As COVID hospitalizations reach record high in Vermont, officials keep eye on latest variant

New England

MONTPELIER – On Tuesday, a record 84 Vermonters were hospitalized with COVID-19, and nearly two dozen required intensive care, according to the Department of Health.

Meanwhile, state officials say it could be weeks before we know more about the omicron variant of COVID-19. While cases have shown up in several countries including Canada, Vermont has yet to see the variant.

At his weekly briefing, Governor Phil Scott said booster shots continue to be key to fighting COVID, saying everyone over age 18 is now eligible.

Vermont leads the nation in boosters, with over 34 percent of the fully vaccinated population having received one. State Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said that will be important if the Omicron variant proves to be as highly transmissible as early signs suggest.

“While scientists are learning more about this new variant, and this will take several weeks, we can ramp up our own defenses against the virus that is already spreading at high levels, and we can do it right now,” Levine said. “With Delta still active and the threat of a potential new variant, getting a booster should be front of mind right now.”

In the past week, Vermont has seen a 12 percent uptick in hospitalizations, and 71 percent of them have been among the unvaccinated. Officials say if case counts mirror last year’s post-Thanksgiving trajectory Vermont could be entering a dire stretch.

“A very similar pattern to what we saw last year, that would indicate to us that we’ll see cases start to rise this week and then the question will be do we get back to where we were, or do we see a surge on top of that and that’s something we just don’t know at this time,” said DFR Commissioner Michael Pieciak.

In order to keep hospitalizations down, Levine is continuing to emphasize the importance of monoclonal antibody therapy. Its use has ramped up in Vermont, and if taken early, it can reduce the risk of severe disease, hospitalizations and death.

“If you know you’re in that group where your symptoms are mild, it’s in the first couple days of illness and you may be at risk of serious illness based on your age or other medical conditions, we just want you to connect so quickly that seamlessly, your doctor can order your treatment,” Levine said.

One Vermont outbreak in particular is causing quite a bit of concern – 71 cases have been reported at Crescent Manor Nursing Home and Rehab in Bennington. That’s 49 more cases than any other active outbreak in a long-term care facility. Levine said it mirrors some of the severe outbreaks we saw in the beginning of this pandemic.

“It really does appear this outbreak is the exception, not the rule,” he said. “We are seeing most of the facilities being very protected by the vaccines and boosters being provided. There’s been a lot of staffing support provided to the facility.”

State data shows 17 active outbreaks in long-term care facilities across the state, totaling 219 cases.

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