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Observing one-year COVID anniversary, Scott ‘optimistic about road ahead’

Published: Mar. 5, 2021 at 6:52 AM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont this weekend marks the one-year anniversary of the first confirmed case of COVID-19. Governor Phil Scott Friday acknowledged that while Vermonters have endured an incredibly painful year, the rapid increase in vaccine availability should give everyone optimism about the road ahead.

“With the possibility of an increased supply we may be able to open eligibility much sooner than we hoped for,” Gov. Scott said.

As of Friday, nearly 114,000 Vermonters have received at least one vaccine dose or about 20% of the population. The state continues to vaccinate the 65-plus age group. Come Monday, several new groups are eligible to sign up for vaccines including school staff, some state workers, and the first group of those with underlying health conditions.

Officials say state vaccination clinics are taking place all weekend at the DoubleTree in South Burlington. They also say that in addition to Kinney, Walmart, and Walgreen, Costco as of Friday is now also giving shots. Appointments for all those pharmacies, except Walgreens, must be made through the state’s vaccine portal.

Much of this rapid expansion is due to the availability of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. “The program will start slowly and will ramp up quickly over the next couple of weeks. We ask for your patience during this process,” said AHS Secretary Mike Smith.

SCOTT DEFENDS LEAVING INMATES OUT OF PRIORITY VACCINATIONS

At the same time, the state is dealing with a large outbreak among prisoners and staff at the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport -- over 120 cases -- although officials say none are showing symptoms.

“Any inmate who fits into the age banding schedule has had the opportunity to get their vaccine as well,” said Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine.

Governor Scott Friday again defended his decision to not provide mass vaccinations at prisons because he says there isn’t a high risk of death. “We have to make these decisions based on our priority and we do this by the data and the science. And the data and the science says we should be concentrating on those over the age of 65 and those with chronic conditions,” he said. Scott says some guards are now getting the shots to prevent the disease from coming in.

But the prison policy continues to draw the ire of the ACLU and others because the state is giving the shot to other congregate living facilities and teachers, some of whom are young and healthy.

The governor says Over 50 unions, interest groups, and organizations are lobbying to be placed higher up on the vaccine schedule. “This won’t end. If we can get through this over the next few weeks, all on the same level, all adhering to the same guidelines, I think we’ll be in good shape,” he said.

That’s why after teachers, Scott says he wants to return to age banding without any more exceptions.

LEAHY PUSHES $1.3 BILLION FOR VERMONT RELIEF

Vermont could be getting more federal money if Congress acts on President Biden’s relief plan. Under the new proposed stimulus package working its way through the Senate, Vermont is slated to receive $1.3 billion, including some $300 million for broadband infrastructure.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, appearing at the governor’s Friday briefing via Zoom, says he’s hopeful the bill will pass but it will be a late night of debate ahead. “We will be voting until 1, 2, or 3 in the morning, but the path is very very good,” he said.

Leahy says he pushed to add more than $400 million more for Vermont than was allocated in the House-passed version. He says that includes dedicated funding for rural hospitals and invests in school safety.

Governor Scott says the money should be used for one-time investments instead of starting programs that will require cash every year.

STATE OPENS DEDICATED PHONE LINE FOR HOMEBOUND VERMONTERS

Homebound Vermonters can now make a vaccine appointment on the phone. There is a number just for them -- 833-722-0860.

VACCINATED INDIVIDUALS ALLOWED TO GATHER IN GROUPS

Governor Phil Scott said that as of Friday, vaccinated individuals are now allowed to gather in groups and that those groups can gather with one trusted household that is not vaccinated.

The governor said he expects to announce another turn of the economic spigot next week.

NOW NOT THE TIME TO DROP STATE HEALTH PRECAUTIONS

Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine criticized states, like Texas, that have dropped mask mandates. He said the country is very close to beating the virus but that there is still a very real chance we could “fumble the ball” in the coming weeks by not remaining vigilant. Levine also noted a decline in people seeking testing in Vermont. He said there is still widespread testing availability, including pop-up testing in Stowe this weekend to monitor growth in COVID cases there.

As of Friday, Vermont health officials reported 126 new coronavirus cases for a total of 15,819. There have been a total of 207 deaths. The state’s percent positive seven-day average is 1.6%. A total of 334,096 people have been tested, and 13,145 have recovered.

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