Vermont reported 55 new Covid-19 cases Friday, up from just three new cases June 25. The spike is almost entirely due to the highly contagious Delta variant, the data from the state Department of Health shows.
Of more than 50 coronavirus specimens collected from infected people in Vermont from June 20 to July 30, all but three were attributed to Delta. The variant, first identified in India, now accounts for more than 80 percent of cases in the United States.
The spike in cases comes just days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended universal indoor masking in areas where the spread of coronavirus is substantial or high. With 83 percent of eligible Vermonters having received at least one shot, the state has the highest vaccination rate in the nation. The CDC puts Vermont and its neighbors at the moderate to low spread category, where no masking precautions are necessary.
Vermont lifted its mask mandate for vaccinated people in mid-May and has told school districts they cannot require universal masking in their summer programs.
However, the increase underscores what state and federal officials have been saying in recent weeks. Delta is twice as contagious as the coronavirus subtype that drove the first wave of the pandemic. It readily spreads through vaccinated people, though it tends to cause only mild illness in that group.
Unvaccinated people remain at higher risk for infection, hospitalization and death from the variant, authorities said. An internal document from the CDC this week noted that Delta is more contagious than Ebola, SARS, the common cold, seasonal flu and smallpox.
State health officials were not immediately available for comment Friday, but Vermont Health Commissioners Mark Levine said earlier this week that Vermont’s vaccination rates protect, but don’t insulate, the state from national trends. Cases, he said, were going to rise throughout the month but not as dramatically as in other states.
“Unlike many other parts of the country, Vermont’s high vaccination rates have helped keep cases lower and have kept severe outcomes to a minimum,” he said.
At the same press conference, Gov. Phil Scott touted the freedoms that Vermonters have been enjoying since mid-May because of the high vaccination rates.
“Everything’s open,” he said. “I mean, Lamoille County fair opened up this past weekend and had a lot of people attending. I was going to a number of parades this year — a lot of people there as well, and people just enjoying being outside.”
Cases had been declining or holding steady for much of May and June. By mid-June, cases began to rise again just as Vermont officials identified the first wave of Delta cases.
The rapid increase in cases should signal to the state that control measures — such as vaccinating more people and reinstating universal masking indoors — are necessary, Anne Sosin, a policy fellow at Dartmouth College who studies rural health, said in a phone conversation Friday.
“Now is the time to start looking ahead and having these conversations,” she said. “Because I only see those [case] numbers increasing.”
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