I can arrange it.”

He said the others on the trip may do something else.

“First of all, there is no indication that anyone is sick,” he stated. “And I’m sure that participants will be taking appropriate steps to care for their loved ones back at home. I see this as being a pretty responsible group of people. One solution does not fit all situations.”

He ends his report saying those on the trip believe election rules were violated and that the media has been reporting on the matter unfairly.

keith.whitcomb @rutlandherald.com

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