Health Care

Vermont reports record 1,352 new Covid cases Thursday, sharply raising case average

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Updated at 12:43 p.m.

Vermont reported a record-setting one-day total of 1,352 Covid-19 cases Thursday, according to Department of Health data.

Following Wednesday’s 937 new Covid-19 cases, the state’s seven-day average has risen to 591 cases per day — a 48% increase from the average four days ago.

Case counts tend to be higher later in the week, as testing rises during the week and declines during the weekends. Testing tends to decline even further on holiday weekends, such as Christmas last weekend, leading to delays in people testing positive for the virus.

State officials also warned Vermonters on Tuesday that antigen tests could skew testing results even further. The department asks Vermonters to self-report positive antigen tests, but it’s unclear how many people who test positive are doing so.

On Thursday, the data included 1,168 positive PCR tests and 184 “probable” cases, which includes any positive antigen test combined with Covid-19 symptoms or exposure to a positive case.

The seven-day positivity rate — the percent of PCR tests that came back positive — hit a record-setting 7.3%, the department reported, up from a recent high of 5.6%. However, Health Commissioner Mark Levine said Tuesday that the positivity rate may be skewed upward because asymptomatic Vermonters are opting for antigen tests over PCR tests.

Still, the rise in cases has been predicted for weeks as the more infectious Omicron variant rips through the country. Cases across the United States are up 153% from two weeks ago, the New York Times reported. 

Mike Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation, said Tuesday that cases were expected to increase in the next four weeks because of the Omicron variant and holiday spread.

Last year’s holiday season led to a similar increase in cases, but Vermont’s case rate started at a much lower baseline and rose less in the days following Christmas. 

Hospitalizations in Vermont have been relatively stable compared to cases. Fifty-six Vermonters are currently hospitalized with the virus, including 19 in intensive care units, the Department of Health reported. That’s similar to the average number of hospitalizations in the past week.

The Omicron variant has overall led to more mild illnesses compared to the Delta variant, and is less likely to lead to hospitalization, state health officials said Tuesday. Data on severe illnesses also generally lags behind case rates, as it takes time for those cases to develop to the point where a patient needs hospitalization.

Speaking on “The Vermont Conversation with David Goodman” Wednesday, Levine said the state was “really making a significant effort to distract people from case numbers.” Given that Omicron appears milder than earlier variants, he argued, it’s more important to focus on serious cases and whether Vermont’s health care system can manage them.

“Focusing on cases makes it look like some wildfire’s wildly out of control,” Levine said. “But the reality is, if more people than not are getting colds and mild flu-like symptoms and are better in a few days, that’s adding to the immunity of the population at large.”

The state reported three more deaths on Thursday, bringing December’s total to 53. One of those who died was in their 30s, according to department data.

December 2021 remains the second-deadliest month of the pandemic, topped only by December 2020, when 71 people died.

In total, 471 Vermonters have died since the beginning of the pandemic.

The state does not plan to update its Covid dashboard from Friday, Dec. 31, through Sunday, Jan. 2, according to the Department of Health’s website. Case counts from those days will be reported Monday. 

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Erin Petenko

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