Health Care

Covid levels ‘low’ on eve of holiday gatherings

Note: This story is more than a week old. Given how quickly the Covid-19 pandemic is evolving, we recommend that you read our latest coverage here.

Vermont’s Covid-19 levels remain “low,” according to the latest weekly surveillance update from the state Department of Health.

Most Vermont counties also have low Covid levels, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only Bennington County, which hit “high” Covid levels in October, reported “medium” Covid levels in the past week.

Covid levels are measured by a combination of hospital admissions, case rates and the percentage of hospital beds taken up by Covid patients.

The number of people admitted to Vermont hospitals for Covid has dropped since mid-October and averaged about five people per day in the past week, according to the department. Twenty-nine people were hospitalized for the virus as of Wednesday, including three in intensive care.

Case counts have also fallen, although case data is primarily based on PCR tests and does not include at-home antigen testing. The department reported 293 Covid cases in the past week, down from 385 the week before and more than 500 cases per week in late October.

The health department reported seven additional Covid deaths this week, raising November’s total to 11. In total, 770 people have died of Covid in Vermont since the beginning of the pandemic.

The health department also reported variant data through the end of October showing that BA.5, the dominant strain since July, continued to account for the vast majority of samples in the state.

However, CDC data through mid-November shows that for the New England region as a whole, BA.5 is no longer the dominant strain. Other Omicron subvariants such as BQ.1, BQ.1.1 and BF.7 have taken up an increasing percentage of strains in recent weeks. 

The XBB variant, which has been reported in New York, has not yet been detected in New England, according to the CDC. Infectious disease experts have expressed concern about that variant’s ability to evade immunity, but federal officials said Tuesday they are optimistic that the U.S. will avoid a winter surge, pointing to signs that the variant has not led to a rise in hospitalizations in other countries. 

The previous two Thanksgiving holidays were associated with a rise in Covid cases and hospitalizations, despite Gov. Phil Scott limiting multihousehold gatherings in 2020. Both were followed by an ever higher rise in cases after Christmas. 

This year, Vermont appears to be starting with a lower baseline of infection than in 2021, based on the percentage of emergency room visits with Covid symptoms reported by the health department. Vermont is also reporting fewer Covid hospitalizations than at this point in 2021.

Health officials still recommend taking some precautions before holiday gatherings, including staying up to date on Covid and flu vaccines, and staying home when sick. Experts are concerned about not only Covid, but other respiratory viruses that have recently resurged, such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and rhinovirus.

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Erin Petenko

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