Gov. Phil Scott wants to try for a speedrun through his own reopening plan, he announced at a press conference Friday.
The governor said the full reopening of the state — originally planned for July 4 — could happen as soon as June, if Vermonters hit a key benchmark for vaccination: 80% of eligible Vermonters with at least one dose of the vaccine.
Right now, Vermont is at 74.9%.
“Admittedly, this would be an ambitious goal for most,” he said. “And to be honest, most states won’t come close to reaching it. But I believe Vermont can show the country how it’s done.”
Scott said his team is still working on the details of how to implement his full reopening, like how and whether his emergency order would be lifted.
Vaccinations have only been approved for people 12 and older, so the current vaccination rate is about 66% of the total Vermont population. If the state hits Scott’s benchmark for the eligible population, about 70% of the total population would be at least partially vaccinated.
Estimates of the rate needed for herd immunity vary, but often range higher than that, to 80% or 85%. Mark Levine, state health commissioner, said he wanted to take the focus off of the herd immunity level and instead show that the “impact of the vaccine has been substantial.”
“We’re recognizing that even in very vulnerable settings, a high vaccination rate of the residents still leads to really good immunity and low case rates, even in those who are unvaccinated in that setting,” he said.
Levine emphasized the power of vaccination to lower case rates and bring people back to their lives. “Just consider where we were more than a year ago, when the spread of the virus … required that we stay home to stay safe,” he said.
“Now because we have highly effective vaccines and rising vaccination rates … we can give the opposite guidance for those who are fully vaccinated: Go outside. You can take your mask off, and there’s no need to physically distance,” Levine said.
In recent weeks, the state expanded its vaccination program to include more walk-in options and clinics held around the community, Levine said. “If you want it to be vaccinated and couldn’t be vaccinated, I can’t believe it would be because there wasn’t a location that would suit your needs,” he said.
“But if you find that there is yet something else that we haven’t included, please call our call center and give your suggestion,” Levine said.
There are community clinics at places such as North Beach in Burlington, school-based clinics, EMS site clinics, pharmacy clinics, worksite clinics and clinics being set up at primary care providers, Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said.
Vermont is also planning a renewed effort to reach people experiencing homelessness and those on probation or parole, Smith said. Officials are also planning to go back to prisoners who initially refused the vaccine to see if “we can address their concerns,” he said.
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