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A sign directs people to the COVID vaccination clinic at Grace Cottage Hospital in Townshend.

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MONTPELIER — The state on Tuesday outlined plans to step up vaccination of Vermonters who are Black, Indigenous and people of color.

“Our data shows that BIPOC Vermonters are more likely to get COVID-19 compared to white non-Hispanic Vermonters,” Dr. Mark Levine, Vermont’s health commissioner, said. “They have significantly higher hospitalization rates and rates of most chronic diseases, often related to issues of higher exposures to COVID due to types of employment and transportation issues.”

The state is also seeing significant disparities in the rate of vaccination among BIPOC Vermonters compared to white non-Hispanic Vermonters, he said.

“We can and must do better, not only in engagement, the building of trust, and reducing vaccine hesitancy, but in realizing better health outcomes,” Levine said.

Over the past month, the Health Department has been holding vaccine clinics for eligible Vermonters and members of their household who are among the groups at higher risk for COVID-19 due to language barriers, such as English Language Learners.

Beginning next week, the state plans to continue and extend that strategy to other BIPOC communities where an eligible Vermonter (who meets the age category, for example) will be allowed to bring other household members to be vaccinated, Levine said.

This policy will be statewide, he said.

Clinics will be arranged in coordination and with the support of community partners around the state. Information will be posted on the Department of Health website as clinic locations are established.

The number of new COVID-19 cases is increasing in Vermont, but the number of cases among older Vermonters and deaths continues to decline, officials said.

Statistics also show that the vaccination campaign that focused on older Vermonters first is producing results, with fewer cases in long-term care facilities, fewer hospitalizations, fewer patients in intensive care and fewer deaths.

Despite the recent increase in cases, officials expect the number of cases reported in the state to hold steady over the next several weeks and then decline as the state continues the vaccination program.

The state is estimating there will be seven to 15 deaths in March, down from 71 in December, 34 in January and 25 in February.

“We are concerned, but it seems to be at least steady and level and we do feel that our strategy as we continue to vaccinate those by age-band after we get through this high-risk category will be beneficial to the state,” Gov. Phil Scott said Tuesday during the twice-weekly virus briefing.

The statistics were released as state officials said they were moving to Thursday when people ages 16-54 with high-risk medical conditions will be able to register for vaccinations. The plan had been for that group to begin registering on March 15, but fewer people in the 55-64 category were registering than expected.

PRISON OUTBREAK

The Vermont Department of Corrections says an outbreak of the coronavirus at the Newport prison appears to be slowing down.

The department reported six new cases of COVID-19 in inmates and two new staff cases at Northern State Correctional Facility on Monday.

The outbreak started after a staff member and 21 inmates testing positive in testing on Feb. 23. Now there are 115 inmates cases and 11 staff cases. Twenty inmates were cleared to leave medical isolation on Saturday, the department said.

The prison has been in full lockdown since Feb. 25. More testing was done on Monday.

“It’s encouraging to see lower numbers in this round of testing at NSCF, and we’re hopeful this means our mitigation efforts are slowing the spread,” Corrections Commissioner Jim Baker said in a written statement.

Statewide, a total of 116 inmates and 14 staff were positive for the virus on Monday.

NUMBERS

On Tuesday, the Vermont Department of Health reported 87 new cases of the virus that causes COVID-19, bringing the statewide total since the pandemic began to nearly 16,300.

There were 30 people hospitalized across the state with COVID-19, including seven in intensive care.

The number of fatalities increased by three to a total of 211 since the pandemic began.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Vermont has risen over the past two weeks from 116.57 on Feb. 21 to 126.43 on March 7.

The latest average positivity rate in Vermont is 1.58 percent. State health departments are calculating positivity rate differently across the country, but for Vermont the AP calculates the rate by dividing new cases by test specimens using data from The COVID Tracking Project.

The seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate in Vermont has risen over the past two weeks from 1.48 percent on Feb. 21 to 1.58 percent on March 7.

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