Vermont is allowing school and recreational youth sports teams to start playing games again next Friday, but spectators won't be allowed, state officials announced.
The sports include basketball, hockey, volleyball, indoor soccer and football and broom ball, said Julie Moore, secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources, at the governor's twice-weekly coronavirus briefing Friday.
“As has been the case throughout the pandemic, things will look different this winter,” she said.
Indoor sports teams that involve close proximity or moderate contact will be restricted to two games per seven days and a minimum of three days between competitions, Moore said.
Players, staffers, referees and officials must wear masks. The state did not see any evidence of virus exposure amid teams from Dec. 26, 2020, when no-contact winter sports practices started up, until mid-January, she said.
Teams are encouraged to find ways to allow for remote viewing, such as live-streaming games, Moore said. The updated guidance will be available on the state's website by the end of Monday, she said.
In other pandemic-related news:
Over 10% of eligible Vermonters have received at least the first dose of the vaccine against COVID-19 as of Thursday, Gov. Phil Scott said.
“With the recent news that our supply will increase over at least the next three weeks, and with Johnson & Johnson seeking approval, we're confident that our pace will continue to accelerate and we'll get to 20% of the population must faster than we got to 10%," he said.
The state is now vaccinating Vermonters ages 75 and older and is expecting to open registration to the next age group, those 70 and older, before the end of the month, the governor said. As of Friday, 21% of Vermonters 75 and older have received their first dose of vaccine, Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said.
Homebound Vermonters in that age group were receiving vaccinations starting Friday, officials said. The vaccines are being administered through partnerships between home health agencies and emergency medical services personnel, Smith said.
A total of 33,700 Vermonters have gotten their first dose, and 24,500 have received their second dose, he said.
SUPER BOWL WARNING
State officials are urging Vermonters not to gather with other households to watch the Super Bowl on Sunday to prevent the spread of the virus.
Multi-household gatherings are still not allowed, officials said.
“This won't be a typical, nor should it be a typical, Super Bowl party year. The risk is too high,” Scott said. “We're only months away from when our most at-risk friends, family and neighbors are able to get the vaccine. Now is not the time to let our guard down.”
Viewers are advised to stay at their own households. “Gathering with anyone you don't live with increases the chances of spreading COVID-19, especially because you'll be indoors, close together and I imagine eating or drinking without masks," said Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine.
Staff at a Vermont hospital in the county hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic say they are adapting to the strain placed on them by the disease.
Before the pandemic began, the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington had four negative pressure rooms designed to contain possible infection.
WCAX-TV reports that now, 41 beds in the 99-bed hospital are negative pressure rooms, which are designed so that air that could carry the virus is kept away from the rest of the hospital.
State statistics show that since the pandemic began Bennington County has the highest per capita rate of COVID-19 infections. Currently, the hospital has 18 COVID-19 patients.
But chief nursing officer Pamela Duchene said that despite a recent surge in cases, things seem to be turning around.
“All of our patients at this point in time are improving in status and we are hoping to, well we discharged a couple today, so our numbers are actually dropping," Duchene said. “And we are seeing fewer COVID-positive patients come in through the emergency department, which I believe is the sign that overall our numbers are drifting down.”
Vermont reported more than 100 new cases of the coronavirus on Friday, for a statewide total since the pandemic began of over 12,600 cases.
No new deaths were reported. A total of 55 people were hospitalized, with 17 in intensive care, according to the state Health Department.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Vermont did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 143.86 new cases per day on Jan. 21 to 140 new cases per day on Feb. 4.
AP reporter Wilson Ring contributed to this report from Stowe, Vermont.