OSSU Restarts In-Class Instruction, Testing Continues, and Vaccine Roll-Out Begins

by Doug McClure

MONTPELIER/HARDWICK – On Tuesday, Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said “We are not seeing the surge upon surge [in COVID cases] that could have happened because of Thanksgiving … I know how exhausted many of us are, so I truly am heartened to see how many Vermonters are following the guidance.”

via UVM Medical Center Video On December 14, the first batch of vaccines began arriving at UVM Medical Center. Vaccines will also go to pharmacies federally contracted to distribute to Long-Term Care Facilities for the first round of vaccinations.

He had earlier qualified that in a release by saying, “These [new case] numbers are not something we should develop a new comfort level around.” Vermont has seen around 100 cases per day for weeks and reached the 100-fatality milestone on Tuesday.

Department of Financial Regulation Commissioner Commissioner Mike Pieciak said that agency’s modeling showed a 60% reduction in out-of-state visits to Vermonters compared to 2019, and the state was third-lowest in the country for the number of people traveling during the holiday. 

Dr. Levine noted that the vaccine roll-out had begun in Vermont on Monday but cautioned it would be many months before widespread availability. Vermont began the first vaccinations of high-risk healthcare workers on Tuesday, putting it among the first in the nation.

Governor Scott on Tuesday extended the State of Emergency for another month and repeated the same warning for the Christmas holidays as he did for Thanksgiving, asking residents not to gather with people from other households. 

For most Hardwick Gazette towns, the week-to-week increase from December 2 to December 9 leveled off compared to previous weeks. In Hardwick, the number of cases as of last Friday stood at 28 after a surge in the last two weeks of November. Cabot only grew by a single case to 13 cases, as did Wolcott (to 19), and Plainfield and Marshfield rose to 29 and 24 cases, respectively, a small increase. Greensboro increased to 13 cases as of December 13. Craftsbury had been in the “1-5 cases” category for months until the first week of December, when 6 cases were reported. As of December 9, the count had grown to 13 cases.

Testing Continues in Hardwick

Northern Counties Health Care Chief Strategy Officer Chris Towne said that since testing began in Hardwick on December 5, between 20 to 55 people have shown up per day to get tested at the fire station. Testing is available Tuesdays from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., and Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 9 a.m. to noon.

Towne said while the fire station testing does accommodate walk-in patients, for the sake of efficiency he strongly advised people to register online the day prior to their hoped-for testing date by 3 p.m. “just to be sure that everything is in the system and reported back to them as quickly as possible.” People can register and find a time slot at vermont.force.com/events/s/selfregistration. Results are generally sent via email in two to three days from the test date.

School’s Back In… For Now

With cautious optimism, the Orleans Southwest Supervisory Union (OSSU) resumed its in-person learning schedule Monday. “Please remember that in person learning could be disrupted any time due to additional confirmed COVID cases,” wrote Superintendent Adam Rosenberg in a missive last Thursday, December 10. 

He said, “we have determined that most of the confirmed OSSU cases occurring to date originated during the several days prior to Thanksgiving break. In order to avoid repeating this scenario, please don’t send your child to school any time during the next week and a half if they are sick. And please also reach out to your school as soon as possible if a member of your family has tested positive so that we can follow up and ensure the safety of others.”

Concern has shifted to the Christmas holidays as yet another potential source of new cases. Rosenberg wrote “Currently, we expect to start January in person; however, that could change if data from Thanksgiving suggests that multi-household gatherings and/or interstate travel have generated a large spike in positive cases.”

Vaccine Arrives in Vermont

On Monday, 1,950 doses of the Pfizer COVID vaccine arrived in Vermont, with another 3,900 scheduled to arrive this week. 1,950 of those doses will be sent to pharmacies for further distribution to long-term care facilities.

Through December, Dr. Levine said Vermont would get 5,850 doses per week. These early doses are to be distributed to high-risk health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities (LTCF). A large number of Vermont’s cases and deaths have occurred in LTCFs, and vaccination in those facilities may begin December 21.

Dr. Levine said Tuesday that Vermont had a further standing order for the Moderna vaccine as soon as it receives emergency approval, which may happen this week. “Vermont could potentially see 11,400 doses [in December] and 5,400 doses next month.” 

Dr. Levine said as many as 34,000 total doses could arrive in Vermont by the end of December. Since both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require two shots, every person who receives the first shot will have a second one waiting for them when their second shot is necessary. 

It will be months before distribution to the general population reaches the mark of 70% of people vaccinated, which is where its prevalence could begin to alter the trajectory of COVID-19. Dr. Levine said people should expect to still be wearing masks in public, perhaps into next fall.

While the initial groups to be vaccinated have been identified, the order in which people in other groups will receive the vaccine is still under discussion. Governor Scott he trusted the vaccine and advice from Drs. Fauci and Levine but said that he would not pre-empt someone else’s access to the vaccine who might need it more by getting vaccinated himself. “I’m not going jump to the front of the line for the sake of saving myself,” he said.