MONTPELIER — Vermont has seen COVID-19 cases continue to rise, with a spike in positive COVID-19 tests in October, averaging 20 cases per day over the past week. According to the New York Times, this is an increase of 132 percent from the average two weeks earlier.
At St. Michael’s College in Colchester, 28 active cases have been identified, 140 of the 1,500 people on campus are being quarantined, and all in-person activities have been cancelled. On Saturday, the college plans to test all on-campus students.
Another seven cases have been traced to a wedding at Boyden Farm in Cambridge and another 25 cases have been reported at 19 different schools in the state.
And then there is the outbreak among hockey players and their friends and families, now up to 43 cases.
“The ripple effect of the outbreak has impacted several schools, workplaces and health centers across the state,” said Gov. Phil Scott, during his Tuesday morning news conference.
Scott noted the state believes the outbreak began with a group gathering and not on-ice activity at the Central Vermont Memorial Civic Center. He said the common denominator among those infected appeared to be not taking the recommended precautions and traveling out of state without following the state’s travel guidance.
“This is travel by Vermonters, not out-of-state visitors,” said Scott, who said this is an important lesson in advance of the coming holidays.
“Be smart about any gathering you go to,” he said, which includes paying attention to whether people are wearing masks, if there is enough room to spread out and if everyone is following the travel guidelines.
“If the answer to any of these is no, consider skipping,” said Scott. “It may not be worth the risk.”
Despite the increase in cases in Vermont and despite increases in neighboring states having reduced the number of counties Vermonters can travel to without quarantining upon return, Michael S. Pieciak, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation, said Vermont’s positivity rate remains low, at 1 percent. This compares to rates between 4 and 6 percent across the rest of the country.
At the beginning of the pandemic, said Pieciak, positivity rates in Vermont fluctuated between 10 and 15 percent.
Pieciak also noted that Vermont has not seen a COVID related death since July 28. Since the pandemic began, 58 Vermonters have died from the coronavirus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, across the country there have been 224,601 deaths related to the virus since the beginning of the pandemic.
“We can get [the rate] down again based on our own individual actions,” said Pieciak, who said if nothing changes, the rate will increase.
But Pieciak noted that Vermonters responded early in the pandemic to drive the numbers down and they can do so again.
“It’s in our own hands to make this forecast not a reality.”
And now, he said, with the holidays approaching, it’s vitally important to stick to health and safety guidelines.
Dr. Mark Levine, the commissioner of the Department of Health, said the recent spread of the virus should be “a wakeup call for all of us.”
He warned that even modest-sized gatherings can be dangerous if people are not complying with safety guidelines.
“The nation and even the immediate region could be labeled as dangerous right now,” said Levine.
Levine said your holiday dinner table should not so large that it can be filled with multiple people from multiple households or friends and families from other locations around the country.
“That doesn’t pass the common sense test during a pandemic,” said Levine.
Levine also warned families that if your child is returning home from college for the holidays, they will have to quarantine, even if they have tested negative.
“The day you have a negative test is the day you had a negative test,” he said. “It’s not predictive of the next day or the next day ... If you are coming from a zone that has a higher prevalence ... it doesn’t matter if you had a negative 72-hour test, you could still be incubating the virus.”
However, Levine had some good news for kids and their parents, saying he was “fully in favor of trick or treating,” as long as everyone maintains physical distancing and avoids crowded spaces.
“If you’re going out, wear a mask like the ones you wear to the store and make sure the kids wear them as well,” he said.
He also recommended that folks giving out candy set up a table with the candy on it so they can maintain physical spacing while enjoying the costumes.
During the news conference, Scott also announced a vaccine trial at the UVM Medical Center and the Vaccine Testing Center at the UVM’s Larner College of Medicine.
The trial involves a vaccine developed by Oxford University and manufactured by AstraZeneca and will track the safety and effectiveness of the investigational vaccine. Approximately 30,000 participants from the United States will take part in this study, including at least 250 volunteers from Vermont, northern New York and New Hampshire.
Those who may be eligible to take part in the study include people who are 18 years of age or older, with a special emphasis on individuals over 65 years of age, are in good or stable health, even with an underlying medical condition as long as the condition is stable); and have an increased risk of being symptomatic.
Participants will be randomly assigned to receive either two injections of the investigational vaccine or a placebo.
The study will last approximately two years and includes three parts — screening, study treatment (vaccination or placebo) and follow-up.
Participants will be compensated for their time. Anyone interested in participating in the trial can find more information at UVMHealth.org/COVIDStudy or by calling 802-847-7339.
Bob Audette can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.