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Vt. to expand school-based clinics, lift vax residency requirement

Published: May. 18, 2021 at 6:25 AM EDT|Updated: May. 18, 2021 at 10:57 AM EDT
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WINOOSKI, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont leads the nation in several key vaccination metrics, but state leaders want to push those numbers even higher. That’s why they’re setting up more clinics to boost those numbers, including clinics targeting younger age groups.

The Winooski School District says about 100 students, parents, and community members signed up Tuesday for a vaccination clinic at Winooski High School. Sarah McGowan-Freije, who has a seventh and ninth-grader enrolled in the district, gave health officials the green light to vaccinate her children. “The kids were already here and I just drove up and met them. They came out from their classroom and got their shot,” she said.

The Winooski event is one of dozens at schools and other locations around the state in the coming weeks. Officials say about 9,000 of the 27,000 eligible 12 to 15 year-olds in Vermont have signed up. “We are also transitioning to smaller and more localized settings to bring vaccines to Vermonters where they live and work,” said AHS Secretary Mike Smith, who was among state leaders appearing maskless at Tuesday’s briefing for the first time since the mandate went into effect last spring.

While the state is ramping up more clinics, some businesses and towns are hesitant to adopt new federal guidance saying fully vaccinated individuals don’t need to wear masks in most settings. The governor says it’ll take time for everyone to get used to this transitional phase. He says federal health officials again emphasized that overwhelming data shows that vaccines are safe and effective. “Most everyone across Vermont has believed in the science until it conflicts with their fear, their ideology, or their politics, then they don’t believe the science,” Scott said.

The state’s reopening benchmark is slated for July 4th, when all restrictions will be lifted, including the 10 p.m. curfew on restaurants and bars. The governor is contemplating moving that date up, but he says he needs to see a certain percentage of the population vaccinated. He says he’ll know more next week.

With Vermont boasting one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, McGowan-Freije says she is glad she got her kids the shot so their lives can get back to normal. “My son is very excited because he plays a lot of sports and he’s excited to get back on the court and on the field without his mask on,” she said.

In addition to clinics at over 60 schools, there are also clinics scheduled at Burlington’s North Beach, Church Street, and the Lancaster, New Hampshire fairgrounds.

DATA MODELING BACKS UP DECISION TO DROP MASK MANDATE

Vermont officials Tuesday said they remain confident in last week’s decision to lift the state’s mask mandate for fully vaccinated individuals and that they continue to strictly follow the data. Officials say Vermont currently leads the nation -- and much of the world -- in several key vaccination metrics And when you step back and look at the big picture, it’s clear why state leaders felt like it was safe to follow the CDC’s guidance.

“With fewer cases circulating and with vaccination rates pushing higher, our communities are getting safer by the day,” said DFR Commissioner Mike Pieciak Tuesday. Safer because of the steep drop in COVID-19 cases -- 75% since the start of April and 24% in the past week. Active case counts are now at their lowest they’ve been in six months.

Officials credit vaccinations for the bulk of that drop, because cases are higher among age groups with lower vaccination rates. Vermont is trending slightly higher than the forecasted daily cases were predicted, but still in line to drop into the single digits by June. Hospitalizations and deaths are down and there are currently no outbreaks at long-term care facilities for the first time since the state started tracking that in the data last November. “The work is not over, but we really need to take a moment to celebrate how far we’ve come together,” said Vt. Heath Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine.

There’s good news for the region also, where cases are down about 24%, the lowest weekly total in seven months. And cases regionally have dropped 70 percent in the last five weeks.

VERMONT TO LIFT VACCINATION RESIDENCY REQUIREMENT THURSDAY

Vermont will be removing residency requirements for vaccinations starting Thursday.

State officials say the state continues to make great progress vaccinating everyone aged 12 and older, including part-time residents, and so they will open the registration pool to everyone later in the week. The state’s vaccine allocations from the federal government remain the same this week and Vermont will request more than 2,000 Pfizer doses and 1,000 Johnson & Johnson doses from the federal vaccine pool. AHS Secretary Mike Smith says at some point they’re going to reduce their Moderna allocation because it doesn’t have the range of groups that they can use it on. As of Tuesday, nearly 74% of eligible Vermonters have received at least one dose.

SCOTT: VERMONT POISED FOR ’DECENT’ TOURISM SEASON

Governor Scott says based on the numbers, no state is better positioned to transition back to normal, saying that if Vermont was its own country, it would have one of the highest vaccination rates in the world. Despite recent progress on vaccinations, Scott made no promises on whether the state will lift all requirements prior to the July 4 date in the Vermont Forward plan. He says he may know more by next week.

The governor and health officials addressed concerns about the state’s new mask policy adopted Friday. Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said it will take some adjusting and encouraged people to continue to keep a mask with them when they’re out and about just in case a business requires it. He also asked people not to judge anyone during this transition.

Gov. Scott says he and other border-state governors have advocated for opening the Canadian border when it’s safe, but he noted Canada remains behind The U.S. in vaccinations. He says he is hopeful it will be reopened by mid-summer to allow for some of the tourism season in northern counties and added that he believes tourism will be “decent” this summer thanks to pent-up demand within the U.S.

Wednesday marks 14 months since the first death from COVID-19 and state flags will fly at half staff to honor the 254 people who have died so far. Most of the new deaths -- two over the past day -- are unvaccinated individuals, but there have been a couple who have been partly or fully vaccinated.

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