Highly vaccinated Vermont continues to see high case counts for COVID-19, and the governor and his staff on Tuesday continued to blame variants for the state’s pandemic troubles.
“When you look at the reasons, it has to do with the Delta variant, which is way more contagious than anything we’ve encountered before, being spread very rapidly by people,” Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said. “It has to do with the with the fact that we’ve had probably the lowest-in-the-nation rate of people having had COVID prior to the Delta variant, so we have very little immunity in the population for the virus.”
Levine continued with explanations for the high number of cases.
“We’ve also had the most efficient and early vaccine success, so that because waining of vaccine immunity is a real phenomenon, we would of had a population that was at higher risk for that as well needing a booster,” he said. “And we have a very mobile population who have been taking advantage of the fact that they’ve been vaccinated and doing things in person much more than before.”
The governor said the unvaccinated are mostly responsible for spreading the virus.
“As we’ve said, it’s showing that 70 percent of those cases are amongst the unvaccinated, and when you start doing the math that’s a pretty small population,” Republican Gov. Phil Scott said. “When you do look at those percentages it does skew towards … a pretty obvious fact that this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
Daily COVID testing at schools
Testing of asymptotic Vermonters may increase more with the school COVID-19 mitigation strategy called “Test to Stay.” Secretary of the Agency of Education Dan French said the program pushes for more regular testing of asymptotic children before they enter school buildings.
“It’s part of a larger testing strategy which is called response testing, which is putting testing capacity at the school level so school nursing staff can have access to testing at the point of need, and in real-time,” he said. “Test to Stay students participate in a daily antigen test screening process prior to entering a school building for seven days in a row.”
He says about half of the state’s school districts have already signed up, about 51,000 antigen test kits have been ordered, and about 13,000 parental consent forms have been turned in.
Some studies contest the notion that young asymptomatic students are common spreaders of the virus, including one by the CDC earlier this year. The Federalist’s Georgi Boorman wrote about the CDC report involving 17 schools, and “only seven cases were linked to in-school transmission out of 4,876 pupils,” she reported.
The nursing shortage could get worse
Also at the press conference, officials took questions about how many Vermont nurses are expected to leave their positions due to COVID-19 vaccination requirements. Secretary of the Agency of Human Services Mike Smith largely downplayed the concern.
“As you know throughout the United States we’ve had a nursing shortage. We’ve had a nursing shortage before the pandemic started, but it’s been acutely sort of recognized since the pandemic has been going on,” he said. “These beds have not been unstaffed before any sort of vaccine sort of mandate, they’ve been unstaffed because they haven’t been able to get the nurses to staff them.”
That situation could change as Jan. 4 is a vaccination deadline for 100-percent hospital employment vaccination. Last Saturday at the “Let’s Go Brandon” event in Brandon, Vermont, a nurse told TNR that more than three hundred nurses and nurse assistants (LNAs/RNAs) are expected to leave their positions for reasons related to the federal vaccination mandate.
A nationwide poll by the Epoch Times indicates that up to 37 percent of the nationwide workforce who are currently facing vaccine or weekly testing mandates are planning to quit their jobs rather than comply.
The governor told TNR at the end of the conference that his administration would look further into the nurse-shortage situation.
New mandates are unlikely for now
Both the governor and Levine commented on why new statewide COVID-19 related mandates are an unlikely strategy for the immediate future. Levine said they can turn people’s attitudes against the policy in question.
“I’ve done a fair amount of emailing and phone calling to colleagues at my level in states that have had mandates, and they will actually attest to what our governor has said — compliance has been really challenging,” he said. “They find that populations are not only not in the mood to be mandated on anything, but that they were, akin to my opening comments today, already exiting the pandemic.”