While Vermont officials are encouraged by the amount of eligible people signing up to get vaccines, they're urging residents to keep their guard up against the coronavirus after cases ticked up in the state and the Northeast in the last week.

“We're still in a delicate time where the virus and its variants can and will take advantage of us if we let our guard down," Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said Tuesday during the governor's twice-weekly virus briefing. He also urged younger populations, particularly those in their teens to age 40, to protect themselves against COVID-19 because of so-called long haul symptoms.

Cases of the virus are now highest in these age groups and there’s more to learn about long-haul COVID-19 or post-acute COVID-19 syndrome, in which symptoms surface months after the illness, even if it was mild, and to understand how many people are at risk, he said during the governor’s twice-weekly virus briefing.

“Those symptoms don’t seem to go away with many possible manifestations, from chronic fatigue, to shortness of breath, the exercise intolerance, to brain fog or memory loss,” Levine said. “I don’t want anyone to risk developing this, to have your lives hindered by what is starting to become an avoidable virus.”

All Vermonters, from age 16 and up, will be eligible to sign up for the vaccine by April 19, Gov. Phil Scott has said. The state is returning to distributing the vaccine by age groups, with 60 and older eligible to register for appointments on Thursday, followed by 50 and older on Monday. Aged 40 and older will be eligible to start signing up on April 5; 30 and older on April 12, and 16 and up on April 19.

It will take approximately two months to get a vaccine and be considered fully vaccinated, said Human Services Secretary Mike Smith.

“The goal is to have all Vermonters fully vaccinated by July 1,” he said.

As of Tuesday, one in three Vermonters had received at least one dose, he said. More than 85% of Vermonters in each age group, 70-74 and 75 and older, have started or completed vaccinations, officials said.

“We are one step closer to ending this pandemic and we're encouraged by the high percentage of Vermonters in each eligible age group that have made an appointment to receive a vaccine,” he said.

In other pandemic-related news on Tuesday:

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BARS REOPENING

Vermont’s bars are getting set to reopen under the same guidance that allows restaurants to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Wednesday, bars and social clubs, like American Legions and VFWs, will fall under the state’s restaurant guidance, which includes operating at 50% capacity. The rules set a maximum of six patrons per table, a 6-feet (2-meter) distance between parties, masking and more.

A plexiglass barrier is required between someone preparing drinks and patrons sitting at the bar, last call is at 10 p.m. and bars are required to keep logs of customers for 30 days, said Lindsay Kurrle, secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development.

“We were not seeing transmissions .. in the restaurants from the guests that were seated as I just described so this was a path forward,” Kurrle said. “It's a really small turn but it's a path forward for them to start to reopen and hopefully in the coming weeks again as we have more of our population vaccinated we can continue to open them up more broadly."

The guidelines are more strict than when bars were open in October, said Rebecca Kelley, a spokesperson for Scott.

Municipalities are allowed to place more restrictions on these establishments in their jurisdictions.

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THE NUMBERS

Vermont reported 89 new virus cases on Tuesday, for a statewide total since the pandemic began of more than 17,900.

One new death was reported bringing the total to 220. A total of 27 people were hospitalized with five in intensive care.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Vermont did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 130.71 new cases per day on March 7 to 121.00 new cases per day on March 21.

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