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Vt. officials say vaccination most powerful tool against COVID

Published: Aug. 10, 2021 at 9:25 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 11, 2021 at 6:27 AM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - COVID cases and hospitalizations are on the rise as Vermont deals with the delta variant. And while some states are ordering new restrictions, Vermont officials Tuesday said that is not the plan here.

Vermont over the past two weeks has seen the highest number of new COVID cases since earlier this spring, but officials say the state’s high vaccination rate -- 84.6% as of Tuesday -- has prevented the kind of surges and high hospitalization rates seen in other states. “This isn’t where we want to be but we have to accept that we’re going to be managing this for quite some time,” said Gov. Phil Scott.

Despite the rising case counts, the governor’s team is not ordering new restrictions, though they are encouraging masks if people want to, especially for those who are unvaccinated.

But vaccine mandates are on the way for some state workers, including employees of the Vermont Veterans Home, prisons, and mental health care facilities. Scott says other employers should follow suit to avoid sick time and staffing issues. “You could see major disruptions if delta gets in, and one good way to prevent that is to incentivize and require the COVID- 19 vaccine,” Scott said.

A recent survey on vaccine mandates by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce found mixed results. Some businesses say it could put one more barrier in the way of hiring. “it’s difficult enough to recruit employees now. We want to make sure we can have employees regardless of their vaccination status working, but also adhering to all of the recommendations necessary,” said the chamber’s Betsy Bishop.

Even as some employers mandate the vaccine and more people are seeking the shot, Vermont’s cases are expected to continue to rise to about 150 a day by the end of August. And pointing to the example of the UK and Israel, officials say cases are then expected to dramatically fall. “When we get into the next two to three weeks, hopefully our cases will peak and then start to go down,” said DFR Commissioner Mike Pieciak.

When it comes to so-called “breakthrough” cases among those who are fully vaccinated, health officials say Vermont has seen about 360 cases since January, or about 2% of this year’s total cases. Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says the low rate is one more reason to step up for the shot. “It’s not politics, it’s not agenda, it’s public health, medical science, plain and simple,” he said.

The forecast increase in cases in the weeks ahead will coincide with the start of school. The state is sticking with its back-to-school guidance of universal masking for the first few weeks, school-based vaccination clinics, and voluntary testing.

As of Tuesday, Vermont health officials reported 83 new coronavirus cases for a total of 25,663. There have been a total of 263 deaths. The state’s percent positive seven-day average is 3%. A total of 420,732 people have been tested, and 24,346 have recovered.

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