MONTPELIER — With recent COVID-19 case counts in Vermont being some of the highest in the pandemic, officials are unsure if numbers might begin to go down soon.
At his weekly news conference Tuesday, Gov. Phil Scott spoke of a resolved IT issue that created confusion on daily case counts reported by the Department of Health from Sept. 11 to 15. Some cases that should have been reported earlier were delayed, he said.
“That does make day-to-day projection a little murky,” he said.
Daily case counts for Vermont were in the 100’s and 200’s last week, he said. Such high numbers haven’t been reported since the spring.
Nationally, cases have decreased by about 22 percent in the last seven days and hospitalizations went down by about 5.7 percent. But the state’s seven-day average increased by 27 percent since the start of Labor Day weekend.
Michael Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation, said interactions during the holiday weekend could have caused an uptick. He also suggested the start of school might have played a role.
Hospitalizations increased slightly but are still below the state’s peak, Scott said. He recalled days in February where hospitalizations reached the mid 60s.
As of Monday, 47 people were hospitalized in Vermont with COVID-19. Scott said 46 of them were adults and 35 were eligible for vaccination but had not opted for it.
Seemingly responding to calls from legislators and the public to bring back COVID-19 restrictions or guidelines, Scott said there had been negative impacts of broad restrictions on businesses, the elderly who are isolated and children who struggled with remote learning. He pointed out every school but one in the state has a mask mandate and the state is mandating its employees to be vaccinated.
So far, about 70 percent of about 8,000 workers employed by the state have attested to being vaccinated. About 87.4 percent of eligible Vermonters have begun or completed the vaccination process and an additional 2,188 residents joined the ranks last week.
In order for a mask mandate to return, Scott would need to declare a state of emergency again. Vermont “can’t be in a perpetual state of emergency,” he said.
“It sets a dangerous precedent,” he said. “It would be an abuse of my authority given that vaccines have proven to be so effective.”
Scott said he would consider declaring another state of emergency during the pandemic if capacity at health care facilities becomes threatened.
Pieciak said the COVID-19 pandemic is now the deadliest pandemic in United States history as it surpassed the 1918 flu pandemic this week with more than 676,000 deaths attributed to the virus.
“We estimate that the availability of the vaccine has saved 520 lives here in Vermont,” he said.
According to data, the case rate for those not fully vaccinated in Vermont increased by 21 percent in the last week while the fully vaccinated rate went up by about 7 percent.
COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care facilities currently involve 136 cases, including 30 at Vernon Green Nursing Home, 12 at Vernon Hall Assisted Living, 17 at Vermont Veterans’ Home in Bennington, 15 at Centers for Living and Rehab in Bennington, and 10 at Equinox Terrace in Manchester.
Secretary of Education Dan French announced a pilot program where students can take home PCR or polymerase chain reaction testing kits and either return them to the school or send them to the lab. Windham Southeast Supervisory Union in Brattleboro and Bennington Rutland Supervisory Union in Sunderland are participating.
Mike Smith, secretary of the Agency of Human Services, expects a decision could come later this week on whether booster shots should be administered to recipients of the Pfizer vaccine who are 65 and older or those who 16 and older and are at a higher risk of becoming infected with COVID-19. He anticipates registration for boosters could begin a day after federal approval.
“We have been actively planning for those who may qualify for boosters, making some assumptions so we could be ready when approval comes through,” he said.