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With vaccine on the way, Scott urges Vermonters to stay vigilant

Published: Dec. 4, 2020 at 6:46 AM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont Governor Phil Scott Friday said there is light at the end of the tunnel in the battle against the coronavirus and that the first doses of a vaccine are likely coming by the end of the month. But until then, he said Vermonters must continue to mask up, keep their distance, and not travel.

Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says about 5,800 of the first batch of Pfizer vaccine doses are expected to come to Vermont soon and the state could get 20,000 total doses of vaccine by the end of the year. Among those to get the first shots are long-term care facilities, per CDC panel recommendations. A best-case-scenario, he says, is that they will be given to residents and staff by Christmas or New Year’s. “So, the initial logistics are pretty easy. It’s health care workers -- across a spectrum of health care workers -- and it’s those who work and live in long-term care facilities,” Levine said. He says they’re already working with hospitals to get ready. And the federal government says it’s going to be getting long-term care residents and staff their shots on-site, with pharmacy partners.

So how will everyone else know when it’s their turn? Dr. Levine admits it’s murky. The federal government hasn’t officially set the next groups. It’ll likely be seniors and people with chronic compromising medical conditions. After that, people with public-facing jobs like teachers, grocery store workers, or transportation employees. He says there will be health department messaging through the media and doctors. “For a lot of those groups, there are going to be involvement of the primary care communities, since we have such an effective vaccination program already,” he said.

Getting the vaccine into long-term care soon is critical. Both of the state’s two new deaths reported Friday were in long term care, and the outbreak numbers are rising. In the eight locations listed by health officials, there were a total of 227 cases. The top two are Elderwood in Burlington with 71 cases and Rutland Health and Rehab with 57.

Friday was the first day in weeks those facilities had no new cases. That’s why Human Services Secretary Mike Smith says they’re doubling down on testing. “A new surveillance testing strategy will be outlined for long-term care facilities,” he said.

There will be increased weekly and daily testing for staff starting Monday at assisted living & residential care facilities using both antigen and PCR testing. And recommendations to test immediately when symptoms are present using rapid antigen testing.

And to combat rising cases in the community, Smith says they are planning on having 100 contact tracers in place by Monday, expand the health department call center, and launching a new text alert system to notify close contacts of exposures to COVID-19 by mid-next week. That will supplement but not replace traditional contact tracing.

As of Friday, Vermont health officials reported 73 new coronavirus cases for a total of 4,763. There have been a total of 77 deaths. The state’s percent positive seven-day average is 2.8%. A total of 230,109 tests have been conducted, 227 travelers are being monitored, 11,146 have completed monitoring, and 2,818 have recovered.

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