It's too soon to know the impacts of Thanksgiving gatherings on the spread of the coronavirus in Vermont but Gov. Phil Scott said Monday that, based on initial data, he was feeling “cautiously optimistic.”
Data shows that over the past two weeks Vermonters have decreased their movement, spending more time at home and commuting less often to work, which reduces the chances of spreading the virus, said Michael Pieciak, the Vermont commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation, who has been monitoring the statistics during the pandemic.
While the weekly regional cases have increased for the 14th consecutive week, the rate of new case growth has slowed, he said.
“These sacrifices have resulted in not only a slowing of cases here in Vermont but, in fact, decreasing from a seven-day high of 105 to 70 cases today,” Pieciak said at the governor's twice-weekly virus briefing. A surge of cases in Washington County also seems to have calmed down and it's no longer one of counties with the highest active case count in the region, he said.
But he and the governor urged Vermonters to stay vigilant with significant risk around Vermont and more active cases in the state than ever before.
“We have tough days and months ahead and we are not out of the woods yet but we are at a point where we can see that light more clearly than we have throughout the pandemic," Scott said.
“And we have to keep focused on it so we can get through this dark tunnel as strong as possible. We can’t give up when we’re finally seeing a way out,” he said, referring to vaccines.
The governor's ban on multi-household gatherings remains in effect.
TESTS NOT PROCESSED
Over 200 tests taken at the Barre auditorium were not delivered to a lab in Massachusetts in time to be processed, Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said.
The 246 samples were collected on Friday and arrived at a UPS facility in Somerville, Massachusetts, but were not delivered to the lab until 50 hours later, he said.
“As a result the samples were spoiled and could not be tested,” he said.
Compounding the problem, a letter that went out to those tested asking them to be retested listed all the available email addresses of everyone that had been tested, he said.
“Let me apologize personally for this incident. None of this should have happened," Smith said.
He said he asked the Health Department to immediately get additional testing sites in the area if needed and to expedite the tests of the people impacted. Smith said he has also asked the agency general counsel to investigate what happened with the UPS delivery and if any privacy violations occurred. The agency will also be reviewing its notification processes to avoid sending out information that could identify an individual, he said.
“We cannot let this mistake happen again,” he said.
A UPS spokesperson said the company is “investigating the situation and determining the levels of service used for this shipment.”
“Healthcare authorities, hospitals and other testing entities have a variety of services available to them for critical healthcare packages,” the company statement reads. “We recommend the use of these services for Covid-19 test kits and other time-sensitive medical shipments.”
Vermont is adding more permanent testing sites around the state with day, evening and weekend hours, Smith said.
“We had initially had a goal to have 14 of these new on-demand testing sites by the end of November and we have hit that mark,” he said.
The sites are in Bennington, Brattleboro, Stratton Mountain, Newport, Rutland, Berlin, Burlington, Northfield, St. Johnsbury, Fairlee, Waterbury, Springfield, Middlebury and Waitsfield. They are in addition to pop-up sites and existing hospital and pharmacy locations. The state will soon be adding sites in Hardwick, Springfield, Morrisville and Island Pond and later in Wells River and Richford, Smith said.
“Providing local easy accessible testing to Vermonters is crucial to our success in keeping Vermonters healthy and safe,” Smith said.
The most efficient way to get tested is to register on the Health Department's website. Vermonters may also call 211 or the Health Department, he said.
The state is also issuing rapid antigen testing to long-term care facilities that don't have it and will soon offer twice weekly PCR testing for employees of skilled nursing facilities that request it, Smith said.
Vermont reported 63 new cases of the coronavirus on Tuesday, for a statewide total to date of 4,239.
There have been three new deaths related to long-term care facilities over the past three days for a total of 72 deaths since the pandemic began, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine. Two women in their 90s and a man in his 70s died, he said.
“The virus is entering these facilities as a silent traveler the majority of the time, present in the nasal passages of staff who have yet to develop symptoms and are unknowing vectors,” Levine said.
A total of 28 people were hospitalized with two in intensive care, the Health Department reported Monday.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Vermont did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 84.71 new cases per day on Nov. 16 to 65.43 new cases per day on Nov. 30.