Revises outdoor mask guidance, moves to Step 2 of reopening plan
By Polly Mikula
On May 1 the state announced that it had hit the targeted vaccination threshold of 50–60% of all Vermonters and 60–70% of Vermonters 16-plus, triggering the planned move to Step 2 of the reopening plan, Vermont Forward.
As of Tuesday, May 4, 351,300 Vermonters have been vaccinated — or 57.4% of the state’s population. That rate makes Vermont first in the nation for vaccinations per 100,000 people, state officials said at the bi-weekly press conference.
Step 2 of the Vermont Forward plan moves additional business sectors to universal guidance and sets new limits on gatherings — both social gatherings at a private residence and public events at venues. For indoor gatherings, there can be one unvaccinated person per 100 square feet up to 150 unvaccinated people (whichever is less), plus any number of fully vaccinated people. For outdoor gatherings, there can be 300 unvaccinated people, plus any number of fully vaccinated people.
The state also announced that masks are now only required outdoors in situations where a 6-foot distance cannot be maintained. Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD, said this change is based on science that shows the risk of transmission when outdoors is very small.
“Masks will only be required when you’re in a crowd or with multiple households, where you can’t keep a 6-foot distance from others,” Levine said. “This is regardless of whether you are vaccinated or not.”
The state, region and nation have continued to see Covid cases decline as vaccinations increase.
But in order to continue to see forward progress and hit next month’s reopening threshold, “We need those who have not stepped up yet to be vaccinated to do so,” Scott said. “We need to increase our vaccination numbers in order to hit our June 1 goal of having over 70% of those eligible vaccinated.
“If you want to attend concerts, fairs and festivals, if you want restaurants and bars to stay open past 10 p.m., do your part and get vaccinated,” he said.
“This truly is a moment of service,” he continued sharing a story of his father who lost both legs shortly after D-Day in France. “They answered the call of service for their country, now your state, your country are asking you to step up. And this ask is much less than what those before us were asked to do. We just want you to get vaccinated. By doing so you’ll not only help yourself, but also the people around you, the businesses, your community, your friends, your parents, your kids, your grandparents who might have served themselves. Together we’ve shown the way in this once-in-a-century challenge and all Vermonters should be proud of what we’ve accomplished together. But we’re in the last few laps of this race. Now isn’t the time to let up. Now is the time to focus and finish this off for the win.”
Getting a vaccine is “easier now that it’s ever been,” he added, as there are are now plenty of appointments and all Vermonters 16-plus are eligible.
The state has also added clinics at colleges, fairgrounds and racetracks to make vaccination easy and convenient to more people. Some walk-ins will be taken at the college and fairground events, but at the racetracks it will be walk-ins only.
“We’re trying to make it as easy and convenient for people as possible,” said Secretary Mike Smith.
Locally this week, clinics will be:
- May 7 at the Tunbridge Fairgrounds
- May 8 at Castleton University
- May 8 at Devil’s Bowl Speedway
Teen vaccination, supply to match demand
Sometime next week, Vermont’s teens age 12-15 could enroll for the Pfizer vaccine, Levine said. The federal advisory commission will be making that decision in a day or so, he added. In Vermont, that’s about 20,000-25,000 more people. Assuming their uptake rate more or less matches those of their parents, the state expects a strong turnout.
Secretary Smith said the state will use a hybrid approach to vaccinating that group of students via both health clinics and options through the schools. (Parental consent is required for those under 18.)
Currently, Vermont is one of the only state to be using all of its allocated vaccine doses from the federal government. Because of the differences in demand, allocation is likely to change in the near future, Scott said. Instead of distribution by population only, unutilized supply would be pooled and states could request up to 50% more doses than their current weekly allocation. In Vermont that’s about 20,000 doses per week, so the state could get as much as 10,000 doses more. “For a small state like us, that could make a big difference and really it’s a huge ask from the federal government,” Scott said.
To the vaccine-hesitant
Although Vermont has proven to be among the least vaccine-averse in the U.S. there is expected to be about 20-25% who don’t get vaccinated.
While it’s good to ask questions and be cautious, Levine said, “How long are you going to wait?”
“We’re going on a year’s worth of real time data and study data that tells us this vaccine has been remarkably effective and safe.
“Look at our own experience here in Vermont. We almost never see a case in someone over 65 these days. Death rates have plummeted, especially in the over 65 group and when a death occurs it is invariably in an unvaccinated person,” he said. “And we are not hearing about delayed or unforeseen side effects from the vaccine months after inoculation. Instead we are hearing about people who got Covid-19 and are having prolonged symptoms or even long-haul syndrome because they did not get vaccinated.
“Don’t leave yourself vulnerable to the virus and assume others will protect you. It’s just too risky,” Levine emphasized.
Don’t give up on herd immunity
This week health and data experts from across the country have “said they don’t think we’ll get to herd immunity,” Levine noted. “They say we’ve protected most of most vulnerable and Covid will just become a disease that the younger and healthier people get — and maybe that’s just ok.
“Well that’s not where I stand! Not in this state where we have a tradition of promoting and preserving good health. We need to appeal to Vermonters with more than talk of herd immunity and make it real. Vaccination means protecting vulnerable relatives, visiting with family and friends, sending our kids back to school and adults back to the workplace. We want to continue to make Vermont the safest state to live.
“You saw the data that shows diverging curves with Vermont’s vaccination rates continuing on nicely and the rest of the country tailing off significantly. It turns out there are only eight states whose curve resembles anything close to Vermont’s and only one other in the Northeast which is New York state…
“Simply put we can do better, Vermont can do better. We know how to do it and are fortunate to have enough vaccine and the knowhow… don’t give up now. We need everyone to step up and help us get to that finish line sooner,” Levine concluded.