Health Care

Record-breaking case numbers part of ‘holiday surge,’ officials say

Phil Scott wearing mask
Gov. Phil Scott listens to remarks from Health Commissioner Mark Levine at a Covid-19 press conference last month. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

Vermont has shattered its record for weekly Covid-19 totals by 400 cases, a sign that Christmas and other holiday events led to a new phase of the virus surge in the state, officials said at a press conference Tuesday.

The state has reported 1,166 cases in the past week, including 167 on Tuesday alone, compared to 761 cases the week before, according to a presentation by Michael Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation.

“Comparing [Christmas] to two previous holidays — Halloween, where we did experience a surge in cases, and Thanksgiving, where we did not see a surge — you’ll see that that 10- to 17-day period following Christmas is tracking very closely to Halloween, with the only major difference being that Christmas started at a higher level of cases,” Pieciak said.

The state has had more cases in the past five days than it had in five months from May to September, Pieciak said.

Pieciak said the latest state forecast projects that cases will continue to rise in the coming weeks, with the potential to hit 300 cases a day by early February. However, cases would need to hit 380 or more per day to begin overwhelming hospitals and ICUs, he said.

The state currently has 51 people hospitalized for the virus, a record-breaking number that tops the record of 47 that was set on Monday. Those 51 include 10 people in the ICU.

Vermont’s recent rise is paralleled across the Northeast and the nation. Regional cases rose 17% in the past week from the week before, and hospitalizations are also on the rise across the region, Pieciak said.

Vermont rejects plan for more first doses

The Trump administration announced a new plan Tuesday to release more first doses of coronavirus vaccine at once, rather than hold back doses for a second booster shot. Releasing more vaccine doses immediately is similar to a plan announced by President-elect Joe Biden last week.

But Vermont officials said that, even if the state receives more doses, they will continue to follow the recommended guidelines to give people the second dose on a regular schedule, because that’s what trials showed made the vaccine highly effective.

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Gov. Phil Scott said state officials have not yet heard details of the Trump administration plan, but they will “hopefully have the flexibility to do what is right.”

“We are committed to Vermonters that we’re going to have a second dose ready for them at 21 or 20 days, and I believe we should follow through on that promise and the strategy that we rolled out to begin with,” Scott said.

Department of Health Commissioner Mark Levine said he agrees, because the science shows the vaccine is highly effective only if a person receives the second dose within a certain time frame. 

But he was happy to hear that Vermont will likely receive more doses sooner. 

“It’ll change the bookkeeping into what we do as opposed to what the federal government’s doing,” he said. “But if we got larger allocations, we would be delighted.”

As of Tuesday, 23,000 people have received just the first dose of the vaccine in Vermont, and 1,781 have received a second dose, according to Department of Health data.

It takes seven to 10 days after the doses for your body to build up an immunity, Levine said.

“Just because the needle went in your arm on a Monday doesn’t mean you can’t be standing next to somebody with Covid on a Friday … and get Covid,” he said.

Scott says ‘no new taxes’

Also at the press conference, Scott said he’s in favor of  increasing state revenues — just not by raising taxes in the middle of the pandemic. He’d prefer to grow revenues organically with economic growth.

“Before the pandemic, we were in a fairly good position, in fact probably the best position we’ve been in in decades,” Scott said. So, “it’s just this pandemic that has caused us some financial harm.” 

Scott, elected governor in 2016, committed to not raising taxes during his first term in office. In 2018, elected to his second term, he said he would not sign any bill or budget that increased taxes. 

Now, in this national crisis, the federal government should be stepping in to help Vermont obtain more resources to backfill its coffers, he said. 

“So I’m just as committed as I was the first year to, that will be the last resort. What we need is more taxpayers, not more taxes. I’m just as committed today as I was four years ago.”

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Erin Petenko

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