VDH: COVID cases spike to near 600 on worst day

Vermont Business Magazine The Vermont Department of Health is reporting today that COVID-19 cases spiked to 591, which is by far the most on record. After a surge in cases last week, cases had been relatively quiet, with 201 Wednesday, 189 Tuesday and 235 Monday. Last week's elevated case counts went through Sunday (376 cases), the third highest on record. Cases last Friday were 377 and there were 487 cases last Thursday, which was the previous all-time record. The 13 worst days have all come since mid-September, following from the Delta variant surge that began in July.

Vermont officials were concerned that there would be a post-Halloween spike in cases, as there was last year. Halloween parties were blamed on an outbreak at St Michael's College.

Legislative leaders renewed their calls today for Governor Scott to renew a mask mandate. The governor so far has resisted doing so because he does not feel reinstituting a State of Emergency is appropriate at this time, as it was at the beginning of the pandemic. He also has said that he doubts that people would change their behaviors at this point. given that the mitigation measures like wearing a mask indoors, avoiding small gatherings indoors and getting vaccinated have been widely known for months.

The VDH also reported today three additional COVID-related deaths, which rose to 391 statewide.


Legislative leaders call for mask mandate as COVID cases set new record


There were 44 COVID-related deaths in Vermont in October, which is the third-worst month on record (December 2020, 71; September 2021, 50). There are 20 so far in November.

Recent fatalities have all been among Vermonters 50 and older, with most in the oldest age band, which has been the case since the beginning of the pandemic. All three reported Tuesday were in the 80+ age band.

Hospitalizations today were 53 today (up three) and ICU visits were 14 (up two).

Hospitalizations have increased the last few weeks, but at a slower rate than total cases. 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. Notably, recent cases at Long Term Care facilities are down.

See locations of vaccine clinics and case dashboards below.

Case counts among the counties were high across the state, with the exception of Addison, Grand Isle and Lamoille counties.

Cases have been especially high in the Northeast Kingdom, which has had elevated case rates in recent weeks. Bennington and Rutland also have seen increases recently. Case were also especially high in Chittenden, Franklin and Orleans counties.

COVID-19 cases in Vermont have increased 42% over last 7 days and increased 55% over last 14 days. And Vermont had the 12th-highest rate of new COVID-19 cases over the last week. These were some the major data points at Governor Scott's press briefing on Tuesday, November 9.

The governor has repeatedly said this is now "a pandemic of the unvaccinated," and said the transmission has been largely through smaller gatherings. Halloween parties at St Michael's College in Colchester, for instance, are blamed for a surge in cases there last week, even though the vaccination rate among college students is over 90 percent.

The governor again resisted issuing a State of Emergency in order to require another mask mandate in the state. He said that while cases are up, hospitalizations are not following suit and given current data and it does not appear like there will be a critical shortage of ICU beds.

He also doubted very much that those people who are not vaccinated and not following health guidance now would adhere to a mask mandate even if he were to issue one.

Meanwhile, the CDC gave final approval November 2 for Pfizer vaccines for children 5-11 (for vaccine information or to register CLICK HERE). Already in the 5-11 age band, 14,360 have either signed up or started their vaccine regimen, or about 30 percent of the 44,000 children in that range.

Governor Scott said the White House is sending more doses to Vermont, which so far has the highest uptake of any state. Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said there will be plenty of first and second doses available for all who sign up. The doses are a third of the strength of the adult dose and like the adult Pfizer regimen will require a followup shot for full immunity.


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


Based on record high cases this past week, Governor Phil Scott issued a statement last Thursday afternoon urging Vermonters to get vaccinated. He said in part, "The simple fact is, this pandemic is being driven by the unvaccinated, including 53,000 eligible adults. The three lowest vaccinated counties account for 25% of today’s cases, yet they only make up 10% of our state population. Unvaccinated Vermonters are up to 5 times as likely to contract COVID in Vermont and they account for 70-85% of our hospitalizations and ICU stays. Unvaccinated adults are directly contributing to the strain on our hospital capacity. Enough is enough, it’s time to step up and get vaccinated – something over 90% of your fellow Vermont adults have done."


Vermont launches 5-11 vaccination drive


Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Pieciak said both the case counts and fatalities have not shown dramatic reductions, as they have in other parts of the nation, particularly the South.

While the health experts do not understand exactly why this is, given Vermont's high vaccination rate, Pieciak said the three Northern New England states are all showing a similar pattern.

However, even southern New England is starting to show another increase in cases.

Some of this could be 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.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD, 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 (209 total deaths, while having by far the fewest number of infections for any age band.).

The state announced last Thursday night that boosters for Moderna (like already approved Pfizer, six months after second dose) and Johnson & Johnson (two months after first dose) would begin immediately. 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.

The Northeast Kingdom has the highest case rate of any region of the state, with Orleans County having the highest county rate, with over 1,000 cases per 10,000 residents. Bennington has the second highest rate with over 900 per 10,000.

Smith said the state will reinstitute pop up vaccination sites in the NEK to increase vaccination rates, which are the lowest in the state. See list of upcoming NEK clinics HERE and see below for statewide list of clinics.

COVID cases reported today were high in southern Vermont, with Bennington County alone reporting 34 and Rutland County 24.

But with all three boosters now available, vaccines for kids available and cases apparently declining, Governor Scott said Tuesday, "I'm more hopeful today than I have been in weeks."

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.

The new school guidance reads:

"To allow school districts time to calculate the percentage of currently eligible students who have received two doses of a two-dose vaccine, schools should require universal masking for all students and staff when indoors until January 18, 2022.

"Currently, all Vermonters ages 12 and older are eligible to be vaccinated.

"After January 18, 2022, masks should no longer be required for all those eligible for vaccination when the vaccination rate (two doses of a two-dose vaccine) among students is equal to or greater than 80% of the school’s currently eligible population.

"Masks should be required indoors for students younger than 12, who are not eligible to be vaccinated at this time.

"Masks, when required, may be removed when needed for instructional or operational purposes.

"Masks are currently required for all passengers on buses per federal regulation, regardless of age or vaccination status.

"Masks should not be required outdoors. Guidance will be updated when vaccine eligibility expands."

The state also released school sports guidance Tuesday.

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

Addison County

New Cases: 19

Recent Cases 14 days: 99

Bennington County

New Cases: 51

Recent Cases 14 days: 394

Caledonia County

New Cases: 40

Recent Cases 14 days: 247

Chittenden County

New Cases: 97

Recent Cases 14 days: 638

Essex County

New Cases: 8

Recent Cases 14 days: 96

Franklin County

New Cases: 72

Recent Cases 14 days: 367

Grand Isle County

New Cases: 1

Recent Cases 14 days: 18

Lamoille County

New Cases: 21

Recent Cases 14 days: 139

Orange County

New Cases: 17

Recent Cases 14 days: 178

Orleans County

New Cases: 63

Recent Cases 14 days: 308

Pending Validation

New Cases: 30

Recent Cases 14 days: 33

Rutland County

New Cases: 74

Recent Cases 14 days: 497

Washington County

New Cases: 39

Recent Cases 14 days: 304

Windham County

New Cases: 22

Recent Cases 14 days: 162

Windsor County

New Cases: 37

Recent Cases 14 days: 264

Most cases in Vermont are in the younger age groups with the 20-29 reporting the most, with nearly 7,300 total cases out of 37,100+, but only one death. The over 79 demographic has the fewest cases (just over 1,200) but by far the most fatalities with 188, or more than half the state total.

Financial Commissioner Michael Pieciak said Tuesday (SEE HIS FULL SLIDE DECK HERE) cases across the nation are falling fast and that the seven-day and 14-day averages in Vermont and the Northeast also are falling but at a slower rate. Vermont's seven-day infection rate is down15 percent. For the 14-day average, while overall it is down 2 percent for those who are fully vaccinated, it's up 9 percent for those who are not fully vaccinated (which includes the unvaccinated).

Cases in high vaccination regions of the country are not displaying the typical Delta variant pattern, as in India, of a spike followed by a steep drop off after a couple months.

In Vermont, Delta has shown slow growth and a long plateau. Health Commission Mark Levine suggested that the drop off here could be another couple of weeks off, but he frankly was not sure.

He and Governor Scott and Human Services Secretary Mike Smith all 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, sort of small and medium events where people are gathered for a period of time. It is not happening while visiting a convenience store or other type place where you are in an out, he said. Nor is it happening at outdoor gathering events.

Pieciak, in his COVID-19 Modeling presentation, said deaths seem to have slowed down a little as Delta has taken its toll. There have been 23 in October so far (as of the 21st)

Still, September was the second worst month for COVID-related deaths in Vermont since the beginning of the pandemic, with 45.

December 2020 was the worst with 71 and April 2020 was third worst with 35.

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.

Governor Scott and state officials are urging all those who are eligible now to get vaccinated or get a booster shot, to do so, in order to reduce community transmission of the novel coronavirus (see clinic sites below).

As of October 1, many more Vermonters can now schedule and receive their Pfizer 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.”

Governor Scott said that the state will take a very broad interpretation of eligibility.

"We've reflected on this," Scott said. "We're going to be quite lenient in terms of who should be included and if they'd like to have a booster we'd like to find a way for them to have it. So I expect that number is substantially higher at this point. So our interpretation of this will be, again, quite broad."

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

Here are the vaccination sites available this week:

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 Drugs, CVS, Walgreens, 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