VDH: COVID-19 cases fall back to 260, no deaths

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VDH: COVID-19 cases fall back to 260, no deaths

Sun, 12/12/2021 - 8:07am -- tim

by Timothy McQuiston, Vermont Business Magazine The Vermont Department of Health on Saturday reported 260 new cases of COVID-19, after Friday's record of 740 cases. All of the highest case counts since the beginning of the pandemic have occurred since November 3, 2021. Timing of when tests are taken and when results come back has affected daily totals, but there has been a post-Thanksgiving surge in cases in Vermont.

Hospitalizations were 76 (down two) after breaking its one-day record Wednesday with 92 statewide. ICU stays, which also have been elevated, were 21 (down three). The one-day record there was set last Tuesday (31).

Cases Friday were especially high in Windsor (99) and Rutland (90) counties and on Saturday were down to 36 and 32; Franklin County had 32, Bennington County had 30 and Chittenden County had 45.

In the last seven days, Bennington and Rutland have the most cases per capita, while Franklin and Windsor have reported high cases counts the last few days.

Bennington (75%) and Rutland (76%) counties are about average rate of vaccination (76% statewide or 594,946 Vermonters), with Grande Isle (82%), Chittenden (81%), and Washington (80%) highest of Vermonters 5+ who have completed vaccination. 

The Northeast Kingdom has relatively higher case counts and lower vaccination rates. Essex County has the lowest rate at 57%, Orleans is 68% and Caledonia is 70%).

The four highest cases per capita since the beginning of the pandemic are in Orleans, Bennington, Essex and Rutland counties.

Cases in the last two weeks have been especially high in Rutland and Bennington counties.

The VDH also today no additional COVID-related death, which held at 429 statewide. 

There were 50 COVID-19 related fatalities in Vermont in September 2021, and 44 deaths in October, which were the second- and the third-worst months on record (December 2020, 71). There were 38 fatalities in November and 15 so far in December. (Monthly death totals can be adjusted depending on more data).

Recent fatalities had all been among Vermonters 50 and older until Tuesday's report (one death in the 40-49 age band), with most fatalities in the oldest age band. VDH reported another death in the 40-49 age band Thursday. These are the first fatalities for anyone under 50 in over a month. The oldest age band has had the highest number of deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, despite having by far the fewest number of total cases. 

The rate of fatalities by month has slowed even as cases have increased, as nearly all of the most vulnerable Vermonters have been fully vaccinated.

Vermont has the lowest COVID fatality rate in the nation (67 per 100,000 residents). Hawaii (73) is second lowest. Mississippi (346) and Alabama (330) have the highest fatality rates. SEE FULL LIST BELOW.

Serious COVID illnesses have largely been driven by those who are not fully vaccinated. Governor Scott and Health Commissioner Dr Levine at the governor's weekly media briefing Tuesday continued to urge Vermonters to get fully vaccinated (including a booster when eligible). Scott calls the current surge "a pandemic of the unvaccinated." Those cases tend to be both a higher percentage of total cases and with more serious outcomes.

In response to the surge in hospitalizations, the UVM Medical Center in Burlington is also adding 10 COVID and five ICU beds (transferred from the operating room which could delay elective surgeries) and Central Vermont Hospital in Berlin is adding three COVID beds. As possible, Vermont hospitals having been working to transfer non-acute patients to long-term care or rehab facilities to free-up space.

UVMMC also has tightened visitation. This includes some limitations on number of visitors and a closing of all the inpatient waiting rooms (the main hospital waiting area will remain open). Masking is also universal, including for those visitors sleeping over. The new policy goes into effect December 8.

Still, there is still ICU capacity and most of the ICU stays in Vermont are non-COVID. He said people are coming to the hospitals sicker from other chronic diseases which have progressed to dangerous levels. He believes that people may have put off getting treated or going to the hospital earlier because of COVID and the fear of going to the hospital where COVID patients were being treated.

Health Commissioner Dr Mark Levine said November 30 that case counts have been up and down since the Thanksgiving holiday as there had been fewer people seeking to be tested. Now people are back to getting tested. Dr Levine has been concerned that the holiday would lead to more transmission of the coronavirus, which appears now to be the situation.

The trend line in 2021 post-Thanksgiving shows a spike similar to 2020, but starting at a much higher level and not falling back as it did last year.

Health officials anticipate that COVID cases in December will look more like the relatively high numbers earlier in November, as there is still a substantial amount of transmission going on. The highest daily cases during the entire pandemic have come over the last month, following from the Delta variant surge that began in July.

Dr Levine noted that transmission is frequently coming at small indoor gatherings in which people are close together for long periods of time, often without masks, as at Thanksgiving or weddings or funerals or parties. And stay home if you're sick.

Also, Dr Levine said there have been no identified cases associated with the new Omicron COVID variant in Vermont, but it is in Massachusetts and New York.

As well as across Europe, Omicron also has been identified in Canada. Some reports suggest it may induce a milder form of COVID-19, at least for those already vaccinated. But more data needs to come in to determine its effects.

The Legislature held a special session November 22 to pass a bill allowing local towns and cities to enact their own mask mandates. Governor Scott reluctantly called the session to address that issue. Legislative leaders had been clamoring instead for a statewide mask mandate in response to the recent surge in COVID cases. Scott has balked at that but held out this option as an "olive branch" to legislative leaders. He signed the bill into law November 23.

Several towns have already passed a local mask mandate.

​In a practical sense, Scott said it wouldn't work. Those who are determined not to follow health guidance now, nor get vaccinated, likely would not adhere to a mask mandate anyway. Similar situations in other states prove that point, Scott said. 

He added that the goal of his administration during the pandemic has been to protect the health care system, which, he said, has been successful. Even as cases recently surged, hospitalizations and deaths have increased but at a much slower rate. 

Reported cases have tended to ramp up later in the week as people get tested and results come back. Other states have reduced testing. Vermont has by far the highest testing rate in the nation.

Those who are unvaccinated are some 15 times more likely than those who are fully vaccinated to be hospitalized if they contract COVID.

Vermont is a national leader in its vaccination rate, testing rate, hospitalization rate and death rate.

Vermont has the highest rate of vaccination for those 65 and over. 

Human Services Secretary Mike Smith, who is retiring at the end of the year, noted Tuesday that over 21,000 children 5-11 have either begun their vaccine regimen or have signed up. This is about 47 percent of that population. However, the rate of new sign ups have slowed. Still, this is the highest rate in the nation.


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Emergency Housing

Human Services Secretary Mike Smith told VBM in November that the state is seeking to expand shelter space. The pandemic has exacerbated both the need to emergency housing during bad weather and ongoing housing from the homeless.

Smith said in an email: 

"Adverse Weather:

"The Department for Children and Families announced last week that the Adverse Weather Conditions policy has been updated. The Adverse Weather Conditions policy annually relaxes eligibility for the GA Emergency Housing program. This year, from November 22 to March 1, the policy will be implemented without weather conditions criteria, allowing for enhanced predictability during the coldest months. Individuals who meet income, resource eligibility, and have not voluntarily left appropriate housing, will no longer have to meet categorical eligibility. They will be housed through the cold weather season even in excess of the 84-day limit. From now until November 22 and after March 1, the Adverse Weather Conditions policy will be in effect but dependent on weather conditions. 

"Shelter Space:

"DCF is actively working with the Department of Buildings and General Services (BGS) to identify possible vacant facilities that may be leased to provide much needed emergency shelter capacity. This could include unused dorms or other sites.  Once located, the State would then partner with community organizations to operate emergency shelters in these locations. The search is currently focused in counties with the greatest capacity concerns.  Identifying and partnering to expand shelter space is an important solution to the immediate needs of Vermonters experiencing homelessness. Ultimately, permanent housing solutions, not simply emergency housing and shelters, are needed."

On November 10, the Department for Children and Families announced that, to enhance predictability and stability for program participants, the Adverse Weather Conditions policy for the General Assistance Emergency Housing Program will be applied for a 100-day period from November 22, 2021, through March 1, 2022.

The Adverse Weather Conditions policy has historically been applied on a day-by-day basis, based on weather forecasts and conditions. To reduce the need for beneficiaries of the program to reapply on a daily basis, the State will open eligibility during this time period, which is historically when it sees the most use.

During this period, Vermonters will have to meet eligibility criteria, which include:

  • an urgent need for housing,
  • income guidelines, and
  • a lack of adequate financial resources available to secure housing on their own.

However, enhanced predictability through the Adverse Weather Conditions policy will be achieved through the following flexibilities

Qualifying for temporary shelter will not depend on the day-to-day weather conditions.

People will not have to fit into one of the categories below to get assistance:

  • individual over 60 or with a disability,
  • person fleeing domestic violence, 
  • family with children or pregnant, or
  • lost housing due to a natural disaster (e.g., flood, fire, or hurricane).

Shelter space will be utilized as a first option for individuals – unless there are safety concerns related to domestic violence.

Beginning on March 2, 2022, Adverse Weather Conditions will remain in effect but will revert to the traditional weather conditions for shelter criteria.

Before the pandemic, the General Assistance Emergency Housing Program typically served about 250 individuals on any given night. Current eligibility is significantly expanded from pre-pandemic standards, and the program currently serves over 1,500 people. The Adverse Weather Condition policy allows people who do not meet current categorical eligibility to use the program, provided they meet the other eligibility requirements.

The General Assistance Emergency housing program is not an ideal setting for people experiencing homelessness. The State and DCF continue to work to help transition people who are in the program into stable, long-term housing, which is better for the health and safety of Vermonters.

To learn more go to: https://dcf.vermont.gov/benefits/EA-GA.

COVID Cases

Governor Scott and Health Commissioner Mark Levine are emphasizing not only vaccinations and boosters, but the use of rapid antigen testing, especially for those for are visiting or being visited for the holidays. Scott said rapid testing of COVID could be with us for the foreseeable future, even as the pandemic turns into an endemic.

Cases have been more prevalent in younger people, with 5-11 having the highest rate. But hospitalizations and deaths are most common among older people. Recent cases at Long Term Care facilities are down.

See locations of vaccine clinics and case dashboards below.

 

Governor Scott responds to record case count: Get vaccinated, protect others


 

Vermont launches 5-11 vaccination drive


Some of the recent surge also could be due to a waning of immunization. Vermonters and New Englanders were among the first to get vaccinated, the governor said, and so the immunity may be wearing off.

Dr Levine continues to urge Vermonters to get their booster dose, especially if they're over 65. The immunity appears to wane over time and older Vermonters and those immunocompromised were among the first vaccinated last winter.

Dr Levine and Governor Scott have said that if you feel at all at risk of getting COVID, you should get a booster.

The elderly have been especially vulnerable to COVID, with the vast majority of fatalities coming among those 80 and over, while having by far the fewest number of infections for any age band.

The CDC is also allowing people to change/mix and match vaccines.

Vermont has the highest booster rate in the US. And people who have been vaccinated can mix and match their boosters. Governor Scott, who originally received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, told VBM November 3 that he opted for the Moderna vaccine for his booster.

Dr Rebecca Bell, President, Vermont Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, at the governor's press conference November 2, sought to alleviate parents' fears.

She said the efficacy of this lower dose children's vaccine is still 91 percent. And unlike with adults, children in the control group did not show any of the flu-like symptoms that some adults have experienced. 

Parents should also take comfort that a vaccinated child would no longer have to quarantine if they were a close contact to someone that tested positive. This issue has kept many kids out of school even though they never contracted COVID.

Education Secretary Dan French announced in late October that the state was once again delaying the roll out of the 80 percent rule for ending school mask mandates. It will not happen go into effect until January 18, 2022, when students return to school after the Martin Luther King Holiday break.

The governor and his staff reiterated that these are recommendations only, because there is no State of Emergency, not mandates. The local school districts, like local businesses and individuals, must make their own rules.

As the Delta variant continues to be active in Vermont, Governor Scott is calling on all Vermonters to act responsibly.

See Vaccination & COVID-19 Dashboards & Vaccination Sites Table Below

Addison County

New Cases: 17

Recent Cases 14 days: 382

Bennington County

New Cases: 30

Recent Cases 14 days: 631

Caledonia County

New Cases: 8

Recent Cases 14 days: 411

Chittenden County

New Cases: 45

Recent Cases 14 days: 997

Essex County

New Cases: 1

Recent Cases 14 days: 83

Franklin County

New Cases: 32

Recent Cases 14 days: 492

Grand Isle County

New Cases: 5

Recent Cases 14 days: 48

Lamoille County

New Cases: 6

Recent Cases 14 days: 230

Orange County

New Cases: 4

Recent Cases 14 days: 193

Orleans County

New Cases: 1

Recent Cases 14 days: 233

Pending Validation

New Cases: 10

Recent Cases 14 days: 21

Rutland County

New Cases: 32

Recent Cases 14 days: 874

Washington County

New Cases: 15

Recent Cases 14 days: 393

Windham County

New Cases: 18

Recent Cases 14 days: 347

Windsor County

New Cases: 36

Recent Cases 14 days: 775

Health Commission Mark Levine, Governor Scott and Human Services Secretary Mike Smith all have urged that everyone who is eligible to get a vaccine to get one now, to get a booster now and to wear a mask while at an indoor gathering.

Governor Scott said the data shows that virus transmission with Delta is occurring at things like weddings and baby showers and birthday parties, small and medium events where people are gathered for a period of time. It is not happening while visiting a convenience store or other types of places where you are in an out, he said. Nor is it happening at a high rate at outdoor gathering events.

Meanwhile, the state is ramping up antigen testing in schools to keep kids in school who otherwise would be sent home if there were a close contact of someone who tests positive. Children now have a higher rate of infection than adults.

As of October 1, many more Vermonters can now schedule and receive their vaccine booster shots. He said there is plenty of vaccine supply.

“We know vaccines are safe and effective, and these additional doses add even more protection. So, I encourage anyone who is eligible to register for your booster today,” said Governor Scott. “At the same time, we continue to urge those who have not yet gotten their first dose to get vaccinated. The data shows we are now in a pandemic of the unvaccinated, and vaccines are the best way to protect yourself, friends and family, and to make sure we continue moving forward from the pandemic.”

Addition of Rapid Testing Tools Will Help Keep More Kids in School

COVID-19 TESTING - TEST TO STAY

When a student or staff member with COVID-19 is present in school during their infectious period, the school may implement Test to Stay for unvaccinated close contacts. 

Who can participate?

Unvaccinated, asymptomatic students (ages 5 and up) and staff who are close contacts of a positive COVID-19 case.  

When should we use Test to Stay? 

When a student or staff member with COVID-19 is present in school during their infectious period, the school may implement Test to Stay for unvaccinated close contacts. When a case is identified during the school day, the following should occur: 

  1. The school should conduct contact tracing to identify close contacts. 
  2. Unvaccinated students and staff close contacts finish the school day as normal. 
  3. The following day, unvaccinated close contacts that do not participate in Test to Stay must quarantine (stay home from school). Unvaccinated close contacts who participate in Test to Stay will come to school as normal, but must be tested before beginning the school day.
    • Schools may house students in a designated area, where they will not mix with students and staff who are not testing until they have their results.  
    • Students may ride the bus to school, but must remain masked at all times, per federal regulations. If a student receives a positive antigen test, it will be the responsibility of the parent/guardian to pick the student up from school and they will not be permitted to ride the bus home, as they are now considered a positive COVID-19 case. 
  4. Close contacts will receive an antigen test until 7 days have elapsed from the date of last exposure to the case. 
  5. While students/staff are participating in Test to Stay antigen testing they should quarantine while outside of school, including over the weekend. 

Siblings of positive cases should be sent home and follow Protocols for Responding to COVID-19 Scenarios (Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education). 

Scenario 1 – Individual is symptomatic, antigen test negative

When a student or staff member is symptomatic, they will get an antigen test. If the antigen test comes back negative:

  • the individual should still be sent home and receive a confirmatory in-school response PCR test before they leave school. If an in-school test in unavailable, the school may provide a Take Home PCR Test, (see test type 3) to be self-administered at home and either mailed that same day to the lab via UPS or other courier service, or returned to the school for shipping
  • close contacts do not need to be identified yet, and other students and staff members will continue their day as normal
  • if the symptomatic individual’s PCR test comes back positive/, the school commences a Test to Stay Program for unvaccinated close contacts who chose to participate until seven days post exposure
  • If the PCR test comes back negative, no antigen testing is necessary
Scenario 2- Individual is symptomatic, antigen test positive

When a student or staff member is symptomatic, they will get an antigen test. If the antigen test comes back positive:

  • the individual should be sent home and go into isolation for 10 days
  • Test to Stay should start for unvaccinated close contacts the next day
  • antigen testing should continue for 7 days since the date of last exposure
Scenario 3 – Procedures upon learning of a positive PCR result.

When a student or staff member receives a positive test result, regardless of whether they are symptomatic or not:

  • the individual should be sent home (or not come to school) and go into isolation for 10 days
  • Test to Stay should start for unvaccinated close contacts the next day
  • antigen testing should continue for 7 days since the date of last exposure
How are results reported? 
  • Schools will be using SimpleReport for all rapid antigen tests. It can accommodate all antigen test types and links directly to VDH so that test results to do not need to be reported separately
  • SimpleReport is a free web tool created by the CDC that helps make COVID-19 rapid testing and reporting easier for schools
  • More information about the registration process is available in the Test to Stay Onboarding Checklist. Please use this guide to register and onboard.  
  • Please note that there is an option to do a bulk upload of participant data, rather than asking families to preregister. 
  • This reporting tool includes the option for test results to be sent in real time via text or email to parents/guardians. 
Test Type:
  • Rapid antigen tests. Both CLIA and non-CLIA waivered test kits may be available depending on the supply chain.
  •  Test kits are nasal swabs, which can be self-administered by individuals ages 15 and up. An adult must collect the swab for students ages 5 through 14.
Recommended Use Cases:
  • In elementary schools: classrooms and any additional close contacts
  • In middle and high schools with less than 80% of the eligible population vaccinated contract tracing should be done first to determine close contacts: 
    • If the close contact is vaccinated, then they would not participate in TTS and will not be required to quarantine. Instead, it is recommended that they complete a PCR test 3-5 days after their exposure
    • If the close contact is unvaccinated and asymptomatic, then they can participate in TTS or opt out and follow the protocols for quarantine either with or without a PCR test on day 7. 
  • Not recommended for middle and high schools where more than 80% of the eligible population is vaccinated.  

Information can be found on the Agency of Education’s COVID-19 Testing Family Resources webpage and COVID-19 Response Testing At-A-Glance.

Booster Shots

Get extra protection with a booster shot if you are 18 or older and you received your

  • second dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine at least six months ago, or
  • Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago.

It's especially important for anyone 65 or older to get a booster. For Pfizer and Moderna boosters, you should get a booster if you are under 65 and feel at risk of getting COVID-19. The CDC defines risk as:

  • having certain medical conditions, including mental health conditions,
  • working in a job that increases your risk of COVID-19 because you are indoors, exposed to the public and to other workers,
  • living in a long-term care facility, group home, college dormitory or other congregate setting, or
  • if you are Black, Indigenous or a person of color (BIPOC) or live with someone who is BIPOC

More ways to get your free vaccine:

Make an appointment for a free vaccine

You can also walk-in at CVS, Hannaford Food and Drug, Walmart, Walgreens, Price Chopper/Market 32, Rite Aid, Shaw’s Supermarket, or Costco or get an appointment with Kinney DrugsCVSWalgreens, Northfield Pharmacy, or UVMMC Outpatient Pharmacies.

If you are 12 to 17 years old, look for clinics that offer the Pfizer vaccine and bring a parent or guardian with you. For children ages 5-11, look for a clinic that offers Pfizer (Ages 5-11). Please make an appointment for your shot. If you walk in to a clinic without an appointment, you are unlikely to get a vaccine.

ASL interpretation is available by video at all state-run vaccination clinics.

There will be first, second and booster doses for the vaccine type that is available at the clinic site you choose. Check the “Vaccine Type” column to see if the site has Pfizer (Ages 5-11), Pfizer (Ages 12+), Moderna or Johnson & Johnson.

Vaccination & COVID-19 Dashboards 

Statistic: Death rates from coronavirus (COVID-19) in the United States as of December 3, 2021, by state (per 100,000 people) | Statista
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