By Ethan Weinstein
As the public waits anxiously to learn more about the Omicron variant, Vermont is currently experiencing its highest number of Covid hospitalizations and Covid patients in ICU beds.
“There’s still a lot we don’t know and it could be a couple of weeks before we get more information. Until then, we’re not going to speculate,” Governor Phil Scott said of the Omicron Variant, which has not yet been detected in the United States. “What we do know is that getting your booster is going to be key.”
On Tuesday, Nov. 30, Vermont reported 84 Covid hospitalizations, 22 of whom required intensive care. Both of those figures are pandemic records. In the ICU, 81% of Covid patients are not fully vaccinated. The statistic for general Covid hospitalizations was similarly stark: the not fully vaccinated are currently 13 1/2 times more likely to be hospitalized for Covid than those who are fully vaccinated and boosted. For this reason, Gov. Scott stressed that anyone 18 and older should get a booster shot.
At Rutland Regional Medical Center (RRMC), physicians have been feeling the strain of the latest Covid surge in Rutland County. According to Gerianne Smart, marketting and public relations manager at RRMC, the hospital was at or near capacity two weeks ago, and is currently at about 80% capacity.
“We’re holding out breath for the post-Thanksgiving effect — whatever that may be,” Smart said, indicating that the hospital — like the Scott administration — expects cases to rise as a result of Thanksgiving gatherings.
Currently, Covid patients occupy about 20% of RRMC’s total beds and 50% of ICU beds.
“We have more Covid patients in the hospital now than ever before,” Smart said.
Reiterating RRMC’s recommendations, Smart stressed that people should get vaccinated, boosted, practice good hygiene, and wear masks while indoors. “It is a minor thing to do with a huge benefit,” she said of masking.
Although the cumulative average case count has fallen since last week’s record, Commissioner Michael Piecak suggested decreased testing over the Thanksgiving holiday is likely responsible for the lower overall number of confirmed cases.
Confirmed cases fell 7% in the last seven days, but during that same time, testing decreased 32% and test positivity rate has increased 23%, signaling an increased prevalence of the virus.
“We do not anticipate cases to go down in the next four weeks,” said Piecak, discussing the state’s modelling.
Rutland County reported 50 new cases on Tuesday, bringing the 14-day case total to 751. Meanwhile, Windsor County reported 28 new cases on Nov. 30, with 518 cases in the last 14 days. The statewide, seven-day rolling case average is 312 as of Tuesday.
Kids age 5-11 continue to contract Covid more often than any other age group in Vermont, said Dr. Michael Levine, the state health commissioner. The demographic makes up about 20% of Vermont’s active Covid cases. And the state is experiencing this inflated rate of infection despite having the largest percent of its kids 5-11 — 44% — vaccinated or soon to be vaccinated.
Dr. Levine also addressed the Omicron variant and the lack of certainty surrounding it. “Omicron does have some features that are concerning,” he said. “It appears to be more infectious,” though scientists have not yet confirmed that fact, most speculate similarly.
It remains to be seen whether Omicron causes more severe infection and just how resistant it is to the current vaccines.