Despite an increase in COVID-19 infection rates nationally and in Vermont, Gov. Phil Scott and some of his key cabinet members remained upbeat during a weekly press briefing on Tuesday, saying they don’t anticipate a return of state restrictions.
After dropping for months, the rate of COVID-19 deaths started rising nationally and in Vermont in mid-July as the more infectious Delta variant took hold.
And on Tuesday, several national media outlets reported that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control would start recommending that vaccinated people wear masks indoors in some areas of the U.S.
But with the highest vaccination rate in the country at nearly 84 percent, Vermont is not expected to see the surge in cases reported in some other states, Scott said at his weekly press conference. The state reported 11 new cases Monday, and five or six people were hospitalized with the virus — the lowest rate in the country, Health Commissioner Mark Levine said.
Vermont hit a low of just a few confirmed cases in late June and early July, but officials expect there will be about 50 by the end of August. One person in Vermont has died of the virus this month — a huge drop from December and January, when two or three people died each day.
All this means that Vermonters are unlikely to live with the kind of restrictions that last summer closed public festivals and other events, curtailed hospitality business and limited social activity.
“There’s not a reason for us to take an alarmist kind of stance and make any major changes,” Scott said. “I went to a number of parades this year, and there were a lot of people there as well … We’re almost back to normal.”
Nearly all of the infections nationally and in Vermont are striking unvaccinated people, officials said. And now that 83.6 percent of Vermonters have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, Vermont’s spike will be lower than that of the nation's overall.
“The vaccines are proving effective against all variants we've encountered so far, including Delta,” Scott said. “As the director of the CDC put it, this is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
Since vaccinations became available in December, Scott and other Vermont officials have heavily emphasized the shots as the path out of the pandemic. They reiterated that point Tuesday as they talked about ways to make sure that Vermont stays open. The state is operating vaccination clinics at public gatherings and workplaces in an effort to reach the 90,000 Vermonters who are eligible for vaccinations but haven’t received them.
Levine estimated about 5 percent of that group had taken a firm stance against the vaccines. The rest, he said, are merely apathetic.
“It’s just not on the radar at all; it’s just not a priority,” he said.
Those who have decided not to get the vaccination are “choosing not only to endanger themselves but those who they live with, work with and socialize with,” Levine said, "and ultimately are helping prolong the pandemic.”
However, the state has no plans to require vaccinations of state workers, as some other states have done, Scott said.
One group that might still be subject to a mask mandate in Vermont is K-12 students. Scott said officials plan to make a decision on that topic in coming days, and discuss it at the next press conference, on August 3. Education Secretary Dan French said school officials have been told to expect in-person instruction, not the hybrid or remote instruction that most K-12 students experienced last fall.
The CDC was expected to release its guidelines on mask-wearing later Tuesday.
For those who are traveling this summer, Levine issued a reminder about testing.
“With positivity rates in the U.S. and around the world all over the map, if you travel to places with a lot of virus circulating, or spend time with people who do … getting tested is the only way for you to know if you’ve been infected,” he said. “Testing and common-sense prevention methods are recommended regardless of vaccination status.”