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Vt. officials say rate of new COVID cases appears to have plateaued

Published: Jan. 19, 2021 at 5:41 AM EST|Updated: Jan. 19, 2021 at 7:05 PM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - More than 400,000 Americans have now died of COVID-19. But as national case numbers -- and those in Vermont -- are trending down, state leaders remain concerned with the pace of the vaccine rollout and how quickly they can get shots to older Vermonters most in danger of the virus.

With daily case counts appearing to have plateaued, officials say they are optimistic the state was able to get through the holiday season relatively unscathed. Vermont has seen a 12% drop in new cases from last week, but officials note 185,000 new cases in the larger region is still of concern. This number matters because with New England states so interconnected, state officials say it’s hard to imagine our cases dropping significantly if other states around us don’t.

Vermont just recorded its 10,000th case -- the last state to do so -- and case counts went down too. One forecast still shows Vermont hitting somewhere between 250 and 300 cases per day by mid-February, but data experts say based on how the past week went, Vermont will likely see lower numbers than that.

“We do certainly have reason to believe we will stay below this forecast in the weeks ahead, but cases are likely to remain high and we must remain cautious about this new COVID-19 variant,” said DFR Commissioner Mike Pieciak.

So if all of this forecasting is expected to be better, when will some of the restrictions on multi-household gatherings be lifted? “I think it’s a little early to determine the trend,” Gov. Scott said. He says while he doesn’t want to restrict people and businesses longer than necessary, his team will take this one day at a time. “I am very hesitant to over-promising. Once you set a benchmark it’s like gospel.”

He said he wants to see at least one or two weeks more data before making any decisions.

VACCINE SUPPLY CHAIN REMAINS LIMITING FACTOR

The latest numbers show that about 40,000 doses of vaccine have been administered in Vermont so far, but continued supply chain issues at the federal level are still holding Vermont from the doses it was expecting. Out of all of the Vermont COVID cases recorded last week, 216 were over the age of 65, and 92 percent of the deaths were over 65.

Addressing frustrations from Vermonters who haven’t gotten their shots while those in other states already have, Governor Phil Scott said the Vermont approach is aimed at saving lives. “Overpromising is not the answer. The logical approach is to manage the supply of the vaccine we’re receiving. If we’re allotted more, we’ll scale up,” Scott said.

Starting Monday, those 75 and over -- an estimated 49,000 Vermonters -- can sign up for a vaccine appointment. Officials say they will provide details on how to register in the coming days and reminded people to not call or email medical providers. The next age groups will be 70 and over, 65 plus, and then those with medical conditions. That won’t change until the vaccine supply becomes greater and more predictable. “We need more vaccine to vaccinate more people. It’s as simple as that,” Scott said.

That won’t change until the vaccine supply becomes greater and more predictable. The state is still receiving fewer doses than anticipated. With the current rate of vaccinating some 8,000 weekly, it would take over a year to reach the majority of the adult population. “We don’t have any way of forecasting -- only based on information we receive from the federal government, which has been all over the place over the last few weeks,” Scott said.

The governor is hopeful that the Biden administration will push pharmaceutical companies to produce more doses so Vermont can scale up our vaccination efforts. And with potentially more vaccines on the way which could receive federal emergency authorization, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine is hopeful that the vaccine will start making a difference in Vermonters’ lives by the spring. “I don’t think we’re going to be seeing skyrocketing numbers of the vaccine, but there will be some and that will be ramped up accordingly as well,” he said.

Levine also addressed concerns from some with chronic conditions that were not included in the vaccine trials, such as pregnant women. He says the vaccine has been studied across various ages and conditions enough to have relative confidence in how it will perform in people with a range of health conditions.

ECONOMIC RESPONSE UPDATE

Former Barre Mayor Thom Lauzon provided an update on the resources available to businesses right now, including the Employee Retention Tax Credit, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, and the latest round of PPP loans.

NEW LAW ALLOWS TOWN MEETING DAY VOTING ACCOMMODATIONS

Governor Scott says he has signed a bill into law that gives municipalities greater flexibility in local elections due to COVID. The law allows cities and towns to allow people to vote in person, via absentee ballot, or to send every voter a ballot whether they request one or not. They are even allowed to delay Town Meeting Day beyond March 2nd, until more people are vaccinated and case counts are lower.

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