Vermont health officials say they cannot fully explain why there has been a steady increase in the number of new confirmed cases of COVID-19 being reported in Bennington, Rutland and Franklin counties.
Vermont was the only jurisdiction among New England states, New York and Quebec to see more cases between Feb. 2 and Monday than in the previous week, statistics released by state officials showed.
A projection shows that if the trend continues, in another month Vermont will have the highest per capita rate of active COVID-19 infections in the region.
“The steady pattern of cases we are seeing in the state is at odds with the declining cases across the region,” Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said Tuesday during the twice-weekly virus briefing by top state officials.
Between Jan. 13 and Feb. 7, the number of new cases in Bennington and Rutland counties increased by about 75%, although there has been a slight decrease in the last week. For Vermont's other 12 counties, the number of new confirmed cases decreased by nearly 40% over the same period.
Levine said they are seeing what he termed modest outbreaks in Bennington County, but they could not explain the increase in numbers they are seeing.
Some of the cases in Bennington County could be due to people from New York who work in Vermont or get health care in the state. A percentage could be due to people visiting Vermont ski resorts, while others cases could be transmission in workplaces or at schools.
“The predominant cause of the increase in cases is at this time community transmission,” Levine said, noting the same could be applied to Rutland County, located north of Bennington County.
But officials say the declining regional numbers do bode well for Vermont. And there was more good news in the statistics released Tuesday by top Vermont officials during the twice-weekly virus briefing.
The number of COVID-19 infections and deaths in long-term care facilities have declined dramatically since their December peak.
To respond to the increase in cases in Bennington, Rutland and to a lesser extent, the state is offering additional COVID-19 testing in the area.
In other pandemic news in Vermont:
About 100 members of Vermont's immigrant community were vaccinated against COVID-19 at two clinics last week, Levine said, including some people who are younger than the 75-or-older age band that is the focus of the state's current vaccination phase. Two more clinics are planned for later this week.
Language and cultural barriers faced by immigrants have led to outbreaks, disproportionate outcomes and a greater risk of contracting COVID-19, Levine said. The Health Department has been working with community groups that work with immigrants.
People from immigrant communities who are present during a Health Department vaccination clinic with their housemate who is 75 or older will be provided an opportunity to be vaccinated, the health department said.
“We have learned from our experience through the state’s pandemic response that it makes good public health sense, logically and logistically, to allow household members facing language and access barriers to get information and services at the same time rather than duplicate these services later on," Levine said.
On Tuesday, the Vermont Health Department reported 59 new virus cases, bringing the statewide total since the pandemic began to just over 13,100.
More than 50 people hospitalized, including 13 being treated in intensive care. There have been 186 COVID-19 deaths in the state since the pandemic started.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Vermont has risen over the past two weeks from 135 new cases per day on Jan. 25 to 137.57 new cases per day on Feb. 8.