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Delta deja-vu in Vermont; effort to speed up contact tracing in schools

Published: Sep. 14, 2021 at 10:09 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 14, 2021 at 7:17 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - It’s delta deja-vu as cases among the unvaccinated remain high. The increase is driving hospitalizations in Vermont to numbers that we saw back in the spring. But at the weekly news briefing by the governor and administration officials, leaders were cautiously optimistic case counts will come down.

Starting Wednesday, a universal vaccine mandate or frequent testing goes into effect for executive branch state employees. And there is revised guidance for schools.

Cases are still high-- 111 were reported Tuesday. We’re down about 86 cases compared to last week.

“When you look at that seven-day average, the trend is down but it isn’t a clear trend down... and it hasn’t been sustained yet. That’s the point of caution that we want to take into account,” said Mike Pieciak, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation.

We’re now nine weeks into delta and the state is hoping that cases will begin to drop faster.

As of Tuesday, 43 people, including one child, are in the hospital. Of them, 36 are unvaccinated and seven are fully vaccinated.

State leaders point to new data showing the unvaccinated are 11 times more likely to die and 10 times more likely to end up in the hospital than those who have the shot.

As of this week, more than 87% of Vermonters 12 and up have one shot.

“This real-world data suggests high and continued vaccine effectiveness against COVID-19 including the delta variant,” Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said.

SHIFTING STRATEGY WITHIN SCHOOLS

On the school front, cases are still popping up. Last week there were 78 out of 80,000 kids.

Aiming to cut down on quarantines and the loss of in-person learning, the state is streamlining how contact tracing in done in schools and also revising guidance on school buses, cafeterias and playgrounds.

“If we can leverage making sure schools have vaccination information at their fingertips, that will go a long way to making the process more efficient at the local level,” Vt. Education Secretary Dan French said.

And the governor is now recommending that districts mandate the vaccine for school staff.

As schools deal with cases, many have been reporting long wait times for testing results, sometimes days at a time.

Leaders say a contractor didn’t deliver on their promises.

“The contract calls for them to increase their workforce as COVID-19 positive case counts increased. They failed to do that leaving the state to fill the gap,” Vt. Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said.

The state is adding capacity 104 total contact tracers, new testing sites and self-administered kits. Reservations for appointments are now strongly recommended.

Right now, unvaccinated children have the highest COVID case rates by age.

The case rates for the age groups of 0-4, 5-9 and 10-14 are higher than Vermont’s average.

And while 87% of Vermonters 12 and up have had at least one shot of the COVID vaccine, kids under 12 currently can’t get it at all.

The most common COVID symptoms kids are presenting are a runny nose, followed by a cough.

That’s why public health officials emphasize that kids who are sick or showing symptoms need to stay home.

IS DELTA ON THE WAY OUT?

A lot of what the Scott administration has been basing its initial guidance on has been with the understanding that the delta surge will pass. Here’s what Pieciak had to say Tuesday about the outlook for that according to the state’s modeling efforts.

“Cases continue to rise in the Northeast but the rate they’re doing so is beginning to slow down. Cases will continue to slow and eventually fall over the next couple of weeks. You can see that rate of decrease nationally continuing to slow down. You can see over the last five days that seven-day average has ticked down,” Pieciak said.

State leaders say they didn’t expect delta to arrive this early, but they say it’s a combination of factors: kids in school, a lack of distancing and masking, and more visitors.

They’re still cautiously optimistic delta cases will come down.

BREAKTHROUGH CASES

Here’s a closer look at breakthrough cases in Vermont.

We crunched the numbers Tuesday afternoon and here’s what we’ve noticed: a little more than one-third of Vermont’s COVID cases in the last month are breakthroughs.

Our math looked at Health Department data from Aug. 8 to Sept. 4.

About 1,300 of the nearly 3,600 cases during that time were among people who had been vaccinated. That’s 35.6%.

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