Hospital stays, deaths rising too
By Erin Petenko/VTDigger
Vermont broke its one-day case record for the third day in a row on New Year’s Eve, hitting 1,471 cases in a single day, the Dept. of Health reported Monday, Jan. 3. The next day, the record was broken again with 1,727 cases reported Tuesday.
That record came after the state hit 973 cases on Wednesday, Dec. 29 — then the highest one-day total — and hit 1,330 cases Thursday, Dec. 30, also a record at that point.
Monday’s data filled in the holiday weekend, when the department stopped updating its dashboard. After 1,471 cases on Friday, Dec. 31, the number of cases fell to 577 on Saturday, 473 on Sunday, 245 on Monday before skyrocketing again to 1,727, Tuesday, Jan. 4.
As of Monday, the seven-day average stood at 785 cases per day — nearly double the roughly 400 cases per day from a week earlier.
Still, Vermont is hardly unique in its case explosion. Cases are up 204% nationally, according to The New York Times. Nearby New York and New Jersey have the highest Covid-19 rates in the country, while Rhode Island and Massachusetts are in the top 10.
Seventy-four people are currently hospitalized in Vermont with Covid-19 — the highest number in more than two weeks, according to Department of Health data. The record was 92 patients, set Dec. 8, 2021. (Data does not include people hospitalized under investigation for Covid.)
The state reported 56 people were hospitalized as of Dec. 30, but the numbers rose over the weekend: 69 on Dec. 31, 68 on Jan. 1 and 69 on Jan. 2, according to Michael Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation.
In contrast, the number of patients in intensive care dropped from 19 on Dec. 30 to 14 on Jan. 3.
For the month of December, a total of 60 people died of Covid. That’s higher than November’s total of 42 deaths but below the record 71 deaths in December 2020.
Limited testing struggles
The Vermont Department of Health distributed tens of thousands of take-home tests in preparation for the holidays, leading to packed testing centers that ran out of supplies in hours.
The state has not announced any plans to do the same for the post-holiday period.
Meanwhile, the conventional PCR test is still an option, but availability seems to be low, according to a review of the department’s testing portal.
On Monday morning, Jan. 3, 24 state-run locations offered 59 time slots to get a PCR test in the next seven days. The site does not say how many people can be tested in each time slot.
Four counties — Addison, Grand Isle, Bennington and Windham — had no testing available.
PCR tests are also available at some pharmacies, such as Kinney Drugs, but multiple ZIP codes on Kinney Drugs’ website returned no testing slots.
“Efforts to provide testing (are) an ongoing process,” department spokesperson Ben Truman said.
“We are continuing to stand up PCR and take-home testing opportunities in as many areas as possible, as logistics and supplies allow,” he said. He encouraged Vermonters to visit the department’s website or contact pharmacies and other non-state test providers to check for updates.
The state’s test-positivity rate hit a nearly unprecedented 11% on Monday, double the pre-holiday rate of around 5%. The last time Vermont hit a positivity rate above 10% was in early spring 2020, when testing was far more limited.
However, officials have cautioned that Vermont’s positivity rate may skew upward with the availability of antigen tests. Asymptomatic people may opt for antigen testing; the net result is likely to raise the positivity rate of PCR tests.
As of Monday, about 8% of tests reported by the department over the past week are “probable” cases, meaning that the results are based on antigen tests and either Covid-19 symptoms or confirmed exposure to a Covid-19 case. The department asks Vermonters to self-report their antigen test results.
Breakthrough case data
The department also provided some data on cases among vaccinated Vermonters, but included cases only up to Dec. 25 — before the massive case increase that occurred the following week.
And, the reported cases are not all omicron variants, since those were still only 44% of New England strains at the time, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Experts have said that Covid-19 vaccines are less likely to prevent transmission of omicron than earlier versions of the virus, although they still provide strong protection against severe disease.
For the week of Dec. 19-25, Vermont reported 1,301 Covid cases among unvaccinated people and 1,274 cases among vaccinated people. Since there are far more vaccinated Vermonters than unvaccinated, that means that the rate of cases among unvaccinated people is much higher — 780 per 100,000 people, compared to 278 per 100,000 vaccinated people.
Hospitalizations were similarly higher for unvaccinated Vermonters. There were 16 hospitalizations that week among unvaccinated Vermonters, or 9.6 per 100,000 people. By comparison, vaccinated Vermonters had 10 hospitalizations for a rate of 2 per 100,000 people.
The state does not report the underlying data for deaths, but the rate of death among unvaccinated people was higher, too — about 12 per 100,000 people, compared to 4 per 100,000 people for vaccinated Vermonters.
This data does not account for the big differences between the two populations, such as the fact that vaccinated Vermonters tend to be older. In addition to the Vermont statistics, controlled scientific studies provide even stronger evidence for the effectiveness of the vaccine.