80K rapid tests to be distributed to returning Vt. students
MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont COVID infection rates and hospitalizations showed improvement over the past week, now state officials are hoping vigilance and a new emphasis on rapid antigen tests -- including for returning students -- will prevent a major omicron wave following the holidays.
Omicron is upon Vermont and leaders say it will soon become the dominant variant. Infections stemming from holiday gatherings are expected to drive daily case counts to upwards of 1,600 in the next four weeks, about four times more than the current trend.
Governor Phil Scott says Vermont has the tools to keep moving forward. “We have vaccines boosters, testing, and the common-sense precautions we’ve talked about repeatedly,” he said.
The impact on hospitalizations and deaths from the expected surge is unknown because the highly-transmissible omicron variant appears to be less severe than delta. Current data shows 85% of statewide ICU patients are unvaccinated.
To contain cases, the state is ramping up testing through New Year’s, including new PCR clinics with longer hours. They also plan to announce later this week how they will distribute 80,000 rapid tests to parents to be administered at home to safely bring students back from winter break.
Vermont Education Secretary Dan French says the tests conducted by families will be a key strategy to keep COVID out of schools. He says his agency will also once again delay loosening guidelines for masking in schools until at least the end of February. Even then, omicron is still expected to place a strain on school staff.
“I expect we will see some intermittent school closures in the coming weeks as a result of staff availability issues since schools do not have many substitutes to call upon,” he said.
And this year there are no remote learning options. The Scott administration says new CDC guidance could help students and staff stay in the classroom. Asymptomatic people who test positive are now only required to isolate for five days instead of 10, as long as they wear masks in public for another five days. The governor’s team is reviewing the guidance and may make changes to accommodate for health care and congregate living settings.
Heading into New Year’s celebrations, leaders say taking precautions is a must, starting with vaccinations, boosters. “You are not fully protected against COVID-19 or up to date on vaccination until you get that booster shot. You are not fully protecting others until you get that booster shot,” said Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine.
Over 55% percent of Vermont adults are boosted and Governor Scott says they are still the best way to make it through the months ahead. “Cases are going to rise -- we know that -- but the metric we’re watching is hospitalizations. And preventing that from happening - booster, booster, booster,” he said.
AHS Secretary Mike Smith, in his final appearance before he retires this week, thanked Vermont state workers and the governor for their response and leadership over the course of the pandemic. He cited the state’s low per capita death rate and high testing and vaccination rates, as among the many reasons he was proud to call himself a Vermonter.
As of Tuesday, Vermont health officials reported 416 new coronavirus cases for a total of 62,143. There have been a total of 465 deaths. The state’s percent positive seven-day average is 5.1%.
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