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Vt. weekly case count breaks record; death toll passes 300

Published: Sep. 21, 2021 at 8:32 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 21, 2021 at 7:31 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - As Vermont’s weekly case count reached a pandemic high last week, the state on Tuesday passed another bleak milestone, surpassing the 300 death toll. Despite the bad news, Governor Phil Scott Tuesday doubled down on his data-driven strategy, saying the high case counts don’t necessarily reflect the risk on the ground.

Vermont’s seven-day infection average last week was the highest it’s been since the start of the pandemic, partly because of Labor Day gatherings and also a reporting glitch earlier this month, officials say.

The state Tuesday reported 129 new cases with 48 people in the hospital -- one of them a child -- and 15 in the ICU. Officials say 80% of all hospitalizations are among the 79,000 unvaccinated. “A large percentage of these people can be vaccinated but have not done so,” said AHS Secretary Mike Smith.

Governor Phil Scott continues to face calls to sign another state of emergency that would allow him to reimpose a mask mandate and other public health measures. But the governor says he remains firm that such actions are not needed yet and would be an abuse of power with unintended consequences. “Broad restrictions have other implications in other areas, like people not seeking their health care needs, isolation of older family members, remote learning, and business closures that put people out of work,” he said. The governor says all decisions are based on protecting health care capacity, which he says are not in danger of being overrun. “Some of the stresses that we’re seeing in hospitals are not related to COVID directly.”

More people are going to the hospital for a variety of ailments while hospitals struggle with staffing. Health care workers are working more hours and covering for others who are getting sick or taking time off. Scott called on Vermonters to exercise personal responsibility and judge their personal risk when deciding whether to wear a mask or gather with others. Like the flu, he says COVID-19 is here to stay. “We need to use the tools we have and what we’ve learned to help people make smart decisions at the individual level,” he said.

INSIDE THE FORECAST

While the governor is certain about not instituting new restrictions, his team is uncertain about where our cases are heading. Nine weeks into the delta surge, DFR Commissioner Mike Pieciak now says current forecast models, unlike earlier this month, are all over the map as to what to expect in the coming days. “It’s a moment in time where we will need a little more data to understand the trajectory that we will be on,” he said. A lot of that forecast will depend on what happens in schools and with younger Vermonters.

As the U.S. this week reached the 675,000 death threshold -- the same as the 1918 flu pandemic -- Vermont as of Tuesday also reached a milestone of 301 deaths.

The latest COVID modeling shows that more Vermonters were diagnosed with COVID last week -- 1,509 -- than at any other time during the pandemic. Orleans County, which has some of the lowest vaccination rates in the state, led the way with active cases. Officials say the Labor Day holiday appears to be partly responsible for the surge. Vermont’s 7-Day average increased 27% since the start of Labor Day.

CHILD VACCINATIONS AND BOOSTERS

Pfizer on Friday announced their vaccine is safe and effective for children aged 5 to 11 and will request emergency use authorization from the FDA. If approved, Vermont health officials say vaccination could come as early as next month. Meanwhile, the state is preparing to provide boosters for Vermonters over 65 and people over 18 with underlying conditions.

GOVERNOR CALLS FOR 30-DAY PAUSE TO MOTEL VOUCHER PROGRAM DEADLINE

Some homeless Vermonters can stay another month in hotels and motels as advocates scramble to find housing before the winter.

An estimated 550 Vermonters were slated to be evicted on Thursday as eligibility for assistance programs was changing, but Governor Scott Tuesday said evictions will be put on “pause” for 30 days as the state and others seek more permanent housing solutions.

FEMA will reimburse states’ expenditures on hotels and motels through the end of the year, but the governor says that does not solve the problem. “This can’t go on in perpetuity. What happens if we go until January 1 and this ends at the end of the year, what then? We’re still going to be faced with the same situation,” he said.

In July, the state extended the hotel voucher program 84 days for families with children, the disabled, pregnant women, and other vulnerable people, and gave $2,500 checks to those no longer eligible.

Vermont legislative leaders Tuesday welcomed the extension, saying it will buy hundreds of Vermonters time to find solutions.

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