MONTPELIER — The state Department of Health will begin setting up COVID-19 vaccine appointments for Vermonters 70 and older on Tuesday morning, as the state continues to pursue its goal of vaccinations for its 125,000 residents 65 and older by spring.
That announcement was made Friday as state health officials and Gov. Phil Scott reported that 85 percent of the estimated 49,000 Vermonters age 75 or older have either scheduled an appointment or received the first of two vaccine doses.
Until now, only health care workers and those age 75 or older have been eligible to be vaccinated.
According to the department, going online to healthvermont.gov/MyVaccine is the fastest way to make an appointment. Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said there are enough slots at sites throughout Vermont for everyone who is eligible. Appointments can also be made by calling 855-722-7878.
Vermonters 70 and older can begin making appointments at 8:15 a.m. Tuesday, and residents can create an account for themselves at vermont.force.com/events/s/selfregistration any time.
Scott and Smith again defended the age banding approach for those above 65 as the best way to methodically vaccinate residents without “overpromising and underdelivering.”
“We have a moral obligation to preserve the lives and take care of those who have taken care of us,” Scott said.
The state also announced that school music activities, which have long been delayed due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19, may resume under guidelines the Agency of Education plans to publish next week. That includes musical instruments and singing, with time limits, masking, social distancing and ventilation requirements in place, and no audiences for performances.
“The fact is, denying kids the activities they love is causing them real harm,” Scott said during this twice-weekly coronavirus briefing. “Some have spent almost a year with little or no contact with their friends and no sense of normalcy in their routines. We can’t ignore the impact this has had on them. And as we heard from pediatricians, they’re not OK, and we shouldn’t be OK with that either.”
“When my public health experts tell me they’re comfortable giving kids a chance to do some normal activities with mitigation measures in place to limit risk, then I’m going to do it, because our kids are in need,” Scott said.
As schools move into the recovery phase of the pandemic, “enabling these types of activities will become a key strategy for addressing the social and emotional needs of our students,” Education Secretary Daniel French said. “It will go a long way in restoring a sense of normalcy in our lives.”
French said Vermont has “a special responsibility” to try to do more for its students, given its success in fighting the pandemic, and said music is “essential to the well-being and academic success of our students.”
“In the early phases of the pandemic Vermont benefited greatly from the hard lessons learned from other countries and states that were more adversely impacted,” French said. “It’s now our turn, our responsibility to show others how to recover from the pandemic and to restore normalcy in the lives of our students by returning to more in-person education and in-person activities like music and the arts.”
Guidance for bringing back other performing arts and theater will be considered next, French said.
Earlier this week, the Taconic & Green Regional School District Board wrote a letter to French and Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine, saying that the state should prioritize teachers for vaccination when supplies make that possible. Doing so would make it possible for schools to return to full in-person instruction in April, and address staffing shortages brought on by the pandemic.
French, who formerly was superintendent of the schools that became the Taconic & Green under an Act 46 merger, said he responded by thanking the district for its advocacy. “As we’ve been fairly clear, our strategy for vaccination is really determined right now on limited supply,” French said, but added that an increase in supply could lead to change.
As of Friday, the state Department of Health was reporting 162 new cases of COVID-19, with 47 people hospitalized and 11 in intensive care.
Levine said he remains concerned about the level of transmission in Bennington, Rutland and Franklin counties. Bennington County has had 244 cases and 51 active outbreaks in the past 14 days, he said, and Levine said there are signs “there is significant community transmission” of the virus.
Rutland County has had 306 cases and 83 active outbreaks in the past 14 days, and Franklin County — north of Burlington — has had 244 cases and 68 active outbreaks, Levine said.
Levine urged residents of those counties to take advantage of increased testing opportunities and double down on wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. He thanked the town of Manchester, and Bromley and Stratton ski areas, for helping to increase testing in the Northshire.