Health Dept. to text close contacts; vaccination priority announced

Texting to Vermonters in close contact with a Covid-19 positive person will begin immediately, Health Commissioner Mark Levine said today.

By Guy Page

If you get a text from the number 86911, it’s the Vermont Health Department calling. Message: you’ve been exposed. Quarantine immediately. 

This 86911 texting program is a new contact tracing outreach of the Health Department, Health Commissioner Mark Levine announced. “If you do get a text, please know that it is legitimate,” he said. 

It’s intended to quickly notify those who have been in “close contact” with people who have tested positive for Covid-19. Vermonters should respond by self-quarantine. They should also expect follow-up phone calls by contact tracers.  

The Health Department will (with permission) source phone numbers from the cellphones of people who have tested positive. All followup phone calls by VDH contract tracers will be placed between 9 am and 6 pm – usually the same day as the text.

“We hope Vermonters can use it to take steps to protect themselves and others around them,” Levine said. 

A bemused Gov. Phil Scott ponders question about possible hidden meaning in ‘86911’ text number.

The State of Vermont has a verification process to help avoid ‘false positive’ texts due to phone number mixups, Human Services Agency Secretary Mike Smith said. Precautions should minimize the possibility of someone who is not a close contact getting an 86911 text. 

“86” is police radio code for “fatality.” “911” is the universal emergency number. Vermont Daily asked if there is any subliminal, or not so subliminal, message in the selection of the text numbers. Amid laughter in the background, Gov. Scott said “we’ll have to get back to you on that.”

Priorities for vaccine arriving next week – The first batch of Covid-19 vaccine, a total of 5850 doses, is expected to arrive next week, Levine said. Doses will be split 50/50 among at-risk health care workers and at-risk health care recipients, such as senior home residents. 

The high priority of vaccinating health care workers is less about reducing transmission in the health setting and more about protecting valuable health care workers, Levine said. “We are not as worried about transmission in the facility….we’re worried about having an important population of peope that happen to work in health care.”

The vaccine will require a minimum of a month, “and probably 6-12 weeks,” before full immunity occurs, Levine cautioned. “This whole business of wearing your masks, and everything else, is going to continue through the vaccination process,” he said. 

At-risk health care workers qualifying for immediate vaccination include longterm care facility staff, clinical support staff working with Covid-19 patients, home health workers, and other health care provider staff.