By Ethan Weinstein
As the state sets new records in both its seven day average case count and its single day case count, Governor Phil Scott and his administration addressed Vermonters while wearing masks for the first time in months but did not issue any substantive changes to Covid policy.
Scott touted the over 14,000 children age 5-11 who have recieved or are scheduled to receive their first vaccine dose. With over 30% of the age group soon to be vaccinated, Scott said Vermont was once again leading the nation in a vaccination statistic.
This week’s case numbers, however, were high. On Wednesday, Nov. 3, there were 496 Vermonters who tested positive for Covid — a record. And as of Nov. 9, the seven day case average is also at an all time high of 309.
Commissioner Michael Pieciak highlighted a 42% week-over-week case increase. He also noted that the state’s modeling does not predict a decrease in cases over the next four weeks — a rare statement of something like certainty when discussing forecasting.
“The prevalence of the virus is greater than it was a week or two ago; it’s not just a matter of testing or some other data anomaly,” he said.
Commissioner of health Dr. Mark Levine offered a hollow explanation for the last week’s increase in cases. The first factor he noted was “Delta,” which, of course, is not new to Vermont; it has been the dominant strain of Covid-19 in the state for months.
Second, Levine cited the low incidence of Covid in Vermont throughout the entirety of the pandemic, which meant low prevalence of natural immunity. Because so few Vermonters have gotten Covid, few people have natural immunity, Levine said. This notion, however, would seem to contradict the Scott administration’s focus on vaccines, and its perpetual back-patting with regards to Vermont’s perceived vaccine exceptionalism. Should not the high rate of vaccination make up for the relatively low rate of Covid infection?
Levine also blamed the current viral surge on the success of Vermont’s vaccine rollout. Because so many people got vaccinated so quickly, their immunity is now waning. Last, Levine hypothesized changing behavior contributed to the increased cases. Cold weather has brought people indoors; Halloween inspired large gatherings; the state has dropped all behavioral restrictions, including indoor mask mandates.
Rutland County reported 35 new cases on Tuesday, bringing its 14-day case total to 432. Meanwhile, Windsor County reported 16 new cases on Nov. 2, with 258 cases in the last 14 days.
Asked why he was wearing a mask at the press conference for the first time since the end of the state of emergency, Gov. Scott pointed to optics. “It’s as much symbolism as anything else.”