By Ethan Weinstein
Despite a call from Lt. Gov. Molly Gray to issue stricter pandemic measures, Gov. Scott remained firm during his press conference Tuesday, Sept. 21, that he would not provide pandemic measures such as an indoor mask mandate without a state of emergency.
“I know there are some who would like to see more restrictions put in place,” Scott said, making subtle reference to Gray. But more restrictions would undermine businesses and make it difficult for families with loved ones in elder care facilities, he said.
Scott noted that the most important factor in determining whether a state of emergency is necessary is healthcare capacity. As of Sept. 21, 48 people in the state are hospitalized and 19 in the ICU due to Covid. Currently, 80% of hospitalizations and 83% of ICU cases are among the unvaccinated.
“The most important step we could take as a state is to get as many people vaccinated as possible,” Scott said. The number of Vermonters who got vaccinated last week declined by 6.6% over the previous week. Still, Vermont leads the nation in percentage of fully vaccinated residents and also has the lowest per capita death rate in the country.
The governor encouraged vaccinated individuals to wear masks when in “crowded indoor settings,” and continued to encourage all unvaccinated Vermonters to wear masks when indoors.
Rutland County reported 27 new cases on Tuesday, bringing the 14-day case total to 288. Meanwhile, Windsor County reported 11 new cases on Sept. 21, with 229 cases in the last 14 days. The state is currently experiencing its highest seven-day case average of the entire pandemic, a grim statistic given all the data and resources currently at the government’s disposal.
A few recent case reporting issues have brought attention to the accuracy (or potential inaccuracy) of these numbers. Last week, a contractor’s “IT glitch” was discovered to have delayed the reporting of some cases, leading the state to report 330 cases on Sept. 15. That number reflected weeks’ accumulation of unreported cases. The problem has since been resolved.
Additionally, the state has been updating daily case counts several days after initially releasing the data, often causing big spikes in daily case totals.
In light of these issues, Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said state officials have been discussing changing their reporting process so that they no longer revise case numbers days after the fact.
Secretary of Education Dan French announced a pilot program that will provide take-home PCR Covid tests for four school districts including Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union. The state hopes to expand the testing program to maximize ease and flexibility for surveillance testing operations.
French also noted that the state is working to collect data on both student and staff vaccination rates for every public school.
In the last week, there have been 174 confirmed and suspected Covid cases in Vermont’s public schools. All schools in the state except for the Canaan School currently have mask requirements in place for students and staff.
The state will begin concentrating contact tracing resources on under-vaccinated schools, which means a particular focus on elementary schools, whose younger students are not yet able to be vaccinated.
In other news, Scott announced a 30 day “pause” for the general assistance program, which will allow homeless residents to continue living in motels without the threat of eviction. The program was set to end on Sept. 22 and would have led to evictions. The state continues to encourage these residents to find permanent housing, offering a financial incentive.
The governor was careful not to call the decision an “extension” of the program. The governor also said that it will be four-to-six weeks before he has more information on the 100 Afghan refugees who will settle in Vermont.