State to allow 2-household holiday gatherings

The state will now allow a gathering of two ‘trusted households’ for the holiday. Photo by Nicole Michalou for Pexels.

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Citing stabilized case counts of under 100 over the past several days — including 63 on Tuesday, Dec. 22  — that suggested an overall “vast improvement,” Gov. Phil Scott announced that several  health guidelines will be loosened from Wednesday, Dec. 23 through Saturday, Jan. 2.

These include expanding the state’s gathering guidelines to increase from members from a single dwelling to include one more “trusted household.” This expanded gathering size will extend only through the holiday season and then pause to assess the data. Holiday gathering details can be found here.

Gathering with more than one household, even separately and on different days, is not allowed. If the additional trusted household is out of state, both households must adhere to the state’s travel policy that includes quarantining for 14 days, or for seven days until receiving a negative Covid-19 test result.

Scott also announced a “return to prior guidance” on all outdoor recreation such as sledding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, hiking, Nordic skiing and other outdoor activities. This reversal means “as long as you can physically distance and wear a mask you can participate in these activities with others outside your household.” Scott went on to urge an “arrive, participate and leave approach” to limit mingling beyond the outdoor activity. For more details on updated outdoor recreation guidelines click here.

Finally, Scott announced the state would be moving into a phased restart of youth recreational and school sports. School-based and youth sports teams may begin practicing on individual skills and conditioning but still requires no contact, physically distancing and wearing a mask. Spectators are still prohibited and this change does not extend to adult leagues.

While Covid cases decline, hospitalizations rise

A Vermonter died of Covid-19 on Tuesday, the state announced, bringing the total to 112, an increase of five since last Friday. Of the new fatalities, two were ages 80 or older, one was between 70 and 79, and two were 60 to69.

New Covid cases on Tuesday hit 63, down from the consistent low 90 per day tallies seen over the last four days, for a total of 6,608. Although Tuesday’s new case number was down, the number of currently hospitalized patients rose from 25 to 36 overnight, with ICU patients also rising from six to nine. Vermont’s seven-day positivity rate continued to trend downward, however, going from 2.2 to 2.1 percent. The total positive case numbers and other statistics are based on data published on the state Health Department’s daily dashboard.

During Tuesday’s press conference, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said that his department was following 293 situations and 41 outbreaks, 19 of which are in healthcare settings and 11 in long-term care facilities.

In long-term care facilities, total cases have now reached 485, up from 425 on Friday. According to Michael Pieciak, commissioner for the Department of Financial Regulation, cases in long-term care facilities make up only 6 percent of total cases, however they account for over 70 percent of deaths.

In K-12 schools throughout Vermont, there are 30 new cases, down from 41 reported last week, with 232 total Covid cases reported as of Sunday, Dec. 20, on the VDH School Based Covid-19 Transmission document. Higher education data will not be reported again until colleges and universities return for the spring semester.

Levine said that school surveillance tests in Barre and Milton schools collected last week never made it to the testing facility due to shipping delays. The Health Department is retesting Milton staffers on Tuesday and Barre will be tested following the holiday break.

Statewide testing of unique individuals averaged around 1,200 per day over this past week. Total tests given averaging close to 3,900 each day.

The Covid-19 testing schedule for Springfield has been updated with daily testing available daily from Dec. 26 through Dec. 29 and on Jan. 2 and 3. Times vary each day. The CIC Health Testing in Springfield is located at 51 Pearl St., Level 1, in Springfield. Click on this link to check for specific times each day. This site has recently added a link to sign up to be notified of future testing dates in the area of your choice.

Chittenden County stayed at the top of the county case counts with 148 new cases reported just since Friday, for 2,403 in total. Washington County new case totals continued with their decline, showing just nine new cases since Friday for 853 total cases. Orange County was also trending lower with just 8 new cases since Friday for a total of 298 cases. Windsor County saw 21 new cases since Friday for a total of 347. Windham County saw 19 cases since Friday, for a total of 379.

Contacts Monitored, which includes close contacts of people who have already tested positive, decreased from 191 to 181 since Friday. Travelers being monitored, which includes those participating in the Sara Alert system, decreased from 214 to 179.

Moderna vaccines arrive in Vermont

Vermont has received 11,400 doses of the new Moderna vaccine and also continues to receive regular deliveries of the Pfizer vaccine for 18,725 total doses over the last two weeks. Over 35,000 total doses are expected by the end of the month.

Vaccination of long-term senior facility patients began on Monday as part of a federal senior vaccination program that is delivered through pharmacy partners.

According to Levine, the Advisory Committee on Immunization practices has recommended the next priority group to get the vaccine be people 75 or older, and “frontline essential workers,”  including first responders, teachers and food service workers. Vermont’s implementation advisory group will meet on Wednesday to consider these recommendations and finalize their own plan for this next priority group known as “1B.”

Gov. Scott will hold another press conference at 11 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 24 at 11 a.m. for another update this week before the Christmas holiday.

For more state-wide details on Covid-19 information and resources, click here.

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