Vermont in limbo over Covid-19 case counts as hospital admissions rise – Community News
Covid-19

Vermont in limbo over Covid-19 case counts as hospital admissions rise

Health Commissioner Mark Levine discusses the effect of vaccines on reducing fatalities in long-term care facilities at a Covid-19 press conference on Tuesday, September 28, 2021. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

On the surface, Vermont’s data would suggest positive news about the spread of Covid-19 in the state. Cases are down 13% in the past week, the biggest drop since the Delta wave began this summer.

But at the same time, testing dropped a whopping 32%, suggesting that the lowercase count was more likely the result of fewer people being tested. The positivity rate — the percentage of PCR tests that came back positive for Covid-19 — rose 23%, according to a presentation by Ministry of Financial Regulation Commissioner Mike Pieciak.

Pieciak said the people who wanted to be tested on Thanksgiving or the days after were more likely to be symptomatic, increasing the positivity rate. Colleges and K-12 schools also did not conduct regularly scheduled tests because their students were on recess.

The Department of Health reported 183 Covid cases among K-12 students and staff in the past week, the lowest weekly total in the past month.

The number of tests also declined across the region, except in Quebec, where the number of cases continued to rise steadily. (Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in October.)

Data on hospital admissions, which are less affected by holiday fluctuations, suggest Vermont is still hard hit by the virus. The health ministry reported a record 82 hospital admissions on Tuesday, including 22 people in intensive care units.

About 70% of hospitalized patients and 80% of ICU patients are unvaccinated, although unvaccinated Vermonters make up only 25% of the population age 5 or older, according to state data.

Pieciak presented new data on the effect of boosters on the prevention of hospitalization. In November, the rate of hospitalizations for people who had been fully vaccinated and boosted was 6 per 100,000 people.

For people who were fully vaccinated without a booster, that was 18 per 100,000. For not fully vaccinated people — those with one or no injection — the rate was 81 per 100,000, according to the Pieciak presentation.

Pieciak said the high uptake of boosters among the elderly population — 64% of people age 65 and older — could be why Vermont reported a decline in fatalities in November despite the rising number of cases.

Vermont has so far reported 34 deaths in November, up from 46 in October and 50 in September, according to Pieciak’s presentation. That may not be the full monthly total, as the state often adds death data retroactively.

It’s also worth noting that death rates tend to lag behind cases and hospitalizations as the virus runs its course in critically ill patients.

The state has expanded its booster program to all adults. State officials encouraged Vermonters to take their next shot.

[Looking for data on breakthrough cases? See our reporting on the latest available statistics.]

“By protecting yourself, you are protecting the people around you, including family, community and those who are more vulnerable,” said health commissioner Mark Levine. “And the more Vermonters are protected, the less of a burden on our health care system, meaning people who need hospital care for whatever reason can get it.”

Levine also encouraged parents to make appointments for children ages 5 to 11 to receive their vaccines. About 41% of children in that age group have received their first dose so far.

Governor Phil Scott also urged Vermonters to wear masks indoors, especially in public areas. But he once again defended his decision not to issue a mask order, despite public pressure from the legislature and health experts.

“The ongoing debate about whether it should be made mandatory or whether it should be used only makes the problem worse from my point of view,” he said.

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