Vermont post-holiday COVID surge breaks another record

Published: Jan. 4, 2022 at 11:37 AM EST|Updated: Jan. 4, 2022 at 6:55 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont has smashed another one-day COVID case count record, fueled by what appears to be a post-holiday surge in omicron variant cases.

Vermont health officials as of Tuesday tallied 1,727 cases, driving the state’s percent positive rate up to 12.4%, the highest it’s been since the start of the pandemic and also smashing last Thursday’s single-day count of 1,479. Hospitalization rates, what officials consider the more important metric, also ticked up to 83 with 19 in the ICU. The total number of deaths held steady at 480.

According to state health officials, Vermont is averaging almost 1,000 cases per day over the past week -- a 128% increase over the week before. It comes as the omicron variant continues to gain traction, representing 82% of all cases across New England.

Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says state PCR testing sites are busy. “We’ve always been able to be very flexible when the testing system gets more and more business and so we’ll respond based on the demand and make sure there are slots available for Vermonters,” he said.

Data from other countries indicates that omicron might be less deadly and severe than other COVID strains, something Dr. Levine is hopeful will be true here. But he cautions there will still be severe cases and that it’s important to limit the stress on the hospital system. He says while hospital numbers are beginning to tick upwards again, the system’s capacity remains okay.

There was a rise in breakthrough infections this week but Levine says those not fully vaccinated continue to be much likelier to end up in the hospital. “The reality is, if you have a lot of a virus that causes less serious illness, you’ll still have more cases of serious illness than you would have had before just because of the large volume of cases you have, so we have to be careful about that,” he said.

Antigen tests can be hard to find in parts of Vermont, but Levine says that they are doing their best to get more of them to Vermonters in the coming weeks, even though they are less sensitive for detecting COVID. “Even if it doesn’t work quite as well, if there’s that much more omicron in the community and transmitting from person to person, it still represents the best early way to pick up an infection at the time when the person can do something about it,” he said.

Jordan Goodrich, a Burlington special ed teacher, contracted COVID over the school break and is now in quarantine. He says Vermont’s guidelines requiring him to have negative antigen tests on days four and five in order to return to work is a hardship for people who can’t get their hands on those tests. “Given the current protocols in reference to the quick tests, to me, it doesn’t seem equitable, particularly if you don’t have any symptoms,” he said.

People we spoke to on Church Street Tuesday said they are trying to carry on despite the surge in cases. “I’m vaccinated and boostered. I mean, I’m careful. I wear my mask but I’m not stopping living my life,” said Michele Holton.

“It’s COVID, it’s delta, and now it’s omicron, and they don’t ever talk about the flu and all those people who are dying every year,” said Loralei Fuller of Burlington.

State officials say unvaccinated Vermonters are two-and-a-half times more likely to get COVID and they’re 23 times more likely to die.

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