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65-plus registration opens Monday; Fully vaccinated allowed to gather with household

Published: Feb. 23, 2021 at 6:32 AM EST|Updated: Feb. 23, 2021 at 6:55 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont officials Tuesday said the next phase of COVID-19 vaccination registration for those 65 and older will open on Monday, March 1. And the governor has opened the way for fully vaccinated individuals to gather with one trusted household.

The registration for the 65-plus group, some 42,000 Vermonters, will open Monday at 8:15 a.m. People are encouraged to set up an account ahead of time. The next phase, those with underlying health conditions, is expected to open next in the coming weeks.

AHS Secretary Mike Smith says an estimated 91,000 Vermonters have received at least one shot and about half of those have received both shots. Vermont still ranks 10th nationally in its distribution of the vaccine per capita. “Our goal is to make it easier for Vermonters to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” said AHS Secretary Mike Smith.

On top of expanded testing, Vermont is opening more vaccination sites with the help of the National Guard and is also slated to get 1,000 more doses weekly, bringing the state’s total allocation to 14,500. Approval of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine is expected by the end of the week and could increase that number by 2,000. “We’re hopeful that Johnson & Johnson will come online soon so we can continue to make steady progress,” said Gov. Phil Scott.

As the age group bands open up, there are more people questioning why they aren’t further up in line. Over 30 unions and special interest groups, including teachers, are all vying for the shot. The governor again defended the state’s approach, saying protecting life remains the primary goal, and he says the data is showing progress. “We did a pretty good job of not becoming infected, preventing the loss of life without a vaccine. Were just asking to go a little longer. We need three more months until you can get your position,” Scott said.

Starting Tuesday, anyone who’s been fully vaccinated can gather with other households, regardless of whether they’ve been vaccinated. Masks and distancing are still required. “If your parents are fully vaccinated, you can go to their house for dinner and vice versa,” Scott said.

The governor says they continue to work on guidance for all the “what if’ scenarios and will provide more details in the coming days.

Also as of Tuesday, travelers who are fully vaccinated and have waited at least 14-days after their final dose, can now travel to and from Vermont without a quarantine. People must be able to prove they have been fully vaccinated, according to the new guidelines announced last week. While vaccinated people may not need to quarantine before visiting, other safety measures like masks and social-distancing remain mandatory.

COVID NUMBERS, HOPITALIZATIONS, DEATHS CONTINUE TO DROP

Vermont’s COVID-19 cases are projected to go down in the coming weeks but COVID variants continue to pose uncertainty.

“The light at the end of the tunnel has never remained brighter,” said DFR Commissioner Mike Pieciak. That’s because COVID-19 cases nationally continue to drop sharply. This is the 6th straight week of declining new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.

The U.S. this week recorded a sobering statistic -- the 500,000th COVID death. In just one year, the virus has claimed the third-most lives of any U.S. event. More than both World Wars, Vietnam, and the Korean War combined. Only the Civil War and the 1918 flu pandemic have killed more people. “It’s really difficult to envision the scale of this loss,” said Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine.

But deaths are projected to keep dropping in our region as cases do over the coming months. Vermont’s forecast is projected to reach about 50 new cases per day by early April. But the threat of virus variants could still change that picture. “We don’t know the full impact of the variants and what that will do to our case counts,” Pieciak said.

There’s also good news for counties in Vermont that had been seeing surges. Active cases in Bennington, Rutland, and Essex Counties have all dropped, and Franklin County has stabilized. But cases are still elevated in all of Vermont compared to where they were last summer or early fall.

As of Tuesday, Vermont health officials reported 82 new coronavirus cases for a total of 14,691. There have been a total of 199 deaths. The state’s percent positive seven-day average is 1.5%. A total of 326,838 people have been tested, and 11,907 have recovered.

VERMONT LABOR DEPARTMENT DATA BREACH UPDATE

Vermont labor officials say they are finalizing the printing and mailing of new 1099-G tax forms for unemployment claimants following last month’s data breach that ended up sending upwards of 50,000 of the forms to the wrong people. Those new forms should go in the mail by next week. Instructions on what to do with the erroneous forms are on the department’s website.

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