Vermont reported 487 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, shattering the previous single-day record of 347 and dashing any hope that the state had turned a corner amid the latest surge of infections.
The seven-day infection average now sits at 247, the highest ever, while hospitalizations are trending upward after a brief decline. Fifty-five people were in hospitals, with 19 in intensive care — one shy of the record. Deaths have also continued to mount: Fifty people have succumbed to the virus since the start of October, including 10 in the last week.
When Vermont reported what was then a record-breaking number of cases in mid-September, state officials partially blamed a computer glitch. State health department spokesperson Ben Truman confirmed in an email that Thursday’s case spike was not a similar mishap.
Truman did, however, note that single-day case spikes can sometimes be the result of more people getting tested on any given day.
On Thursday, the health department reported 18,222 new tests, the second-highest daily total ever and far more than the 11,370 administered over the three previous days combined — likely the result of people waiting a few days to get tested following Halloween gatherings last weekend.
“Nonetheless,” Truman said, “the continued high number of cases reflect a concerning level of ongoing community spread of the virus.”
Gov. Phil Scott also emphasized the number of tests when addressing the high case count on Thursday, noting in a statement that the 2.7 percent positivity rate is on par with what the state has seen during much of the Delta wave.
“But we do have to consider the impact this case count could have on our hospital capacity in the coming weeks,” Scott said in the statement. “If we stayed at this level of cases, based on our current hospitalization rate, there is potential to see the number of people currently hospitalized increase to over 80, which would be a significant strain on the system.”
Despite this threat, Scott said that he saw no need to declare a new state of emergency in Vermont — something he's faced increased pressure to do in recent weeks. Instead, he echoed his call for personal responsibility, urging Vermonters to “think about what they can do to protect those at risk of hospitalization and deaths.”
The rate of COVID-19 infections has recently plateaued in the U.S. after declining for many weeks. Experts expect case counts to remain high through the holiday season but say there’s hope that the country will avoid another massive winter surge, particularly now that millions of children can get vaccinated.
Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signed off on a two-dose Pfizer regimen for children ages 5 to 11. Vermont opened registration for this age bracket Wednesday; by 4 p.m., more than 10,000 children had been signed up — nearly a quarter of the estimated 44,000 now eligible.
The rollout had a problem, however. The health department said Thursday that a glitch in its system prevented some parents from registering children who are Black, Indigineous or People of Color on Wednesday.
The issue was resolved Wednesday evening, by which time appointments were being booked weeks out. The health department says it’s now working to figure out how many people were impacted by the glitch.
“Although this was an unintentional error, it resulted in an unacceptable and incredibly disappointing outcome, and for that we sincerely apologize,” the department said in a press release Thursday evening.
“This created a situation of racially disparate systemic inequity — that is the case even when unintentional,” the press release said. “We acknowledge the real impact this has on the health and well-being of Vermonters of color, who are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and other health conditions, and who have experienced historic injustices.”
The department says it’s working to accommodate impacted families by setting up additional appointments as well as moving up some appointments to earlier dates. Anyone who was affected by the glitch is encouraged to contact the state’s vaccine registration call center at 855-722-7878. It's open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekends.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Scott and other officials pleaded with parents to get their children vaccinated.
“While we know this won't eliminate all cases, it's another big step forward, and could be the key to accelerating our transition from pandemic to endemic,” Scott said.
Correction, November 4, 2021: A previous version of this story misidentified Thursday's testing numbers as the highest-ever; it was actually the second-highest.