Vermont's COVID-19 Outlook Is Uncertain, Top Official Says | Off Message

Vermont's COVID-19 Outlook Is Uncertain, Top Official Says


A health care worker preparing a dose of COVID-19 vaccine - COURTESY OF RYAN MERCER / UVM MEDICAL CENTER
  • Courtesy of Ryan Mercer / UVM Medical Center
  • A health care worker preparing a dose of COVID-19 vaccine
Updated at 7:57 p.m.

The Vermont Health Department has reported relatively high COVID-19 case numbers this week, including 314 daily cases on Thursday — a one-day total that turned out to be inflated by 109 cases due to a vendor’s IT glitch.

But even though that glitch was resolved Friday, lowering a couple of one-day totals this week, officials cautioned that case numbers are high. And there are too many variables to know what those numbers say about coming days and weeks, said state Finance Commissioner Mike Pieciak, Vermont’s chief COVID-19 modeler.

Vermont officials reported Tuesday that the case rate had dropped slightly the week before. But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which produces modeling intended to shed some light on COVID-19 rate outlooks, shows a variety of potential outcomes for Vermont over the next days and weeks, from a rapid case rise to a rapid decline, Pieciak said. It’s too early, he said, to predict whether Vermont’s COVID-19 infection rate will decline, remain stable, or rise.

Unfortunately, we just don’t know,” Pieciak said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's COVID-19 case models for Vermont show a variety of potential outcomes. - VERMONT DEPARTMENT OF FINANCIAL REGULATION
  • Vermont Department of Financial Regulation
  • The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's COVID-19 case models for Vermont show a variety of potential outcomes.
Vermont’s situation has been dynamic for most of the summer. Public health officials have identified Labor Day Weekend, almost two weeks ago, as a time when people got together, which likely has driven up case numbers. Schools went back into session in the beginning of September, bringing people together indoors — another risk factor.

The state's outlook was so bright in June that Gov. Phil Scott let the longstanding state of emergency expire, and officials urged Vermonters to get out and enjoy social activities they hadn’t been able to experience in more than a year.

But cases of the Delta variant started rising in mid-July in Vermont. At that time, Vermont officials said the variant’s case numbers had increased rapidly in other states and then dropped quickly about seven to nine weeks after the first cases were reported. At the time, they said Vermont might experience a similar trajectory. Now, Vermont is “at nine to 10 weeks of this, so you’d think it would be around now that you’d start to see some improvement,” said Pieciak.
There are a couple of reasons why Vermont might have a different experience with the Delta surge than that of other states, Pieciak said. One is the state's very high vaccination rates — the highest in the country for most of the pandemic. Places that were hit hard by that surge in July include Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana, all of which have relatively low vaccination rates.

"That could have made the Delta wave more of a slow burn here," Pieciak said.

State officials hope watching neighboring states closely, as they have through the pandemic, will shed more light on what to expect in Vermont. Maine is seeing very high case numbers this week. The state reported that 200 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Friday, 34 of them on ventilators. Vermont, with about half the population of Maine, on Friday reported 41 hospitalized, with 12 in intensive care.

Nearly 78 percent of Vermonters age 12 and over have completed vaccination; that number is 73 percent in Maine and 70 in New Hampshire.

Maine’s hospitalizations are approaching the highest number seen there at any time during the pandemic, Pieciak said. New Hampshire, which also has about twice Vermont’s population, reported it has 126 people hospitalized.

“That’s another point of caution,” he said. “We’d like to see our cases going down in Vermont, and we’d like to see that happening regionally as well, because it gives us confidence there’s a broader trend.”

Vermont’s seven-day test positivity rate is 3 percent. On Friday, Maine and New Hampshire both reported test positivity rates of 5 percent.

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