Scott administration officials said Tuesday that the new omicron variant of COVID-19 has not been found in Vermont to date, although cases have been reported in all border states and in Canada.
In addition, Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Pieciak said that Wednesday marks the one-year anniversary of the first vaccination being delivered in Vermont. Over that year, he said, mathematical modeling of infection and fatality rates indicate the vaccine has saved 930 lives.
Still, 436 Vermonters have lost their lives to the virus. “Any death is unfortunate,” Gov. Phil Scott said.
“Most of us are tired of talking about COVID-19,” Scott said. But, he added, “COVID will be part of our lives for quite some time. The virus is crafty and persistent, and it keeps spreading, mostly among the unvaccinated.”
Scott, Pieciak and others devoted the governor’s weekly press conference to a full-court press to persuade all Vermonters to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and receive a booster shot. While only about 5 percent of eligible Vermonters are unvaccinated, they comprise more than 70 percent of the COVID patients in hospital beds and ICUs across the state — at times at rates as high as 95 percent.
Those unvaccinated people are choosing to put themselves and others at risk, taking up precious hospital space and driving health care costs higher for everyone, Scott said.
In good news on the COVID front, officials said the various indicators — cases, hospitalizations and others — dipped this week, after climbing sharply in the aftermath of the Thanksgiving holiday. Pieciak noted that the Bennington County rate, which had been the highest in the state, has declined, although the numbers across Southern Vermont remain higher than other regions.
With more holidays on the horizon, “We are not anticipating cases will go down,” said Human Services Secretary Mike Smith.
Scott said his team will be meeting in the coming weeks with trade associations and employers to discuss mandatory vaccinations — a requirement the state has successfully implemented with its own workforce. He said a workplace vaccination requirement is important because people in these settings are spending 15 minutes or more in each other’s company — not just passing briefly — which increases the potential for exposure.
The state is also working to secure tens of thousands of at-home rapid tests to provide to Vermonters free of charge. Last week, the administration ordered insurance companies to reimburse for rapid tests. But, Scott said, that doesn’t ensure all are able to access the tests. He said he would have more information on that effort in the coming days.
Finally, the governor said, his administration will focus on ensuring more Vermonters receive their booster shots for additional security against the virus. Again, he said, more information on this effort will be coming in the near future.
Smith said unvaccinated Vermonters were 34 times more likely to die over last six weeks than those who are fully vaccinated and have received boosters. He said it’s clear that booster shots keep people out of the hospital and alive.
“We are spending considerable amounts of money and resources to accommodate those who are not vaccinated,” Smith said. “Frankly, it’s unfair to those who have done the right thing but now must pay for the action of those that aren’t vaccinated. I’m trying everything to convince Vermonters to please get vaccinated. It is simple and easy in this state. It is the most effective tool to fight the virus and protect your community.”
In other updates, the administration said cases hit a high of 104 on college campuses last week, largely because of an outbreak at Middlebury College. Cases have remained flat at long-term care facilities. Sixteen- and 17-year-olds are now eligible for the booster shot. More schools and public preschool programs are successfully using on-site testing to keep children in class.
In daily numbers, there were 237 new cases confirmed Tuesday, with 77 hospitalizations and 19 patients in ICUs; Bennington County reported 11 new cases, and Windham County had 25.