Vermont considers flu jab mandate; Maine church investigated
MONTPELIER, Vermont (AP) — Public health officials in Vermont said the state is considering becoming the second state to mandate flu shots as a way to ease the burden of influenza amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine said Friday the rate of flu in the state needs to be as low as possible to avoid a situation he called a “twindemic.” He said last year less than 43% of children age 5 to 12 received the flu vaccine.
“Our primary focus will be to increase the rate of vaccination, especially among children and teens,” Levine said. “We can and must do better.”
Levine said a decision has not been reached about whether to require universal flu vaccines for all students. Massachusetts authorities recently made a move to require flu shots for school. Officials in the state also cited the need to avoid overburdening the health system with both diseases.
Levine said the decision about whether to require flu shots will be “driven, as always, by data and science.”
The Vermont Department for Children and Families says that many of the state’s households that receive federal food stamp benefits will be seeing a higher benefit.
The increased benefit for the program known as 3SquaresVT is part of the federal Coronavirus Relief Bill. The increase will not be permanent. It is designed to help during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Households already getting the maximum benefit will not get an increase. Everyone else will see their benefits increase to the maximum level for their household size.
Families receiving the benefit don’t need to do anything. If eligible, they will get the increased benefit in the same way they get their current benefit, through an electronic benefit transfer card, by direct deposit or by check.
The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Saturday it’s investigating an outbreak of COVID-19 among people affiliated with a Sanford church.
The agency said there are at least five confirmed cases of the virus involving people affiliated with Calvary Baptist Church in Sanford. State officials have said the outbreak appears to have an overlap with a larger outbreak that centers around a Millinocket wedding reception.
That wedding’s officiant came from Calvary Baptist, state officials have said. The outbreak that centers on the wedding has sickened at least 123 people and killed one.
The Maine CDC said an epidemiological investigation is underway that will seek to determine the extent of links from the Sanford outbreak to other coronavirus outbreaks in the state. The agency said it’s notifying close contacts of confirmed cases.
The former director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said it would be unwise for students to engage in close contact sports.
The Maine Principals’ Association voted Thursday to allow fall sports to proceed with modifications. Dora Anne Mills, former Maine CDC director and now a vice president of community health for MaineHealth, said that’s risky.
“Think of the pandemic like a fire, and each of these things – increased economic activity, the reopening of colleges, the reopening of K-12 schools, the coming of cold weather season when we all head indoors and flu season – is a fuel being added to that fire,” the Portland Press Herald reported.
Mills is the sister of Democratic Gov. Janet Mills.
The pandemic is still taking a toll on the economy of Massachusetts, as at least 2,200 furloughs and permanent layoffs have been announced in the last two days.
The University of Massachusetts Amherst, which is staring down a $169 million projected budget deficit, has announced plans to put 850 workers on indefinite furlough starting Sept. 13, The Boston Globe reported. The furloughs affect 12% of the campus’s employees, the paper reported.
Other major furloughs are planned at Cape Cod Healthcare and MGM Springfield.
Republican Gov. Chris Sununu issued the eighth extension of New Hampshire’s “state of emergency” order on Friday. The order says part of the reason for the extension is that states near New Hampshire have had significant outbreaks of the virus.
The order states that Massachusetts has reported 116,770 confirmed positive cases and 8,729 deaths; Rhode Island has reported 21,372 positive cases and 1,039 deaths; and Connecticut has reported 52,040 positive cases and 4,463 deaths
New Hampshire has reported 7,150 cases and 429 deaths. Elsewhere in New England, Vermont has had 1,589 reported cases and 58 deaths, and Maine has had 4,032 reported cases and 132 deaths.
The state health commissioner has approved increases in insurance premiums for a couple of health plans in the state.
State Health Insurance Commissioner Marie Ganim approved increases in the premiums charged to consumers by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island and Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island, the Providence Journal reported. The increases were less than those sought by the insurance industry.
“We know that Rhode Islanders are facing increasingly difficult hardships due to the spread of COVID-19, and our office is working hard to make accessing the health care services they need easier, and more affordable,” Ganim said in a statement.