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Vt. health officials optimistic about falling COVID numbers, vaccination uptake

Published: Apr. 20, 2021 at 7:19 AM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont officials Tuesday said COVID cases in the state and around the region continue to drop and that the state remains on track to meeting reopening benchmarks.

The latest data shows seven-day case rates dropping by 24% over the last week and a decrease in new infections in younger people. Officials expect the continued uptake of vaccines will have a big impact on caseloads, forecasting fewer than 50 cases a day by the end of next month. “We’re also on track to have a more normal summer than we’ve had over the last 14 months,” said DFR Commissioner Mike Pieciak.

He says those lower case numbers -- 33% in the younger population -- are not the result of vaccinations and are more likely due to changes in behavior. Pieciak encouraged them to “keep it up.” “We know once we let our guard down things can quickly move in the opposite direction,” he said.

Following the recent surge in cases among young people, some are still recovering from their infections and Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says they have about three months to get the shot. “You have a little bit of the luxury of time without waiting too long,” he said.

The state opened registration for all Vermonters 16-plus on Monday. More than 47,000 people ages 16 to 29 have made appointments -- about 40% of the age group.

Levine says he expects that the Pfizer vaccine will be made available to children 12 and older by May or June. “This will not only help us achieve community immunity faster but also help us get these adolescents protected before school in the fall,” he said.

But getting to that herd immunity will require up to 85% of Vermonters to get the shot. And though the state is on track to meet reopening plan benchmarks, Governor Scott says it’s up to everyone to play their part in stepping up for the shot. “For yourself, your friends, and your family, make your appointment. Sign up so we can all have a more normal summer to enjoy,” he said.

JOHNSON & JOHNSON UPDATE EXPECTED FRIDAY

Despite a pause in using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine through Friday, officials say they are still on track to meeting May 1st reopening goals with the two other vaccines that are available and that Vermont continues to lead the nation in both vaccination uptake and the least amount of vaccine hesitancy. Federal officials are expected to provide Officials estimate that 120 lives have been saved by the state’s vaccination program to date. Fatalities will meet Friday on the J&J vaccine and are expected to make a decision soon after, possibly in the form of recommendations or new guidelines.

NEWPORT PRISON OUTBREAK OVER

The COVID outbreak is over at the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport. Vermont corrections officials say that last Thursday, for a fifth consecutive time, no inmates tested positive and that the prison is now back to standard modified operations. The outbreak began back in February after one staff member and 21 inmates tested positive. A total of 179 inmates tested positive during the outbreak.

BREAKTHROUGH CASES EXTREMELY RARE

Vt. health officials say there have been 125 cases of “vaccine breakthrough” in Vermont so far, or instances of fully vaccinated people getting COVID-19.

Dr. Levine says it’s expected that we would see some because no vaccine is 100% effective. He says of the 75 million people vaccinated by April 13 in the country, about 5,800 got sick. Although the group represented people of all ages, most of them were seniors and slightly more were female. He says that most people who do get sick after being vaccinated have mild symptoms. “This is even more evidence that these vaccines are highly effective. And in the unlikely event that the person develops a breakthrough case, the evidence is quite clear -- this episode will be on the disease spectrum,” he said.

Levine said it’s likely that there are more breakthrough cases that weren’t caught, either because the person didn’t get tested, or the person didn’t have symptoms.

U.S.-CANADA BORDER CLOSURE EXPECTED CONTINUE

Gov. Phil Scott says he does not expect the U.S.- Canadian border to reopen any time soon, especially in light of this week’s closure of the border between Quebec and Ontario. COVID case counts are surging in both provinces and vaccination rates lag behind the U.S.

As of Monday, Vermont health officials reported 93 new coronavirus cases for a total of 22,112. There have been a total of 242 deaths. The state’s percent positive seven-day average is 1.6%. A total of 372,262 people have been tested, and 18,470 have recovered. Officials say an update of the state’s dashboard means there will be no revised numbers reported on Tuesday.

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