Health Care

Scott renews call for ‘personal responsibility’ amid record-high Covid-19 case numbers

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Gov. Phil Scott speaks during a Covid-19 press conference on Sept. 8. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

Gov. Phil Scott is calling on Vermonters to take “personal responsibility” to stifle the surge in Covid-19 cases and prevent severe complications for high-risk people around them.

He emphasized the need to get vaccinated and for those who aren’t vaccinated to take additional precautions.

“If you’re one of the Vermonters who is never going to get vaccinated, it’s even more important that you do your part to avoid spreading Covid to someone who is at risk,” Scott said, speaking Tuesday at his weekly press conference. “Because not getting vaccinated, taking no precautions at all, and carelessly exposing an elderly family member, neighbor, customer or patient is selfish, and it’s dangerous.”

Vermont Covid cases have risen 10% in the last seven days and 39% in the past 14 days, said Mike Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation.

The state hit a one-day case record of 347 cases on Saturday. The Department of Health reported 137 new Covid cases on Tuesday, but Tuesdays tend to have lower numbers because of a weekend lull in testing. The seven-day case average is 233 cases per day.

Forty-seven people are hospitalized in Vermont with the virus, including 16 people in intensive care units. Pieciak said after a drop in cases and hospital stays a few weeks ago, hospitalizations appear to be rising again.

The state has reported 19 deaths so far in October. Pieciak said the forecast for deaths in the coming weeks remains uncertain. The modeling update on Tuesday did not include a forecast for cases.

State data backs up Scott’s view that vaccinations prevent cases and hospitalizations. In the latest week of data, unvaccinated people in Vermont are 3.6 times more likely to test positive for Covid and 3.2 times more likely to be hospitalized than vaccinated people.

About 61% of all of Vermont cases since July were among the unvaccinated, even though they represent only about 30% of Vermont’s population, Scott said.

Vermont’s case rate has recently started to surpass those of less vaccinated states, but remains far lower than the peak of those states’ latest surges driven by the highly contagious Delta variant, Pieciak said. 

Pieciak also pointed out that the more vaccinated counties in Vermont have better outcomes. In the state’s seven least vaccinated counties, infections have been 23% higher and fatalities have been 40% higher within the past month.

Children age 9 and under have the highest case rate in the state, according to state data. Children under 12 years old are not currently eligible for the vaccine, but could qualify soon if the federal government approves the Pfizer vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said that most of the latest infections came from community transmission, not a single source. Half of the people with the most recent positive cases couldn’t trace their infections, he said, while 30% of them had a household member or close friend with the illness.

Only 15% of infected people got their case from an outbreak, he said, and 5% listed travel as their only potential source.

Beyond getting vaccinated, Levine recommended that Vermonters continue taking action to prevent transmission by avoiding crowded indoor settings. “Do you remember that last year around this time, we traced the beginnings of a winter surge to Halloween crowded indoor parties and events, attended by adults?” he said.

He said Vermonters should also consider getting tested and having a testing strategy when interacting with vulnerable family members.

If you’re a high-risk person and test positive for the virus, he said, contact your doctor about the possibility of getting monoclonal antibody treatment before your condition worsens.

In other news:

  • About 39,000 Vermonters have received a Pfizer booster or third dose of the vaccine, said Human Services Commissioner Mike Smith. VTDigger has an explainer on how to get the booster shot.
  • On Monday, Scott extended the motel housing program to the end of the year for the 1,500 Vermonters still living in motels. At the press conference, Scott defended his decision to not extend it indefinitely, saying the program — designed to shelter people with no homes — was not “sustainable” and he needed to meet with the Legislature to find a full funding source. 
  • Asked why the state would not also house people who exited motels over the summer, Sean Brown, commissioner of Department for Children and Families, said motels did not have enough capacity to hold those people due to rising travel demand.
  • On Monday, Scott issued a plan that will push for permanent affordable housing for people now in the motel program.
  • Education Secretary Dan French said 10 independent schools and 13 school districts are ready to launch “test to stay,” the state’s program to test unvaccinated students to keep them in class. At the same time, he said the state had recommended reducing rules about contact tracing in schools, including restricting contact tracing to students within 3 feet of a positive case, rather than 6 feet, and dialing back contact tracing in outdoor settings. 
  • State data shows 125 cases were reported in schools in the past week, bringing the total to 978 cases reported among infectious students and staff in K-12 school buildings so far this school year.

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Erin Petenko

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