One year after Vermont had its first case of COVID-19, Gov. Phil Scott said Friday he's optimistic about the future.

No one one could have predicted a year ago that “just 12 months later we'd already have three safe and effective vaccines rolling out to defend ourselves,” the Republican governor said during his twice weekly virus briefing. “Think about that.”

As of Thursday, 20% of Vermonters over the age of 16 have now received at least one dose of the vaccine, Scott said. Starting next week the state will open up the vaccines to Vermonters with underlying health conditions, teachers and more public safety workers.

“This means within a month, one-third of the eligible population could be vaccinated and all the most vulnerable to severe illness and death will have had the opportunity to be protected,” he said.

The state should see hospitalization rates and deaths continue to drop and with possible increases in the supply of vaccines the state may be able to open eligibility sooner than planned, the governor said.

On Friday, Scott also announced a change to the rules on social gatherings. People who are vaccinated may now gather with other vaccinated individuals at their homes, he said. This can also include one other household that is not vaccinated, he said.

Starting Monday, Vermonters aged 55-64 with an eligible high risk condition can make vaccine appointments. People aged 16 to 54 with such conditions can register the following week.

A call center for homebound people who have not been vaccinated or made an appointment is now available at 833-722-0860, said Human Services Secretary Mike Smith.

As of Friday, 113,865 Vermonters have been vaccinated with 52,631 getting their first dose and 61,234 receiving their second doses, he said.

In other pandemic related news:

FEDERAL AID

A U.S. Senate relief bill includes about $400 million more for Vermont than a House-passed version, said Sen. Patrick Leahy, who spoke during the governor's briefing.

Vermont would get about $1.25 billion, after Leahy made sure Vermont and other states get at least the allotment they received in the CARES Act.

Broadband is a priority in Vermont, Leahy and Scott said Friday.

“If there's enough flexibility, we think there's a $300 million need ... to complete broadband throughout the state, so I would focus on that," Scott said.

Infrastructure, home upgrades, home construction and weatherization are also needed, he said.

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TESTING

Vermont is seeing a slight decline in the number of people getting tested for COVID-19.

On average, the state hosts about 18 clinics daily, but sometimes half of those slots go unfilled, WCAX-TV reports.

“There is hope on the horizon. And yes, it is understandable that you might not feel the urgent need to get tested,” said Vermont Deputy Health Commissioner Tracy Dolan. But it's still important for Vermonters to get tested if they have attended a social gathering, traveled, have symptoms, or are wondering if they have the virus, she said.

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THE NUMBERS

Vermont reported 126 new cases of the coronavirus on Friday for a statewide total since the pandemic began of more than 15,800.

A total of 26 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, including four in intensive care.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Vermont did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 128.57 new cases per day on Feb. 18 to 120.86 new cases per day on March 4.