by Guy Page
Vermont’s most urban, highly-vaccinated county should mask up indoors, the CDC recommended today. So should the least vaccinated, most rural county. The culprit is a growing transmission rate of the “Delta” variant of the Covid-19 virus.
However, neither Gov. Phil Scott or Commissioner Mark Levine believe the CDC guidelines are warranted for anywhere in Vermont, due to the state’s high rate of vaccination.
Chittenden and Essex are the only two of Vermont’s 14 counties to be categorized by the CDC as “substantial or high transmission” risk. The guidance is clear: “To maximize protection from the Delta variant and prevent possibly spreading it to others, wear a mask indoors in public if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission.”
Jason Maulucci, Press Secretary to Governor Phil Scott, issued this statement yesterday: “While we wish COVID would disappear, we shouldn’t be surprised to see case counts rise and fall for the foreseeable future, so looking at all of the science in context is key. In Vermont, hospitalizations and fatalities continue to be in the very low single digits. Case rate growth is clearly being driven by unvaccinated adults, and the data confirms that severe cases, hospitalization and death are exceedingly rare for the vaccinated. This confirms that vaccines work. The data is not telling us that new broad restrictions are necessary, or justifiable, at this time.”
Department of Health spokesperson Ben Truman said yesterday: “As a state, our masking guidance remains the same. Throughout the pandemic the Health Department has been closely monitoring the data and science of all cases in Vermont. Case counts have increased, and there are now two counties in the state – Chittenden and Essex – that CDC has defined as areas with “substantial” or “high” transmission levels. While this is a concern, it is not surprising given that the Delta variant is so easily passed from person to person, even if they are fully vaccinated.
“What’s different here than in some other parts of the country is that we have a vaccination rate of 84%. The vaccine prepares your body to respond to the virus and is highly effective at preventing serious illness and death. So, while case numbers are up, we currently have just four people hospitalized and no one in the ICU. However, the increase in cases and how highly contagious the Delta variant can be, means that anyone who is eligible to be vaccinated, but has not yet gotten their shot, is advised to do so as soon as possible.
“Wearing a mask is about preventing the spread of germs. So, especially in areas with higher rates, if you have children or immuno-compromised people in your life – people who can’t currently be vaccinated – or if you personally feel more comfortable wearing a mask indoors to protect yourself or others, take that into consideration. Continue to wash hands regularly, stay home if you feel sick, and choose the appropriate prevention steps, including whether to wear a mask.”
Lamoille and Orange counties are both in the “low” risk level. All other counties are categorized as ‘moderate’ risk.
It is not known yet to what extent state, county or local officials will require the guidance be followed. Gov. Scott is scheduled to hold a press conference tomorrow but some government response would not be unexpected. Compared to the rest of the country, Vermont got off pretty lightly. 78% of U.S. counties fall under the new masking guidelines. New Hampshire is the only state that appears to have no counties with mask restrictions.
Vaccination rate appears to have little bearing on the CDC decision for Vermont. According to the CDC Covid Tracker, Chittenden County has the highest vaccination rate of fully vaccinated people over age 12 (78.1%). while tiny Northeast Kingdom county Essex has the lowest, with 42%. However Chittenden County is the most densely populated, and Essex the least.