Vermonters 70 and up to get vaccine on Tuesday, Feb. 16

UPDATE: In just the first 15 minutes that reservation phone lines for 70-year-olds were open the Vermont Health Department received more than 7,000 calls from people making appointments to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, Department of Health officials said on Tuesday morning.

"People may experience long wait time (and some are getting all circuits are busy) as the call center works full bore to schedule appointments," said Ben Truman, Public Health Communication Officer. "Given this call volume, the Department suggests people go online at healthvermont.gov/MyVaccine to make their appointments, and thanks callers for their patience. Everyone will get scheduled and there are enough appointments for all."

Updated information will be discussed at the Governor’s press briefing on Tuesday.

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Vermonters age 70 and older will be able to make an appointment to get the COVID-19 vaccine starting this coming Tuesday, Feb. 16, officials said at a press conference this past Friday.

Those Vermonters, about 33,000 people, form the next group in the state’s age-banding strategy, which prioritizes older people, Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said. The state will next move on to people 65 and older, followed by Vermonters with high-risk conditions.

Anyone can make an account on the Department of Health’s website, starting now, in preparation for the registration process, he said. Vermonters 70 and older can register for an appointment online or by calling a designated phone line, starting Tuesday at 8:15 a.m.

Vermonters can also make an appointment through Walgreens, which is receiving a separate allocation of vaccines from the federal government.

About 38% of people 75 and older have received their first dose of the vaccine through the current process, Smith said. That includes 538 homebound Vermonters, who are receiving doses through local home health agencies and emergency medical services.

In total, 12.5% of Vermonters 16 and older have received at least the first dose of the vaccine, with 37,200 people started and 32,600 people completed, according to the department.

Gov. Phil Scott reiterated his defense of the age-banding process, saying it has allowed Vermont to move smoothly through the process compared to its neighbors who have made broader categories eligible. “Just saying people are eligible, doesn’t mean they actually have the doses to cover them,” Scott said.

“That’s why we’ve seen other states cancel appointments, perhaps scheduled months in the future, even for those in their 70s and 80s,” he said. “Here in Vermont, we’ve taken a different approach for setting realistic expectations based on the supply we know we’re going to receive.”

MUSIC PROGRAMS RESTART

The state will restart school music programs next week as school sports games resume, officials announced at a press conference Friday.

The music programs will have several new restrictions aimed at limiting viral spread: performers must have a 6-foot distance around them, instrumental performers must wear a slitted mask while playing, rehearsals are limited to 30 minutes and performances cannot have an in-person audience.

Education Secretary Dan French said music has been a “more challenging” area as officials considered reopening school activities. But low case counts have made them confident of their ability to do it.

“Some of our restrictions indicate … there’s a lot involved in music instruments (that) function differently from an aerosol production perspective — for example, flutes are much more safe than oboes,” he said. “The mitigation measures for music are therefore relatively complex.”

Singing will be included in the new guidance as well, he said. Officials are still looking into ways to restart theater and performing arts.

“As we contemplate moving into a recovery phase in education, enabling these types of activities will become a key strategy in addressing the social emotional needs of our students, and will go a long way in restoring a sense of normalcy in our lives,” he said.

CASES RISE IN FRANKLIN

Franklin County hit a new record for a one-day case count Friday with 36 as the state struggles with multiple case surges, according to Department of Health data. In Addison County three new cases were reported.

The state reported 162 cases Friday, an increase from 126 the day before. The state did not report any new deaths, keeping the total number at 189.

Hospitals have 47 people diagnosed with COVID-19, including 11 in the ICU, a slight drop from previous days of nearly 60 hospitalizations.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said Franklin, Bennington and Rutland counties had been struggling with the virus, but their cases couldn’t be attributed to outbreaks; instead, most come from community transmission within and between households.

He also addressed the announcement of the COVID B117 variant discovery in Burlington wastewater, saying that it needed to be confirmed with genomic sequencing of a positive case to confirm it was truly found in Vermont.

The variant’s increased transmissibility could lead to a rise in cases, which would increase hospitalizations and deaths, Levine said. But he said at the moment, there was no need for additional restrictions or guidance.

He said recent research from the federal Centers for Disease Control found that double-masking or tighter masking could limit the spread of the virus significantly. “If you are concerned about the fit of your mask or want that additional degree of protection from a tighter fit, that may be worth trying,” he said.

The CDC also recently said that people who had received both doses of the vaccine within the past three months, and were not experiencing any symptoms, do not need to quarantine if they have exposure to a COVID case, Levine said.

“This is really great news which shows that we believe vaccination doesn’t just protect you from getting infected in those 90 days, but also that you won’t be able to spread the virus either,” he said.

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Addison County Independent