Vermont officials are again asking residents to avoid holiday gatherings to reduce the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.

Vermont avoided a feared spike of new cases after Thanksgiving because people largely followed the recommendations to keep celebrations within residents' immediate households.

While much higher than it was several months ago, the number of new infections being reported in Vermont has largely plateaued, but there is not enough evidence yet that would allow the state to loosen the restrictions, Gov. Phil Scott said Friday during the regular virus briefing.

“I understand the emotional need here, but at the same time, we have to take care of ourselves, take care of our families, take care of others surrounding us,” Scott said.

For people who do gather, the events should be kept as small as possible, people should wear masks and keep a 6-foot distance from others. People who gather and travel should get tested immediately after and then again seven days later, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said earlier in the briefing.

“The fact is we need to acknowledge that some people will choose these higher risk activities," Levine said.

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RACIAL DISPARITIES

Vermont is seeking to reduce the racial disparity of people who are infected by the virus that causes COVID-19 by reaching out to Black communities and other people of color.

Officials hope to partner with community organizations to communicate the safety and efficacy of the vaccine that's beginning to be distributed across the state.

Data collected by the Vermont Health Department shows that while Black people and other people of color make up about 6% of the state’s population, they account for about 18% of the state’s novel coronavirus infections.

WCAX-TV reports that for low-income Vermonters who may work in fields with greater risk of exposure, there's also a greater risk of them bringing it home and spreading it among their household, especially if they live in intergenerational households or smaller spaces.

Access to education also plays a role.

“That impacts people’s lifetime earning potential, where they can afford to live, whether they can afford to live and what sectors they end up working in,” said Xusana Davis, Vermont's director of racial equality.

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NUMBERS

On Friday the Vermont Health Department reported 86 new cases of the virus that causes COVID-19. The statewide total since the pandemic began is now approaching 6,250.

There are currently 27 people hospitalized with the virus, including 10 people in intensive care.

There were two new COVID-19 fatalities, bringing the total to 107.

The 7-day rolling average of daily new cases in Vermont has risen over the past two weeks from 96.14 new cases per day on Dec. 3 to 105.14 new cases per day on Dec. 17.

The latest average positivity rate in Vermont is 2.31%. State health departments are calculating positivity rate differently across the country, but for Vermont, the AP calculates the rate by dividing new cases by test specimens using data from The COVID Tracking Project.

The 7-day rolling average of the positivity rate in Vermont has risen over the past two weeks from 1.98% on Dec. 3 to 2.31% on Dec. 17.