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Health department employees urge more in virus surge fight

August 26, 2021 GMT

More than 90 employees of the Vermont Health Department urged the state Thursday to do more to fight the surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the highly transmissible delta variant of the virus.

In an emailed letter sent to Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine, Deputy Health Commissioner Kelly Dougherty, state Epidemiologist Patsy Kelso and others, the signatories say the current guidance “is not doing all that it should to protect Vermonters and save lives.”

Vermont’s current public guidance encourages unvaccinated individuals to wear a mask in public spaces and does not mention the risk of COVID-19 to unmasked individuals, the letter said.

Currently the rate of COVID-19 among children aged 6–11, who are ineligible for vaccination, is higher than any other age group. They could be exposed to COVID-19 by vaccinated family members, teachers, or friends.

“Although the rate of COVID-19 infection is lower among vaccinated individuals than unvaccinated individuals, the proportion of cases among vaccinated Vermonters is concerning,” the letter said. “Currently four out of ten cases are among vaccinated people.”

The employees urged the state to take a number of additional steps, including recommending mask usage in all indoor spaces, quarantine for all close contacts of COVID-19 patients regardless of vaccination status and discouraging travel to areas with high COVID-19 transmission rates.

The letter was first reported by the news website VTDigger.org.

Vermont currently has the highest vaccination rate in the country against COVID-19.

Top health department officials had no immediate response Thursday to the letter.

On Tuesday Democratic leaders of the Vermont Legislature urged Republican Gov. Phil Scott to do more to combat the delta surge.

Scott said at the time he felt people should wear masks in crowded indoor settings among unfamiliar people, but he was not going to issue a formal recommendation or reimpose the state of emergency that would him authorize him to order mask usage.

Scott said the science did not support additional measures to combat the surge, but he was willing to change the policy if needed.

Scott criticized the legislators for “playing politics” with the state’s response to the virus.

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UNIVERSITY OF VERMONT

University of Vermont freshmen are arriving on campus this week and must be fully vaccinated.

The school’s largest freshmen class is moving in on Thursday and Friday, with returning students arriving on Saturday. The semester starts on Monday.

Nearly 100% of undergraduate students are vaccinated, according to university officials, with a little over 1% qualifying for an exemption. Those unvaccinated students will be required to get tested for COVID-19 weekly and all students must wear masks indoors.

“We’re excited about the students’ response to the vaccination requirement,” said Gary Derr, vice president of operations and public safety. “This year it’s just indoors. Classrooms, residence halls, dining halls and other spaces like that.”

Students are expected to get tested before arriving for the fall semester and will get tested again once they’re on campus.

“I feel safer on campus this year,” said junior Megan Zalanskas.

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NUMBERS

On Thursday, the Vermont Department of Health reported 141 new cases of the virus that causes COVID-19, bringing the statewide total since the pandemic began to more than 27,500.

There were 33 people hospitalized with COVID-19 including eight in intensive care.

The state reported two additional fatalities, bringing the statewide total since the pandemic began to 273.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Vermont has risen over the past two weeks from 89.71 new cases per day on Aug. 10 to 123 new cases per day on Aug. 24.

The Associated Press is using data collected by Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering to measure outbreak caseloads and deaths across the United States.