MONTPELIER, Vt. (WFFF) — At Friday’s COVID-19 briefing, Gov. Phil Scott said he was hoping to outline Vermont’s timeline for re-opening, but the announcement will have to wait another week amid climbing case counts across the region.
Scott acknowledged some Vermonters’ frustration over the ongoing restrictions and vaccine rollout as other states take significant steps to reopen, but urged them to be patient in this important home stretch.
“I know some are concerned that other states have opened up more broadly, but just a reminder – states receive the same percentage of vaccines based on population,” Scott said. “They may also be opening up because supply has outpaced demand due to resistance to the vaccine, but that’s not the case in Vermont.”
Nearly 40% of Vermonters over the age of 16 have received at least one dose of the vaccine, but the impressive turnout thus far has one noticeable exception – Essex County continues to lag behind the rest of the state.
As of Friday afternoon, 31.3% of Essex County residents had received at least one dose, while every other Vermont county had at least 35%.
“We are making significant efforts to improve vaccination rates, and we need participation from everyone in that county,” said Vermont Human Services Secretary Mike Smith. “We are deploying mobile clinics to nine locations in Essex County on April 10 and 11.”
Smith also announced some positive news for older Vermonters – senior centers and adult day centers have been given the greenlight to reopen under new safety guidelines, including masking and reduced visitation.
“They’ve been closed for group activities since November 2020, only allowed to serve people one at a time,” Smith said. “We are now ready to allow these centers to reopen for group activities such as exercise, the arts and social groups.”
It’s a step that was made possible by Vermont protecting its most vulnerable with an aged-based approach to vaccination, but the ongoing surge of COVID-19 cases among younger Vermonters has been a point of concern at recent briefings. The surge included a single-day high last Friday.
To bring home the importance of continuing to follow health and safety guidelines, Governor Scott pulled an analogy from his days on the race track: if he was leading in the last ten laps and there was a caution flag, you wouldn’t see the governor taking off his helmet.
“I buckle up, I get back in control, I pay attention and focus on the last ten laps, and that’s where I feel like we are right now,” Scott said. “As tired as you are of going through this, all the restrictions and everything that comes along with it, now is not the time to let up.”
Entering the holiday weekend, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said any gathering is risky right now, but if you do gather with people you don’t live with, he said you should get tested afterward.
“Vermont is no longer the one ‘green’ state in a map of red COVID cases across the U.S.,” he said. “We are just like all the other states in our region — a region that is currently doing even worse than some other parts of the country — with more disease circulating right now.”