Vermont’s soaring COVID-19 cases broke several records in recent days.
The state reported the most cases in a single day with 641 on Sunday. Hospitals were treating 90 patients overall and 31 in intensive care units, both all-time highs. A few counties — Bennington, Rutland and Essex — have among the highest rates in the nation.
Vermont officials chose not to dwell on these dim data points during their weekly press briefing Tuesday. Instead, they spent most of their time highlighting more promising developments in the fight against the pandemic, from high uptake of boosters and the children's vaccine to a nation-leading testing rate.
Forty-six percent of children ages 5 to 11 have received at least one dose, while more than a third of fully vaccinated people have received a booster shot. Vermont, meanwhile, continues to test a larger share of its population than any other state.
"When looking at other states, we have to look at the full picture," Scott said. "Because Vermonters have stepped up to get vaccinated and boosted, and because they're testing and using common sense measures like masking indoors, Vermont continues to lead in many metrics."
Only when asked about the rising number of cases and hospitalizations 45 minutes into Tuesday's press conference did Scott voice some concern, however limited. "It is frustrating, but from our standpoint, case counts aren't what we're watching," he said. "We need to continue to watch the hospitalizations — which are elevated as well — but we're still in pretty good shape when compared to other states that have been impacted."
Officials said efforts to shore up Vermont's health care system in recent weeks have allowed state hospitals to withstand the latest wave of COVID-19 patients.
Several hospitals have scrambled to increase their ICU capacity, setting up more beds. There were 11 available ICU beds across the state as of Tuesday — one more than this time a week ago — and at least 10 more expected to come online in the coming days.
The state is also working to open another 20 beds at long-term care facilities, which should allow hospitals to free up more space by transferring some patients.
"Everything that we've done from the beginning," Scott said," [is] to make sure our health care system is protected, and we feel that we've done that."
Another way Vermonters can protect hospitals, Scott said, is to get vaccinated.
The unvaccinated were 15 times more likely to wind up in the hospital last month compared to fully vaccinated people who had received a booster shot, according to state data.
"This is really a pandemic of the unvaccinated at this point in time," Scott said.
Officials also announced a new emergency rule that will allow Vermonters with commercial health insurance to start picking up at-home COVID tests at their local pharmacy for free. The rule, which mandates that commercial insurers cover the costs of up to two at-home tests per week, went into effect Tuesday and is retroactive to December 1.
Scott hoped to eventually expand the reimbursements to people beyond just those with private insurance.
Officials projected that case counts will remain high in the next few weeks, with
small family gatherings expected to impact the rate of transmission. "Getting through the holidays is going to be probably our most difficult time," Scott said.