Governor Scott Press Conference Notes 1.5.20

Innkeepers are a busy bunch. To save you time, VLA attends Governor Scott’s Covid-19 Press Conferences and takes notes for you. Below is the summary from 1.5.21

Vermont Lodging Association Member Update:
Governor Scott’s Covid-19 Press Conference 1.5.21

Governor Scott and administration officials noted a milestone during today’s press briefing: Vermont has recorded its eight thousandth case of COVID-19, one thousand of them in the past ten days. As cases are up, the rate of testing is down, attributed to a general slowdown over the holidays.

The state is approximately one quarter of the way through the 1A vaccination plan for health care workers. The Vaccine Implementation Advisory Committee has provided recommendations to begin age banding prioritization: First those aged 75 and older. Then 65-74, then younger age ranges with higher risk conditions. In all age groups those with higher risk conditions will be prioritized: Heart diseases, emphysema (COPD), chronic kidney disease, cancer, immunosuppressed. Hopefully these vaccines will begin by the end of the month.

Officials fielded several questions on the number of vaccine doses received from the federal government (30,000) compared with the number administered in the state (17,653). Governor Scott defended the administration’s performance citing an unavoidable lag time in scheduling.

Raw Notes:

Gov. Scott

  • We’re seeing some concerning trends across NE, NY and Que.
  • 170k new cases over holidays.
  • Positivity around the region on the rise as well.
  • Too early to tell what that means in VT
  • We encourage Vermonters to get tested coming out of the holidays.
  • I feel the responsibility every time I see more deaths.
  • Last summer and into the fall we went months with a single death. Unfortunately now we have deaths daily.
  • This guides our rollout of vaccination.
  • Older, vulnerable population first.
  • Asking you to be patient and compassionate until we have enough vaccines.
  • If we stick to what we know works, along with vaccination plans, we’ll come out of this stronger.

Mike Pieciak, Commissioner DFR

  • We want to reiterate uncertainty that exists with COVID data around the holidays.
  • It’s too early to know the full impact from the holidays. We’re 11 days out, but need more time, plus 10 days or so from New Years.
  • As of sunday over 350k Americans have died, and at a faster pace.
  • Regional data: over 175k cases, a 20% increase from last week.
  • Although cases went up, testing went down 14%. This has caused the positivity rate to increase to over 10%. Double the WHO recommendation.
  • 12,656 currently hospitalized in NE. 85% increase from Dec. 1
  • Travel into VT: Out of state travel down 50% from last year.
  • Today VT will report its 8000th case. VT has added over 1000 cases in the past 10 days. Also an increase in weekly cases: 86 a week ago to 106 yesterday, and 117 today (even day rolling average)
  • Also seen our 7 day test average decline. But we are 2.63% much lower than the region.
  • Southernmost counties saw the highest cases.
  • Forecast: This week showing a range of outcomes: flat; increase from holidays.
  • We remain confident that our hospitals will have resources to care for everyone who needs care.
  • Sacrifices we’re making are having a big impact.
  • VT also stands out in vaccine administration. First in NE in doses per 100k, and second only to West Virginia in the entire region.
  • Long term care updates: Case total 451, down from 513. New cases stay at a low level. K-12 460 new across N.E. VT had 10 cases reported, though schools have been out due to holidays.
  • We’re 85% towards our goal for the flu shot.

Dr. Levine – 

  • Through New Years weekend, 7 day average was 106, case. Last evening however our lab reported out 165 cases. 5 more deaths. 149 = total lives lost.
  • Potential spikes from Xmas and New Years likely in the next week or so.
  • Most importantly – get tested. Even with  potential exposure to a positive case.
  • Know who you were in close contact with: within 6 feet for 15 minutes.
  • Will not get in trouble with contract tracing – it’s how we stop it in its tracks.
  • More than 15 regular locations around the state to test. Very quick, easy and free.
  • Can register at
  • New variant: seems to spread more quickly and easily, but no evidence it’s worse than COVID
  • Closest yet was a case in Saratoga Springs NY yesterday.
  • On the vaccine front: Continue to vaccine frontline healthcare workers. We’re doing very well turning vaccines around when received into state. 17,653 doses administered. Ranked 7th in the country. Almost half of all EMS force vaccinated and  ¼ of health care workers.
  • This week Vermonters will start to get the second dose.
  • The Vaccine Implementation Advisory Committee has provided recommendations. Concurs with age banding prioritization: First 75 and older. Then 65-74, then younger age ranges with higher risk conditions. Heart diseases, emphysema (COPD), chronic kidney disease, cancer, immunosuppressed.
  • We do not expect to get to these groups until the end of the month at the earliest.
  • Please don’t call or write to get on the list. We are taking risk and logistics into account when allocating. Vermonters will know when it’s their turn to get vaccinated.
  • Great Britain has decided to get one dose into everyone, then the second whenever it becomes available. Experts who have the opinion of NOT doing what GB is doing include: Dr. Fauci; and the FDA commissioner. I agree with them. That would be a protocol that none of the studies have looked into. “Off shelf strategy.”
  • You will still need a second shot in 3-4 weeks, and another week for full immunity.
  • The new strain? We still have defenses against it – good behavior.

Reporters’ questions:

Calvin, WCAX – The legislative session will be focused on the epidemic and econ recovery. What will your priorities be?

  • Gov – There won’t be a lot of surprises. We’ve had productive meetings with the Speaker and Pro-Tem.
  • Calvin – Re: senate election result in Georgia, republicans planning to vote against Biden. What are your thoughts?
  • Gov – They’re playing a very dangerous partisan game. We need to come together. I applaud republican leaders in Georgia who have said this was a fair election and are standing firm against push back. They’re doing the right thing.
  • Calvin – Dr, Levin, what’s the total number of vaccines received so far, and put on the dashboard going forward?
    • Levine – It’s on there, I’ll find it. Doses come in at unpredictable times. Sometimes planned vaccinations are cancelled because they didn’t come in. We’re over 50% of the doses that arrived prior to this week.
    • Sec. Smith – the “vaccine shipped” are 33.9 thousand. We’re getting 3000 and 900 this week. So 30,000 in the state, 17,653 administered.

Steve – Syracuse breakout – How will Vermonters learn if the strain is in VT? Where?

  • Levine – [Saratoga, not Syracuse]. We send specimens every couple of weeks. They’ll tell us and we’ll tell the state immediately.
  • UVM has been doing some work as well, especially in terms of surveillance.

Tom, Vt Standard – Though data is still coming in, still some correlation with spike and people coming in to ski. Anything more that can be done to confirm out of state compliance.

  • Gov – Using contact tracing. Nothing at this time that indicates ski areas are a problem, but we’re watching. They have very strict guidelines to follow. So far they’ve done their part. No direct correlation yet.
  • Tom – Will vaccinations at assisted care and residential care facilities begin next week? Is there a list as to when/where?
  • Smith – Already started with residential care and assisted living.

Joe, Barton Chronicle – At last briefing you were concerned that there was no predictability on supply of vaccines coming in. Has there been a solution to that/

  • Smith – We’ve been given some numbers, but they’re not what we’d expected. About 1000 short a week. We’ve been told 4800 for next week, but haven’t confirmed yet. Sorry to be so vague.
  • Joe – With Pfizer there was some additional vaccine in vials, is that the case with Moderna as well.
    • Levine – Only with Pfizer.
  • Joe – Do you anticipate interruption with change in presidential administration?
    • Gov. I do not. Career people are doing their jobs.

Greg, County Courier – How many tests are being sent to CDC for analogy to identify secondary strain?

  • Levine – In the range of 20 samples every couple of weeks.
  • Greg – and this is only positive tests?  Levine – Yes.
  • Greg – Gov, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before new strain finds VT. Will this change the decision to have in person school? Sports?
    • Gov – No conclusion at this point.

Stuart, NBC 5 – The numbers re: vaccines received and injected. That’s about 55%. IS that good enough?

  • Gov – It’s never good enough.  We will get as many out as possible.
  • Stewart – Would you support making criminal the diversion of vaccines like Gov Cuomo.
    • Gov – We haven’t discussed that.
  • Stewart – alarming Story this morning in Times Argus of local who was arrested,  Aaron Loukes, with conspiracy theories. Does that give you concern?
    • Gov – I haven’t heard that.

Wilson, AP – There’s been some criticism nationwide that the vaccination programs aren’t rolling out as fast as possible. In Vt, to vaccinate 625k would be 3600 doses a day in 6 months. Do you buy that this isn’t going fast enough, and what’s the target for the percentage of the population to be vaccinated?

  • Gov – In some respects we’re at the mercy of the supply coming in. I’ll let Dr. Levine answer, but it’s going to take 6-8 weeks for the vaccine to become effective.
  • Levine – The national rate is 20-25% of the vaccine getting into people. We’ve more than doubled that. Criticism nationally is that vaccination has relied on the health care system completely which is already stressed.
  • In Vermont we have a long standing immunization program.
  • Smith – We’re close to 60%, but uncertainty of supply line leads to uncertainty all the way. As soon as we get out of phase 1A and into the age bands the pace will quicken.

Mike Donoghue, The Islander – Following up on the TA news story on the guy who made threats to interfere with vaccine distribution – Is this a one-only? Have there been other threats?

  • Shirling – We’re up to speed on that ATF threat. I can say with broad description that this is not a spread thing we’re seeing.
  • Mike – Since last week I’ve received many calls from readers with shock over the state’s decision to boot state police and firefighters out of the line to receive vaccines. Aren’t they on the front line? Police now have to go to the hotels set up for homeless. Now I’m told that ski patrols at at least two resorts have gotten shots. Any update?
    • Smith – We’re looking at right now. I would think that within the next 7 days we’ll have a definition of what first responders look like. The mention of ski patrol troubles me and we’ll look into that.
    • Gov – Some might fall under EMS and 1A.

Pete Hirschfield, VPR – How will POC be prioritized?

  • Levine – That has not appeared yet in a priority planning.
  • Pete – Does that it may not be the case the POC won’t have an opportunity to get the vaccine more quickly?
    • Levine – No, I think the takeaway is that they would not be prioritized as the first or only group to get vaccinated, but that does not mean that they wouldn’t be a high priority within groups.

Lisa, Valley Reporter – What’s the disconnect between the dose we’ve received and administered? Would the state consider the national guard?

  • Gov – We’re considering all options, but we need consistency in the supply chain before we set up.
  • Lisa – In the town-by-town map, there’s a correlation with post offices. Is there data available on that?
    • Pieciak – We’ll look for data.

Kat, WCAX – If it was a federal supply problem, it still seems like we’d have more doses given. Why 30k received and only 17k delivered?

  • Gov – There’s a lag time. You never get to 100% unless we’re out.
  • Kat – What’s leading to the lag time?
  • Gov – It’s been prescribed so far. As we go to our own system I think we’ll see an increase. I think we’re doing pretty well, but we’ll do better.
  • Kat – In the Fall you said “we’ll be ready for the vaccine before the vaccine is ready for us.”
  • Gov – I would argue that we’re one of the best in the nation so we must be doing something right. I fail to see your logic. There’s a natural lag time in the production cycle. We’ll never get to 100% as you seem to be advocating.
    • Smith – We were promised a lot of things at federal level. No one could predict what the fed rollout would be. The way the distribution happens, there’s a lag. We’re at the top of the heap here.
    • Levine – Example – Let’s say today 1500 doses are provided to one of the 15 pharmacies. They already have appointments lined up for Wed, Thurs, and Fri that will exhaust those doses. However, none have been given out as of today. If you ask tomorrow it still won’t be a majority. Same thing happens with UVM. If you look at a statistic right now it looks like none have been used. It may look like we’re behind.

Erin, VTDigger – How does state perform contract tracing in cases of out of stater infecting someone and the leaving town?

  • Gov – We do contact people out of state.
  • Levine – Yes, we do talk to people out of state. If we talk to someone in MA, for example, the MA dept of health also traces. I think you’re alluding to someone at a ski resort testing positive. At this time we haven’t detected that yet.
  • Erin – Ohio has reported high percentages of long term care staff who are refusing vaccines. Do we have numbers on those in VT?
    • Levine – That is something I really want to know. It’s too early yet to know. We are very interested in that. Our informal survey says 70-80% uptake should be expected.
    • Erin – If it turns out that, say, only 40%, is there a way to combat that?
    • Levine – I’d be checked if it was that low. Education is important. We can’t mandate the use of the vaccine.

Tim, Vt Biz Magazine – VT will get $350mm in direct payment to Vermonters? What’s your hope they’ll do with that money?

  • Gov – Vermonters will determine what’s best for themselves and their families.
  • Tim – Is there any idea that they will restart PUA and the UI extra, how much that will bring into the state?
  • Gov – About $300/person. I think it’s 10k to 20k people.
    • Harrington – I’d have to pull up the most recent filing data. About 31k if you combine all programs together.
  • Tim – Also question of whether new guidelines will allow you to use more discretion in the UI trust fund?
    • Harrington – To my knowledge there’s no flexibility to use in a different way.

Andrea, Seven Days – vaccinations in assisted living and residential care facilities, do those fall under the pharmacy program?

  • Smith – Yes. We’re hoping to have res care and assisted living done by mid Jan. The rest of the 1A program should conclude by the end of January. We’re about 25% through 1A. Walgreens and Kinney’s have been extremely helpful. If it goes behind 3800 doses in our weekly program we’ll have to shuffle around.

TV22 – After 1A, where does 1B sit?

  • Gov – We’re not using 1B, disregard that. We’re going straight to age banded.

Newport Daily Express – Follow up on law enforcement. Is there something you’d like to say to show respect to law enforcement?

  • Gov – [support]
  • Shearling – Law enforcement has done yeoman’s work. Much appreciation.

Austin, BFP – Status of wrestling. Coaches are concerned that their sport is dismissed out of hand.

  • Sec. Moore – One of the challenges is the level of risk posed by the close contact of wrestling.
  • Austin – Any easing of restrictions on practices for other sports to help with mental health?
  • Moore – Our hope is that we can expand to traditional practices soon.

Andrew, Caledonia Record – Do current supply problems concern second dose availability for second doses?

  • Gov – I don’t believe there should be any.
  • Andrew – What is our current capacity for testing? Is there a sense that asymptomatic people may be reluctant to be tested?
  • Gov –  I don’t believe so. I think it was just the holidays that slowed down testing. I want to remind people that we have the capacity.
  • Smith – We can do 30-33k tests a week. We can probably do 38-39k. Have 19 locations.

?? – Home schooling: got a call from a homeschooler who said she was counted in the ADM because her child was in the school system last year. So the school is getting money because of her, but she doesn’t have access to it. Should the state revisit that idea.

  • French – First, in our system the money does not follow the child. What you described certainly could have happened if a child was enrolled and then withdrew. There’s a lot of complexity involved in the actual calculation.
  • ?? – Is there anything the agency can do to help homeschoolers?
  • French – We require districts to have a policy around homeschoolers and the ability to access school resources.

Avery, WCAX – Boston Globe Op-ed calling on retired nurses, etc. to aid with vaccine distribution. VT contemplating anything?

  • Levine – As the Gov said, through the medical reserve corps and brainstorming we’ve considered. It’s a low risk enterprise. It’s on the drawing board.

Steve, NEK TV – In the beginning you read the daily death rate. Before the pandemic,  had you read daily obituaries?

  • Gov Yes. Maybe not daily but I do read to see who I recognize.
  • Steve – What would the COVID-only death rate…. (Gov interrupts)
  • Gov – Steve, if your point is that people die every day – they do, but not from this.
  • Steve – Obviously there’s comorbidities. There’s an old Ukrainian saying that if you live next to the cemetery you can’t cry for everyone. With the average age and comorbidities being what they are, hopefully we’ve turned a corner.
  • Gov – We haven’t turned a corner yet.
  • Steve – Dr. Levine, someone mentioned Ohio refusing vaccinations. In LA county alone 20-40% percent of medical frontline workers have refused. Any explanation for this?
  • Levine – Good question. “Vaccine hesitancy” over the long term is never at the levels you’re describing. Usually 10%-20% range. So why would someone hesitate now?  Clearly due to lots of misinformation. From social media and top levels of government. A name like “Warp Speed” might make people think we’re cutting corners. Make people think research is too new. It’s not. It’s not at warp speed.
  • Steve – Would the same hesitancy apply to testing some segments of population who fear that a complete profile of their DNA will be compiled?
  • Levine – I can’t even respond to that. But we are in times when people read a lot online.
  • Steve – Prisoners – Is there some plan here prisoners would get vaccines first?
  • Levine – You might be surprised at the age of our prison population. That might put them in an age band.