COVID-19 infection rates are falling sharply in Vermont, making public health officials cautiously optimistic that the Omicron spike is subsiding.
The state logged an average of 1,121 new COVID-19 cases per day over the past seven days — far higher than most other times during the pandemic. But that figure has declined 27 percent in a week, and 37 percent over 14 days, giving officials like Health Commissioner Mark Levine reason for optimism.
“Cases appear to have peaked in the Northeast, and are on the downslope,” Levine said Tuesday at a press briefing. “We hope this will lead to lower rates of transmission here in Vermont over the next coming weeks, something we’d all very much welcome.”
Cases are dropping among both vaccinated and unvaccinated residents. However, cases among the unvaccinated are 2.7 times higher, according to data presented by Finance Commissioner Mike Pieciak.
Vermont's vaccination rate, 79 percent, is the highest in the nation. But Levine said the rate of booster shots could be much better. Currently, just 56 percent of the population and 60 percent of those over 18 have gotten boosters, which are widely available.
“I’d love to see that percentage much closer to 90,” Levine said, encouraging people to get them immediately.
Deaths remained high in January, with 43 so far, the third highest of the pandemic. Since the start of the pandemic, 523 Vermonters have died with COVID-19.
Despite the encouraging decline of infections, Levine noted that higher transmissibility of Omicron has forced the state to shift how it tracks the spread of the disease.
The traditional contract-tracing method has proven to be “slow, laborious and increasingly ineffective” in the face of a variant with a short incubation period and a high number of infected people showing no symptoms or mild ones.
The state and schools have responded by embracing a model of families testing at home. Test kits have been in short supply, but the state has found additional suppliers and has distributed more than 1 million kits since December.
While switching to the home-testing model has made it more difficult to track cases, Levine said other indicators, like COVID-19 tracking in Burlington's wastewater stream, also offers evidence that the prevalence is waning.