More Covid cases seen in southern Vermont As colleges reopen, state ups testing for returning students

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The Vermont Department of Health showed a total of 48 new Covid-19 cases this past week, slightly up from the 40 cases reported last week, for a total of 1,589 total cases, with a slight uptick in cases in southern Vermont.

Chittenden County continues to lead the state in new cases with an increase of 13, but according to Michael Pieciak, the commissioner of the state Department of Financial Relations who does ongoing predictive modeling for the state, Vermont is seeing more activity in its southern counties, which it will continue to monitor. Windham County gained nine cases this week, and now stands at 120. Bennington County saw in increase of eight new cases and now stands at an even 100. Rutland County saw an increase of eight new cases for a total of 111. Windsor County reported two new cases, totaling 77.

These numbers are based on data published on the Department of Health’s daily dashboard, tracking cases reported during the span from Friday, Aug. 21 to Friday, Aug. 28. There were no new deaths reported this week. That number is holding at 58, with only two deaths reported since June 18.

Statewide testing continues to be vigorous as more Vermont college and university students continue to enter the state. A total of 9,777 tests were conducted last week for a daily average of 1,397, an increase of almost 200 tests from last week and an approximate 50 percent increase in administered testing over the prior week.

During the Friday, Aug. 28 press conference, Pieciak said that 8,700 tests have been conducted across all colleges in the state and that only 19 students have tested positive so far. He noted that pre-college precautions have worked, making the news “a good story so far.” His model is predicting low-level growth over the next several weeks.

Pieciak also claimed that Vermont had tested over 16,000 people last week. That claim is not supported by the numbers published on the VDH website daily data dashboard however. When asked to clarify the discrepancy, Isaac Danyo, who works with Pieciak and the modeling team, responded that the data dashboard reports “a running tally of unique individuals,” whereas the number that DFR publishes encompasses all testing, since many individuals are tested multiple times.

Vermont Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine responded to a recent loosening of testing guidelines issued by the Center of Disease Control, which eliminates required testing for those who have been in contact with a COVID-19 positive person. He confirmed that the guidance in Vermont has not changed and said that testing in Vermont has been fundamental to the state’s success. “This has worked well and will keep us in good stead,” he said.

Although Levine was unwilling to speculate what might have prompted the change, he said that he regarded the CDC change as “shortsighted” and that it “risks replicating mistakes of the past.”

Vermont continues to lead the nation in low coronavirus numbers with the lowest positivity rate in the United States, as well as the lowest per capita case total in the country.

Levine confirmed that the state is investigating “a situation” in the Rutland/Killington area that has resulted in a “small number” of cases, meaning under six, which resulted from a gathering. The state is responding with itsusual investigating protocols which includes interviewing possible cases, recommending quarantining and symptom evaluation.

Levine also discussed his next priority will be to encourage statewide flu vaccinations, especially for school aged students and young adults.

Hospitalized patients have remained the same with three people currently hospitalized with the virus. The “hospitalization under investigation” number has added one, going from seven to eight.

Contacts Monitored, which includes close contacts of people who have already tested positive, has jumped from 33 to 68. Travelers being monitored, which includes those participating in the Sara Alert system, has dropped from 884 to 769.

The pop-up Covid-19 testing schedule for Springfield have added Tuesday dates through September on Sept. 1, Sept. 8, Sept. 15, Sept. 22 and Sept. 29. The testing location is at the Springfield UU Meetinghouse on Fairground Road.

To schedule a test, click on this link and scroll down to the appropriate date. This site has recently added a link to sign up to be notified of future testing dates in the area of your choice.

The Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development updated Vermont’s cross-state travel information map on Friday, Aug.28. This map identifies the surrounding counties throughout the Northeast that can now freely travel to Vermont without quarantine. This is a county-by-county list for those areas that have less than 400 active Covid-19 cases per million residents and is updated weekly. Eligible travel counties have remained flat this week, holding steady at 6.6 million possible travelers to Vermont. Click this link to see the latest updates to this interactive county map.

Human Services Secretary Mike Smith gave an update on two coronavirus relief grant programs: the Frontline Employee Hazardous Pay Grant Program and the Healthcare Provider Stabilization Grant Program.

The $28 million Frontline Hazard pay is set to send out approximately $10 million to approximately 70 approved applicants. For details on the Frontline Employee Hazardous Pay Grant program click on this link.

The $275 million Healthcare Provider program is expected to mail out the first round of payments totaling $4 million next week. Details on the Healthcare Provider Stabilization Grant Program can be found here.

Smith also confirmed there will be an increase in the maximum food benefit awarded in the 3SquaresVT food assistance program. For more state-wide details on COVID-19 information and resources, click here.

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