Weekly Covid Update: Shots open to 70+, school music comes back, emergency extended

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Gov. Phil Scott opened Covid-19 vaccinations to Vermonters aged 70+ with registration beginning next Tuesday and announced the resumption of music programming in schools at his Friday press conference and extended the Covid-19 state of emergency through March 15.

Registration for 70+ age group will begin at 8:15 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 16  either online at healthvermont.gov/myvaccine or by calling 855-722-7878. Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said that the first step of registering is creating an account with the health department’s website. Anyone can do that  –  even well in advance of someone’s eligibility for a vaccine – to make registering that much quicker when eligible. He also said that vaccine recipients would be scheduled for their second dose during their first dose visit.

According to the health department more than 33,500 of the approximately 39,000 people in the 75 and older age group have made appointments to be vaccinated. Approximately 19,000 Vermonters in that age group have received at least their first dose and more than 538 home bound Vermonters have also been vaccinated.

Also according to Smith, Walgreens (with 20 locations throughout the state, four of which are in southern Vermont) is now receiving 2,000 doses per week through the federal pharmacy program. That number is above and beyond the state allocation. The pharmacies in southern Vermont are in Bennington, Brattleboro, Bellows Falls and Manchester. Eligible recipients may register directly on the Walgreen’s website. This is in addition to 22 Kinney Drug locations in northern Vermont that are also receiving vaccines through the federal program.

To follow the latest data on vaccination distribution in Vermont visit the COVID-19 Vaccine Dashboard.

Music to return to schools, with different restrictions

According to Scott, music programs in schools will not look like they did before the pandemic but he sad it “is essential to the health and well-being” of Vermont kids. Agency of Education Secretary Dan French said that detailed guidance for music will be published next week but provided a sampling of restrictions including rehearsals no longer than 30 minutes, three air exchanges per hour in rehearsal spaces, no audience during performances, mandatory distance of 6-foot x 6-foot space between performers (6 foot x 9 foot for trombone players), and special slitted masks/double masks for woodwind and brass players. French said officials will be looking at performing arts and theater in schools in the coming weeks to make a similar evaluation and possibly reopen those programs.

The Vermont Department of Health recorded 803 new Covid-19 cases this week, down from the 954 tallied last week for a total of 13,415 since the beginning of the pandemic. The death toll from Covid-19 has also decreased versus last week, going from nine to eight Vermonter’s deaths for a total of 189. All of those who lost their lives to Covid 19 this week were over the age of 70.

Hospitalizations, which had been trending higher in recent weeks, decreased this week from 55 to 47. Likewise, the number of patients in intensive care dropped from 17 to 11.

The overall seven-day positivity rate also continued its decline for the sixth week in a row, dropping from 1.8 percent last week to 1.7 percent this week.

The total positive case numbers, deaths and other statistics are based on data published on the Health Department’s  daily dashboard from Friday, Feb. 5 through Friday, Feb. 12.

Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said that although overall numbers were improving, health officials were seeing rising case counts concentrated in three counties: Franklin, Bennington, and Rutland. Levine said there were 51 active outbreaks in Bennington County, 83 active outbreaks in Rutland County and 68 active outbreaks in Franklin County. The majority of cases are not associated with outbreaks however, a sign that “significant community transmission of virus occurred,” said Levine. Health officials have increased testing and targeted messaging urging health regulation compliance in these areas.

Rutland County added 117 new cases, down from its jump last week of 188, for a total of 1,127. Bennington County added 91 cases, down from 150 cases last week, for a total of 1268. Windsor County added 66 new cases, down slightly from 68 new cases last week, for a total of 961. Windham County added 32 new cases, up slightly from 30 last week, for a total of 850.

Levine also noted that earlier this week he learned that the Covid-19 variant identified as the UK version, was identified in Burlington waste water but was still awaiting confirmation through genetic sequencing testing.

According to Levine, health officials are seeing much lower numbers in long term care facilities and these favorable numbers will help officials prepare to loosen some of the restrictions and allow residents to interact safely with each other and their families, something he would share at a future press conference.

In K-12 schools throughout Vermont, there are 58 new Covid cases this week, matching last week last week, with 546 total Covid cases reported as of Wednesday, Feb. 10, on the School Based Covid-19 Transmission document.

On Tuesday, Commissioner Michael Pieciak from the Department of Financial Regulation reported that Vermont Colleges and Universities saw 91 new cases on campuses this week, up from 65 last week, with numbers in the first three weeks of the spring term outpacing all of the cases in the fall semester. According to Pieciak this was anticipated and the expectation, based on modeling, is that “these numbers should improve as the semester continues.”

The Covid-19 testing schedule for Springfield has been updated with daily testing available from now through Sunday, Feb. 28 with varying times 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. Sign up to be notified of future testing dates in the area of your choice.

Levine also announced that Vermont will follow the Centers for Disease Control’s new guidance for those who are fully vaccinated and exposed to someone with Covid-19. Under the new guidelines, fully vaccinated people who got their second shot at least two weeks earlier need not quarantine if they have no symptoms since their exposure and are within 3 months of getting the vaccine. In-patients and residents in long term care facilities who have been vaccinated still need to quarantine.

Scott urged Vermonters to continue with their efforts to avoid multi-household gatherings with the upcoming Daytona 500 on Sunday.

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

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