Vermont state officials announced two new measures Friday to reduce restrictions on those who have received both doses of the coronavirus vaccine.
Residents of long-term care facilities will be allowed to participate in group dining and shared activities, have indoor visitors and can go to places like salons, Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said at a press conference.
Residents’ vaccination status will be a part of — but not the only factor in — making decisions about whether someone can participate in social activities, Smith said. The state is still finalizing the guidance, which must incorporate federal restrictions on skilled nursing residences, but facilities have some leeway to decide exact rules around visitors and activities.
Long-term care facilities must follow some safety measures, Smith said, and cannot ease restrictions during an outbreak.
About 93% of long-term care residents and 75% of staff have received at least the first dose of the vaccine, he said. Outbreaks at those facilities have dropped significantly since reaching a high point in December.
Dr. Mark Levine, commissioner of the Department of Health, said cases among Vermonters 75 and older have also dropped significantly in recent weeks.
“We’re glad vaccination efforts have been so successful in these facilities,” he said. “It can help residents feel safe while making it possible to have greater freedoms in connection with others, whether they’re visiting with families, eating meals together or participating in group activities.”
Starting Tuesday, Vermont will also lift quarantine restrictions on Vermonters traveling out of state and those coming into Vermont who have received both doses of the vaccine, Gov. Phil Scott said at the press conference.
“The announcement today is a huge change in terms of travel,” Scott said. “This is going to have a beneficial effect on many for those who are vaccinated who want to, let’s say, go to Maine, maybe do some snowmobiling or do whatever, they can travel and come back without quarantine.”
The state allowed travelers from certain counties with low case rates to travel to Vermont over the summer but tightened those restrictions as cases rose in the fall. Currently, all travelers to and from Vermont must complete a seven-day quarantine followed by a negative test.
Vaccinated people planning to travel should take their vaccination card with them in case they need to prove their immunization status, officials said.
Officials are also considering new rules around multi-household gatherings and expect to make more announcements on that in the coming days, Scott said.
In total, 83,000 Vermonters have been vaccinated so far, Smith said. About 58% of Vermonters 75 and older have gotten the shots. Currently, any person 70 or older is qualified to get the vaccine.
After Vermont vaccinates people 65 and older — they should be able to make appointments beginning as early as the first week of March — those with high-risk conditions will be able to get vaccinated. Levine said the state has now decided to include Type 1 diabetes in its list of conditions that qualify for the vaccine. Previously, only people with Type 2 would qualify.
The state is still deciding how those with high-risk conditions will have to verify their status, Smith said.
Vermont reported 97 cases of the virus on Friday, roughly in line with the average in the past week. There are 37 people hospitalized with the virus and there have been a total of 193 deaths during the pandemic.
Levine said the surge in cases in Bennington and Rutland counties has slowed, but officials are still watching Franklin County closely.
Enosburgh Elementary School had 12 cases connected with the latest surge and some spread in the local community. Levine said only three cases appeared to be connected to school transmission and the rest were likely transmitted through the community.
“The direction of transmission may at times be difficult to trace, but quite often the school is either part of a chain of transmission involving work sites or households, or just an unfortunate bystander,” he said.
Levine said the state offered testing at two ski sites, Bromley and Stratton, with mostly out-of-staters participating. They identified three cases out of roughly 330 tests.
“Now keep in mind we don’t want to draw final conclusions from one weekend of testing efforts with one self-selected sample,” he said. “But we were glad to see that people were receptive to testing at ski resorts and plan to offer testing again this weekend in both areas.”
Don't miss a thing. Sign up here to get VTDigger's weekly email on Vermont hospitals, health care trends, insurance and state health care policy.