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Vaccinated Vermonters may get together, Middlebury College student restrictions easing

CONNIE MILLER OF Bridport receives her first shot of COVID-19 vaccine from a Vermont state employee at the American Legion Hall in Middlebury on Jan. 28. Miller, age 77, has since got her booster shot and sounds ecstatic to have her vaccinations complete. She said the first shot went fine, but 12 hours after she received the second shot she experienced nausea, dizziness and headache for about 12 hours, but she has been fine since then. Her husband, Paul Miller, a first responder, got his second dose of the Pfizer vaccine in January. Photo by Paul Miller

Gov. Phil Scott announced at Friday’s press conference that effective March 5, people who are vaccinated can gather with other vaccinated individuals at their homes.
“For example, if eight fully vaccinated individuals wanted to get together at someone’s house for dinner, they’re now able to do so,” Gov. Scott said. “This can also include one other household that is not vaccinated.”
Gov. Scott acknowledged this will likely lead to other questions, and he expects to have further announcements next week.
The governor on Friday said he expects his administration’s restart team will be ready to “open the spigot” even further, with another easing of restrictions, according to VTDigger.org.
Scott said once Vermonters with high-risk conditions and teachers, child care workers, police, first responders and corrections employees are able to get vaccinated, he hopes the state returns to an age-banding system, either in five- or 10-year increments, beginning with Vermonters age 60-65, according to a VTDigger story by Ellie French.
 “It’s the simplest and most effective way that we have found,” Scott said of the age-banding strategy. “We’re seeing many other states’ governors call and ask how we’re doing what we’re doing. Many are going to age-banding after abandoning their strategy for other populations.”
But the vaccine supply is expected to expand rapidly, Scott said it’s possible that most Vermonters will get the vaccine “much sooner than we originally could have hoped for.

ONE-FIFTH OF VERMONT VACCINATED
As of Saturday, 21.4% of Vermonters age 16 and up have had at least one dose of the vaccine, with 54, 200 people having received one dose of the two-dose vaccine, and 63,800 Vermonters having received both doses, according to the Vermont Department of Health.
Within a month, Gov. Scott said, a third of Vermont’s eligible population could be vaccinated.
In Phase 5 of the state’s vaccination program, which begins this week, Scott said 75,000 more Vermonters will become eligible to get the vaccine, including teachers and other frontline workers.
Starting today, Monday, March 8, Vermonters ages 55 and older with certain high-risk health conditions are eligible for free COVID-19 vaccines.
High-risk health conditions include: Current cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD (including emphysema and chronic bronchitis), heart disease, immunocompromised/weakened immune system, severe obesity (BMI of 40 or more), pregnancy, diabetes (Types 1 & 2), disabilities (including chromosomal disorders, intellectual disabilities, and disabilities that affect lung function), sickle cell disease.
For a detailed list of eligible conditions and to sign-up for your vaccine, visit HealthVermont.gov/MyVaccine. If registering online is not an option, you can make an appointment by calling (855) 722-7878. You do NOT need a doctor’s note or proof of a health condition to sign up.

MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE STUDENTS BACK IN CLASS
After Middlebury College students completed 14-day quarantines before arriving back on campus on Feb. 21 and 22, and after being tested on Days 0 and 7 after arrival on campus; many of them can go back into the classroom. Classes were all conducted online until arrival testing was completed.
Late last week, the college announced that in-person classes were allowed to begin Friday, March 5. Also on March 5, the college opened libraries to students and limited in-person dining; students were welcome at college athletic facilities on March 6 if they pre-registered their time slot.
College officials also began opening up contact between their students and local residents. Students were initially sequestered to the campus with guards keeping watch at key points to warn students who tried to leave college grounds.
Starting last Thursday, March 4, students may travel to the town of Middlebury for essentials, takeout food and recreation.
The entire Trail Around Middlebury (TAM) is now open to both students and the public, but the Ralph Myhre Golf Course is open for student use only.
The college COVID-19 dashboard, which can be checked by anyone on or off campus, is currently reporting three active cases — all of them students.
The college’s targeted dynamic testing program continues this week with all students to be tested Monday, March 8, and Thursday, March 11.

COVID-19 AFFECTS HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
Three Middlebury Union High School ice hockey games were cancelled last week because of COVID-19 protocols.
Two Tiger boys’ hockey games were cancelled and one girls’ game was called off after it was learned that the teams had played games against another Vermont team that turned out to have a positive COVID-19 case among its members or coaches. The Tiger boys had to reschedule a game this coming Wednesday because their competitor had been exposed to the coronavirus in a similar fashion, but MUHS found another opponent to face that day.
This past Tuesday visiting Woodstock earned a forfeit win over the Otter Valley Union High School girls’ basketball team. According to the Rutland Herald, the forfeit was “for reasons related to the ‘mask rule.’”

VIRUS VARIANT IS IN VERMONT
Vermont health officials on Monday confirmed detection of the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7 — the viral mutation first detected in the U.K. in the fall of 2020. This is the first lab-confirmed evidence of the variant in the state.
The variant was detected in a specimen taken from a resident of Chittenden County. The Health Department sends select samples from people who had already tested positive for COVID-19 to the Massachusetts Public Health Laboratory, Molecular Diagnostics and Virology program for genetic sequencing. The result has been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants and strains are not unexpected. Many emerge and disappear, but others can persist and even become the predominant strain. The B.1.1.7 variant has already been identified in 49 U.S. states and territories. The CDC anticipates the more easily transmissible B.1.1.7 variant will become the dominant strain the country.
Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD, said confirmation of the variant in Vermont is a concern, but not a surprise: “This and other variants have been circulating throughout the U.S. for some time, so we expected to find evidence of it here. In fact, we are the last New England state where it has been detected.”
Dr. Levine said what is notable about the B.1.1.7 variant is that it can spread even faster than the virus that has been in the state. “The good news is that medical studies indicate the current vaccines are effective against this strain, and Vermonters should have confidence in the vaccines available,” Levine said. “We are moving to vaccinate people as quickly as possible, and I ask everyone who is eligible for each phase to get vaccinated. But now that we know the variant is here, it is ever more important that everyone follow our guidance to prevent transmission — wear your mask, keep a distance of 6 feet from each other, and absolutely avoid crowded places. These steps continue to be effective against variants.”
Dr. Levine also urged people to take advantage of the ample testing available. “Not everyone shows symptoms of the virus, and you can’t know without testing if you have COVID-19. All these things are how we protect each other and bring this pandemic to an end.”
 

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