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Vt. to stick with age-band schedule; Goal to vaccinate all by July

Published: Mar. 19, 2021 at 5:20 AM EDT|Updated: Mar. 19, 2021 at 9:24 AM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont Gov. Phil Scott Friday announced a vaccination schedule that sticks to age bands and that he says should allow all Vermonters 16 and over to be vaccinated by July.

The governor says that starting next Thursday, March 25, those 60-plus can sign up. After that, unlike some other states, Vermont will stick with age bands:

  • March 29, 50+
  • April 5, 40+
  • April 12, 30+
  • April 19, 16+

Scott says all Vermonters 16+ should be vaccinated by July if not sooner, leading to a semblance of normal. “Normal to me is a cookout with your friends. It’s when things will feel similar to pre-pandemic,” Scott said. The governor says the accelerating scehdule is because of more doses from the federal government, especially the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The return to normal means more gatherings, lifting of restrictions, and graduations may be possible. “That’s the only word is freedom, and proud to be a Vermonter, because we’ve done it right,” said Maxine Leary of Montpelier.

Masks will still be around but they’ll most likely be a recommendation, not mandatory. “There will be a number of people who will want to continue to wear masks and we advocate that it may make sense to,” Scott said.

Vermont’s new phase of the vaccine rollout will be a huge logistical undertaking. Leaders say they’re confident the website can handle the traffic and that there will be enough staff to administer shots. Between the state’s efforts, the National Guard, pharmacies, and others, the goal is to administer 35,000 shots a week. So far, nearly a third of adults in Vermont have now gotten at least one dose.

The governor plans to announce specific plans to how we reopen our economy in early April.

Prison inmates are getting their shots too as the state continues to deal with an outbreak at the prison in Newport. Officials say they think the virus came in through staff or through the sale of narcotics within the jail.

As Vermont marks one year since the first coronavirus deaths, state leaders reflected upon Vermonters’ sacrifices and hard work to make the state one of the safest in the nation. “Throughout this difficult time, I’m just proud to be a Vermonter. Vermonters all across the state can be proud too how they’ve responded to the pandemic,” said AHS Secretary Mike Smith.

RACE TO VACCINATE AS COVID VARIANTS INCREASE

The race to vaccinate Vermonters as quickly as possible is also a race against virus variants, which health officials say could account for a spike of cases in some areas that do not correspond to the rest of the state.

COVID-19 data in Franklin County over the last two months showed cases hovering around 40 per week through the first part of January. Then, they shot up to nearly 130 by mid-February, and have stayed around 100 per week ever since. Those higher cases mean the seven-day positivity rate in Franklin County was 5.2% as of Monday. For perspective, Vermont’s seven-day positivity rate was only 1.3% on that same day.

Health officials are pointing to the data as a source of concern because they’ve now detected a total of two virus variants in Franklin and Chittenden Counties that could be at least partly responsible for the rise in cases in both counties. The so-called U.K. variant has been detected in eight samples. It’s estimated to be up to 50% more contagious. The so-called California variant has been found in three samples. That one is estimated to be about 20% more transmissible.

Vt. Heath Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine Friday indicated the variants are yet another reason not to let your guard down. “Now, viruses change constantly, so this is expected. But these variants are more transmissible, and that means we really need to keep up prevention until more of us can be vaccinated,” he said.

He again said it’s imperative that people continue to get tested and follow safety protocols to prevent the spread.

Not every COVID-19 sample gets genome sequencing. The health department sends samples in from areas they think might be experiencing an outbreak that includes a variant, so it’s hard to say where else in Vermont the variants might be right now.

REGULATIONS ON BARS SET TO CHANGE WEDNESDAY

Starting next Wednesday, March 24, the governor said Vermont bars and social clubs will be allowed to serve customers again.

First, it was restaurants last week that were allowed to seat up to six people from different households. Now, bars and social clubs will be able to open up for the first time since November under the same rules as restaurants. That means 50 percent capacity, social distancing, and reservations ending at 10 p.m.

Debra Miller, co-owner of The Other Place bar in Burlington, says while they are eager to open their doors again, they wish more guidelines were being lifted so they can start recovering from the financial hole the pandemic has left. She says the curfew, in particular, is a money loser. “I feel with all of our sanitation and safety measures that there really is no reason we shouldn’t be allowed to be open. All it does is push people back into home party’s where there is no safety going on,” she said.

Some bar owners we spoke to say they are going to wait to ramp up hiring and inventory until capacity is 100 percent, or when the warmer weather allows them to move outside.

Municipalities will be able to set their own rules for bars. Burlington, for example, enacted even stricter restrictions than the state last summer. The mayor’s office Friday said they are still reviewing how they will proceed.

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