Health Care

State reports 130 new cases; officials question lag in vaccine arrivals

Anesthesiologist Anthony Fazzone, who performed the first intubation of a Covid patient in Vermont, was among the first to receive the vaccine at Gifford Medical Center in Randolph on Dec. 16. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

Vermont reported 130 new cases of Covid-19 on Thursday, a spike after several days of case counts around 82. The state has 25 people hospitalized with the virus, seven in intensive care, and has had 136 deaths since the pandemic began, Health Commissioner Mark Levine said.

Vermont’s also seeing a trend developing in Bennington, with a spate of cases at the police department and the discovery Wednesday that six staff members tested positive at the Vermont Veterans’ Home.

There will be a facility-wide test this week at the veterans home, state officials said Thursday at the state’s regular Covid-19 briefing. Asked why the public hadn’t been notified of the outbreak at the police department, Levine said he didn’t want the public to avoid calling the police when needed for fear of infection.

He added that the state often doesn’t release case numbers or the settings of outbreaks to protect privacy.

“God forbid, if we announced that there was an outbreak in the Bennington Police Department, and someone needed to dial 911 and they said, ‘I’m not going to do that,’” Levine said. “That would be the worst possible outcome. It is not the entire Bennington police department that is now forbidden from being at the worksite, and I’m sure the rest of them are all using the appropriate precautions that we all use.”

There are no set parameters for when the state will inform the public of an outbreak, said Ben Truman, a spokesman for the state Health Department.

Vaccine holdups

About 14,000 people have been vaccinated against Covid-19 so far in Vermont, part of a phased program. The first group to be vaccinated, known as 1A, includes health care personnel, including clinical staff and support staff, and residents of long-term care facilities. The 14,000 represents about one-fifth of the 1A group and about 2% of the eligible population in Vermont, said Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith.

As of Thursday, residents at 21 of the state’s 37 skilled nursing facilities had received their first dose of the vaccine. The state expects to finish vaccinating the 1A group by the end of January, and then the state will move to the next group, those over age 75.

The federal government hasn’t sent the state as many doses as promised of the vaccine. This week, it expected 11,000 doses and received only 7,800, Smith said — a problem also reported last week in Vermont and in several other states. The state submits requests for the vaccines each week to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

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“We’re really trying to understand what is going on,” said Smith. “You can’t have a program where there is no predictability about what you’re getting.”

“It’s going to have an impact on us down the road.”

Schools update

Gov. Phil Scott and Education Secretary Dan French said that in-person instruction is still a priority for the state’s K-12 students. Winter sports teams will be allowed to begin practicing after the holiday break, and “we’ll continue to watch the data with hopes of getting games restarted just as soon as possible,” Scott said.

French said that the transmission rate in schools continues to be lower than the rate in the public at large. Through surveillance testing, he said, the state has found a positivity rate of under .26%. The rate in the general population is about 10 times that, at 2.5%.

“While we’ve seen some cases associated with schools, there has been very little transmission within the buildings,” he said. “While there are school-based cases and situations, they are the exception, and not the rule, and they’re not driving our outbreaks.”

The New Year

Levine asked Vermonters who might be thinking about New Year’s resolutions to make their mental health a priority.

“If you are setting any goals, please think about how you can take care of your own mental health, and those around you,” he said. “Stay socially connected. Create daily routines and schedules, exercise, eat healthy. Get enough sleep, reach out for support.” He added that helping others counteracts stress.

As for New Year’s celebrations, they’re limited to household members or one other trusted household.

“I hope that if you do celebrate you find ways to do so safely, either with people you live with or with one other trusted household,” he said. “And if you do gather, please get tested seven days afterward.”

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Anne Wallace Allen

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