by Doug McClure
GREENSBORO-HARDWICK – With the opening of area schools around the corner, the COVID situation in Vermont is deteriorating. Meanwhile, the FDA has fully approved the Pfizer vaccine for those 16 and up, with approval for ages 12 and up expected soon. Children under 12 do not have the option to get vaccinated yet.
Vermont is dealing with a spike in COVID cases, but as of Monday, had made few changes to its recommendations. The state had discontinued reporting new cases on weekends but resumed due to the increases. The Delta variant is driving the surge, with the state now reporting “At this time, all the genetically sequenced specimens are the Delta variant.”
The Delta variant still poses many questions. A variant of the variant, “Delta plus” has begun showing up in other areas. Two of the questions are how frequently the virus gets past vaccines, and what that means in terms of outcomes and long-term impacts.
While Vermont’s vaccination rate currently stands at 85%, Delta variant cases have been showing up among vaccinated people. While data is unclear about vaccines’ effectiveness against Delta, there is no question among experts that the outcomes for the unvaccinated are far worse.
The CDC reported that “In two different studies [on unvaccinated people] from Canada and Scotland, patients infected with the Delta variant were more likely to be hospitalized than patients infected with Alpha or the original virus strains.”
The vaccine was not designed to prevent catching COVID; its goal is to prevent the worst outcomes. Former Vermont Governor Dr. Howard Dean tweeted over the weekend that “Being vaccinated matters a lot, but this Delta strain is far more dangerous than I realized.”
The vaccination picture in this area is nearly the worst in the state. After Essex County, Orleans and Caledonia County make up the second- and third-least vaccinated counties. Combining Caledonia and Orleans County, where the majority of Hazen Union students live, the overall vaccination rate is 13 points below the state’s, at 72%, according to the state’s statistics. For school-age children in the two counties who are eligible for a vaccine, Vermont reports slightly over half are vaccinated — 23% less than the statewide percentage.
Orleans County, like all but four in Vermont, is considered by the CDC to have a “high” level of community transmission. The four counties with “substantial” spread include Caledonia and Lamoille. Both levels meet CDC recommendations for masking indoors, even for the vaccinated people. The state has thus far not followed suit with the same recommendation for vaccinated people.
Combined with the emergence of the Delta variant, the lower vaccination rate in Caledonia and Orleans Counties is making things graver. Orleans County now has the second-highest rate of COVID infections in the state per 10,000 residents, and Craftsbury is among the towns in the second-most-severe category in terms of recent new cases per 10,000.
Last week, the meaning of those numbers hit much closer to home. The Highland Center for the Arts posted a very brief notice about a “potential COVID exposure” last Wednesday:
“Due to potential Covid exposure among staff and out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to postpone the performances of the Vermont Comedy Divas, and Dwight & Nicole this weekend. If you have tickets to these shows, we will be in touch about refunds or rescheduling.”
The venue said it expects to resume its schedule “shortly.”
One year ago this week, no Gazette-covered town had any reported cases. Greensboro was first, with seven cases reported the second week of September 2020, and now has reported 37 cases. Hardwick did not report more than five cases until mid-November 2020 and now has reported 117. Craftsbury did not report over five cases until the first week of December 2020 and now has 61.
Vaccinations are free and widely available for those 12 and up. Visit healthvermont.gov/MyVaccine.
Northern Counties Health Care is offering free vaccination clinics with walk-ins welcome. The Hardwick Area Health Center is offering its clinics Mondays from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., and Wednesdays 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Clinics are also at the Northern Express Care in St. Johnsbury on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m.to 7 p.m., and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital is conducting clinics Mondays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
The Vermont Department of Health’s Morrisville Local Health Office at 63 Professional Drive is hosting clinics on Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The vaccine is also available at pharmacies. The Hardwick Walgreens pharmacy is temporarily closed on weekends.
School clinics are also being held by Hazen Union for children. Parent or guardian permission is required to vaccinate those under 18.