by Doug McClure
MONTPELIER – The town-by-town data released by the state last Friday showed that the number of new COVID cases reported in Hardwick had increased by 32%, from 71 cases on March 24 to 94 on March 31, the highest week-to-week percentage increase in the 135 days since Hardwick registered more than five cases in state reporting.
The state also reported Friday that the B.1.1.7 COVID variant, first discovered in the United Kingdom, is now in Caledonia County. By Tuesday, that variant had been found in sixteen tests in Caledonia County and one in Orleans County. Another variant, B.1.429, was also found in an Orleans County test. The P.1, a third variant that is of major concern due to an apparent potential for re-infection, was first found in Brazil and has now been detected in Vermont.
All three variants have higher transmissibility than the original strain of COVID: B.1.1.7 is 43-90% more transmissible, while B.1.429 is estimated to be 20% more transmissible and is one of the “West Coast variants.” A study also indicated that the B.1.1.7 variant had “a 61% higher hazard of death.”
Hazen Union classes have been meeting remotely since March 29, and according to the most recent update “there now seems to be evidence that could suggest some in-school spread of COVID. There will be no in-person classes, meetings, activities, or practices of any sort until at least 8 April 2021.”
Young people sixteen years of age and older with specific pre-existing conditions, and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) students are eligible for vaccination right now. While the Orleans Southwest Supervisory Union (OSSU) has neither confirmed nor denied it, multiple students have speculated that the surge of cases at Hazen Union started at a basketball game.
Since the start of March, Hazen Union has had a dozen new cases, Craftsbury Academy three, and Hardwick Elementary two.
Superintendent Adam Rosenberg said “I’ve asked the VDH [Vermont Department of Health] several times whether or not they’ve determined whether there has been an outbreak. I’ve been told they’re looking at the data but have made no determination.”
Some schools in Vermont are reportedly considering requiring proof of vaccination for students returning to in-person learning once the 16-plus age group becomes eligible for vaccination on April 19.
Superintendent Adam Rosenberg said that because it was still weeks away, that particular step was not being discussed, but there had been “Some discussion around proof of negative test results in order to return to school in fewer than 14 days of quarantine.”
The OSSU, the Hardwick Select Board, and Hardwick Area Health Center last week issued a joint statement which reads in part “Vaccination is working, but we need time to get vaccines into more arms. Starting April 19, Vermonters age 16 and up can register for vaccinations. We need to remain vigilant, avoid unnecessary interactions, and always mask up.”
Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine made a similar comment, adding that “When there is this much virus around, any gathering is risky.” He said he was optimistic about the future but “very concerned” about the current status. “I know this is difficult. But again, we’ve been at it for over a year; we just need to hang tough for a few more weeks.”
On Monday, the state said that the new eligibility band of age 40-plus had seen over 11,000 Vermonters register in 45 minutes. On Tuesday, the state announced the percentage of people who have received at least one dose crossed the 40% mark statewide, with Caledonia County lagging slightly at 38% and Lamoille County ahead at 45%. People aged 30-plus can register starting next Monday, followed by everyone sixteen and older on April 19.
Pfizer’s vaccine can be administered to those sixteen and over, Moderna and J&J to patients eighteen and over.To register for a vaccination (once eligible), go to healthvermont.gov/myvaccine, walgreens.com/schedulevaccine, cvs.com/immunizations/covid-19-vaccine, or kinneydrugs.com/pharmacy/covid-19/vaccination-scheduling/vt/