Gov. Phil Scott weighed in on the court proceedings between the state and the Newport business owner over the state’s mask mandate during his press conference Tuesday.
Scott said he was confident in the state’s position about the legality of the mask mandate. In addition, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine reiterated testimony given Monday by State Epidemiologist Patsy Kelso about the effectiveness of masks in preventing the spread of the virus.
“From a constitutional standpoint, I think we are quite confident that it is constitutional,” said Scott. “The powers that I have during a state of emergency are broad and guidelines that are invoked are just like law. So I think that it’s constitutional and I think that they will come to that conclusion themselves, but we will see how the court proceeding goes.”
Dr. Levine added on the question of mask effectiveness that studies have shown the wearing of masks and issuing of masks mandates has had a beneficial effect on limiting the transmission of the virus, reducing new cases and preventing illness and death.
“I just want to add once again, as I’ve said before, this is an unfortunate situation and completely avoidable,” said Scott. During past press conferences, he has said he hoped the owner would choose to abide by the mandate. “It’s unfortunate that there has to be any court proceeding at all,” added Scott.
During his presentation, DFR Commissioner Michael Pieciak noted the state’s 7-day average of new cases is up for the first time in over a month.
“Certainly, the COVID-19 outbreak at the Newport prison contributed to the rise in cases this week, however even when you remove these cases from our case count you can see that cases are still increasing in Vermont over the past few days albeit more gradually.”
Pieciak said, however, that a modest increase in cases is not a reason for alarm.
“If we were looking solely at this case data you might be discouraged, however a closer look at our data reveals that we are making continued progress and there are greater reasons for hope today than at any time during the pandemic.”
Pieciak noted vaccination rates continue to climb, cases among the state’s most vulnerable and vaccinated have continued to fall more rapidly and continue to fall even with the overall case count ticking up, and the number of long-term care cases remains low.
Pieciak also said the data shows Vermont is making progress through the age bands and thousands more are scheduled to receive the vaccine in the coming weeks, hospitalizations are down, and the state is projecting fatality rates will continue to drop for the rest of this month and into the future.
“Looking collectively at this data it is probably the most optimistic I have been since the start of the pandemic,” said Pieciak. “But we need everyone to get a vaccine and follow mitigation measures.”
Vaccination Efforts Expanding In The NEK
Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith addressed numerous topics during the press conference, many connected to the Northeast Kingdom.
Smith said Caledonia was one of 6 counties that would host an education vaccination clinic next week as the state works to expand the parallel vaccination program it is launching to vaccinate all of Vermont’s educators, school staff and child care employees.
In addition, Department of Corrections staff in St. Johnsbury were offered and received vaccines this week and Newport DOC staff are slated for next week.
Smith also announced that the state has added new vaccine appointments in the coming days in Derby and Island Pond to the state’s system for the age bands and newly opened phase for people with pre-existing conditions. Smith urged people to call the state vaccination hotline if they would like to reschedule for an earlier appointment.
While not naming a specific school, Dr. Levine briefly discussed the discovery of the virus within sports and specifically hockey.
“We have seen a situation involving hockey again recently but we don’t know if it is a result of play or other factors such as carpooling or gathering,” said Levine. “Or perhaps if a player just acquired the virus because it was in the community or their own household and was infectious on the day of a practice or a game.”
Levine has also there have been isolated incidents of basketball players with COVID, but remarkably little disruption to team activities as a result.
Levine said in most instances of a virus impacting a sports team while it has resulted in some people needing to quarantine it did not disrupt learning.
Expanding Vaccine Eligibility
State officials also announced Tuesday that they would accelerate their vaccine plans and Vermonters age 16+ with high-risk health conditions could begin making vaccine appointments starting on Thursday.
This group was initially slated to become eligible on March 15, but the timeline was moved up due to the state’s supply of vaccine and ability to accommodate large numbers of appointments, said Human Services Secretary Mike Smith.
This group can make an appointment starting Thursday at 8:15 a.m. by visiting healthvermont.gov/MyVaccine or by calling 855-722-7878.
While you do not need a doctor’s note or proof of a health condition to sign up, you will be asked for information about a health care provider you see for your condition. If do not have a health care provider you may still make an appointment.
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.