Governor Scott’s Covid-19 Press Conference 1.22.21

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 1.22.21

Vermont Lodging Association Member Update:
Governor Scott’s Covid-19 Press Conference 1.22.21

During Friday’s press conference, Governor Phil Scott and his administration officials provided an update on COVID-19, vaccination efforts, and other related items.

Governor Scott and several other officials are in quarantine following a recent COVID-19 exposure at the press briefing.  Today’s briefing was held virtually.

Governor Scott:

  • Monday – we will launch Phase 2 for vaccinations (for anyone over the age of 75)
  • With the limited supply of vaccines we prioritize saving lives
  • Once more vaccine doses are available, we will offer vaccinations to a broader group

Secretary Smith provided vaccination process details:

  • Aged-based approach to vaccinations
  • Vaccination registration begins on 1/25 and vaccination appointments will begin on 1/27 for residents ages 75+
  • If both spouses are ages 75+, they will need to register individually
  • If registered on-line, you will get a confirmation email; if registered via phone, we will collect a phone number for a confirmation phone call
  • There are enough appointment slots for population 75+ to complete vaccination for this age group within 5 weeks
  • Remember to keep the appointment when you make it
  • The state is working on plans to reduce percentage of vaccine spoilage
  • When registering on-line, you need to register at the site closest to your home
  • There will be a call center open, but on-line registration is preferred
  • The information with the registration details (website and phone numbers to call) will be released on Monday morning via health department website, social media and news release
  • If using the call center and you have to wait for the next available representative, don’t hang up and call back – it will kick you back to the end of the line.
  • Information you will need in order to register:
  • Your name, date of birth, address, phone number, email (if available), verify residency in VT, series of health questions, health insurance information
  • While in clinic, your 2nd appointment will be scheduled.
  • This process is in place to protect those who are at highest risk

Dr. Levine provided a brief VT health update:

  • 164 new cases reported today
  • Only 10% of cases are associated with outbreaks
  • Case positivity rate remains low:  2.5%
  • 6 additional deaths in the last two days (deaths total to date – 169; still 2nd lowest in the US)
  • 43 patients in the hospital, 5 in ICU
  • Weekly meetings are happening with college health centers (returning students will be more thoroughly tested this month compared to when students completed their fall semester)
  • Vaccination statistics:
  • 70 – 95% of healthcare staff received vaccine
  • 92% of residents in long-term care facilities received vaccine
  • 60% of staff in long-term care facilities received vaccine (this number is lower due to a variety of reasons, one of them is that the staff is comprised of ethnically diverse groups who often suffered historical injustice and may not have trust in government programs)
  • Dr. Levine shared his own experience with quarantine:  this is not easy, but it’s what we must do to keep others safe; good experience with the contact tracing team (they provided advice and guidance).


Q:  Governor, do you support Sen. Sirotkin’s proposal to increase funding for another housing bond?

A:  I don’t want to get ahead of the budget, but I am very supportive of affordable housing in the state.  Housing is very important to our state’s economy.  I am concerned about the bonding capacity of the state, that we can’t go and borrow more money at this point.

Q:  What was your reaction to the Elderwood nursing home inspection?  Has the state done more to intervene?

A:  The inspectors who are employees of the Agency of Human Services are the employees of DALE (dept. of aging and independent living); they had done the inspection after they’d heard some complaints during the outbreak; they came up with findings.  DALE is working on the staffing concerns/ issues.  Elderwood needs to develop a plan for correction of staffing issues.  We’ll continue to do surprise inspections of this facility to ensure it’s safe.  Those were unfortunate events.  The state has worked closely with the facility to respond rapidly to the situation.

Q:  There’s a teachers’ petition that they deserve to be in the queue for vaccination.

A:  We are confident in the data we have.  We took the approach to vaccinate population 65+ first. It’s our moral obligation to take care of those who took care of us.  If the world was perfect, we would open vaccinations to other groups of population.  We are seeing the short supply of the vaccine throughout the country.  Other states who opened up to a larger group are already facing shortages because they overpromised.  If we get more supply, we’ll open up further.  We are watching the data and science and it tells us that those who are over 65 years old are at a greater risk.

Q:  Can you address opt-in surveillance testing in schools?

A:  Surveillance testing is not connected to our decision making on vaccinations.  This was implemented as a tool to understand the condition of the virus in our community.  Positivity rate at school remains lower than general population.

Q:  You urged people not to find loopholes in the system for vaccination appointments.  Will someone be checking ID and residency on sites?

A:  You will attest to your name and residency on-line.  When you arrive at the vaccination site we will ask for a name and you will need to sign a waiver.

A:  We need to help our vulnerable population first.  It’s not a VT way to rig the system, don’t try to find a loophole and take the vaccine from someone who really needs it.  The on-line process may seem cumbersome but it’s in order to make it simpler when you arrive for your appointment.

Q:  What is the status of the efforts that vaccines don’t get spoiled?

A:  We have a list of people who we can call if someone doesn’t show up for the appointment.

Q:  Will couples be able to get appointments for reasonably the same date/time (in order to reduce spread of the virus in the same households)?

A:  If they register on the same day (similar time), we should be able to accommodate and get them vaccinated on the same day.

Q:  What are your thoughts on Judge’s injunction on Slate Ridge case?

A:  It’s good news.  If environmental laws were broken, they should follow through on that.

Q:  The judge says that all school and firearms training must stop.  Why didn’t the state do something sooner?

A:  There has not been a basis of evidence to act on the reports that have been made.  At this point now that there’s an order in place there could be a contempt of court if those activities continue.

Q:  You allocated 5 weeks to vaccinate those ages 75+.  Why so long?  How long will it take for ages 70+, 65+?

A:  The timeline is based on the vaccine supply coming in.  It’s simple math.  Until there’s more vaccine available, we plan to be done with ages 65+ by beginning of spring.

Q:  This week we had some encouraging news from the emergency board about the state’s finances being propped up by federal money.  Does this make you rethink any of your priorities in your budget?

A:  The priorities will always remain the same.  We are building the budget as we speak, there was a federal budget bill that passed that had some good news for VT; there will be more, if there’s another stimulus package – all things to consider.  The budget will be presented next Tuesday.  We have priorities.  Our economy is still fragile because we counted on the federal money to come in and supplement.  Many businesses shut down, the hospitality sector is suffering.  We can’t rely on federal government to help us out in the long term.  We need to set ourselves up to meet the needs.

Q:  What time does the portal and call center come on-line on Monday?  Should people wait until midnight to sign up?

A:  No need to wait until midnight.  The link and phone numbers will be provided on Monday morning.

Q:  During President Biden’s remarks re  COVID-19, he mentioned that each state will have a COVID contact person in the administration where governor should go to with any issues, supply, anything they need.  What would be the first thing Vermont addresses?

A:  What we need is more vaccine supply; predictability of vaccine supply (with more notification than just a day or two); equitable distribution of vaccine; no political favoritism.

Q:  Are you seeing the improved guidance from federal government?

A:  It’s still early to tell, but transparency and sense of urgency have been good so far.  The Biden administration is off to a good start.  In the previous administration we had contacts in the White House that were helpful.  We hope to establish relationships in the new administration as well.

Q:  The number of strep throat cases is on the rise.  Is it due to wearing a dirty mask?  How long should you wear a mask?

A:  Strep throat is a bacterial, not a viral illness.  There’s no correlation.

A:  Cloth masks in winter time should be worn no longer than a day (if you are wearing it constantly throughout the day).  Avoid touching the mask during the day.  Disposable masks should be replaced more frequently.

Q:  Are school counsellors receiving vaccine?

A:  By definition they are not in priority group (unlike school nurses who are in the priority group)

Q:  To avoid the issue of vaccine spoilage, how will the waitlist be managed (for instances to fill in when people don’t show up for their appointments)?

A:  We will have a list of available people (ages 75+) in the area we could call on.  There are some homebound people that we could use to “fill in.”  There’s no wait list.  There will be enough slots for everyone in the age group of 75 and above.

Q:  With this most recent potential exposure isn’t it time for you, Governor, and your staff to get vaccinated (as central workers)?

A:  I’m not more important than anyone else.  I will wait for my turn.  I’m committed to this process.  I’ll do what we ask other Vermonters to do (that’s why we are quarantining).

Q:  There was a legal challenge filed this week challenging Governor’s authority to make changes to Act 250 via Executive Order.  Why not wait for the legislative process?

A:  This is the legislative process (it’s been used for years).  We are restructuring the natural resources board.  The legislature does get to weigh in.  They can vote against it.  We are not asking for anything out of the ordinary.  We’ll keep moving forward and let the court decide.

Q:  Is there any update on sports?  Are teams cleared to compete next week?

A:  We haven’t made any changes at this point.  We are watching the data, we need at least 2 weeks of data to be able to make a decision.

Q:  The National Guard in DC were recently told to leave the capitol building and were moved to a parking garage.

A:  I am aware of the story.  We reached out to General Knight to make sure our VT troops were OK in DC.  He had no information that would prove otherwise.  The troops were able to go back and forth to their hotels, they had the necessary provisions.  I think everything is OK now.  If there’s an issue, we’ll be contacted.  I am not saying that other National Guard units haven’t been impacted, but it sounds like VT National Guard troops were ok.

Q:  There will be larger vaccine providers.  Will smaller practices and doctors offices have the option to administer vaccine to their patients?

A:  Most of the vaccines will happen through hospitals and pharmacies.  Later we may get to the physician level.  There are practical reasons not to get primary care physicians involved (storage issues, amount of work they already do on a day-to-day basis, etc.).

Q:  Family members of elderly residents in the assisted living facility in St. Albans – Holiday House – say that this facility doesn’t qualify for vaccine.

A:  This is an eligible facility.

Q:  People are fraudulently filing for PUA program.  How many are in Vermont?

A:  There is been an increased fraud in general in the nation, fraudulent filings in all programs.  Most of it is not in Vermont.  These are crime syndicates across the world who got their hands on stolen identity info.  Usually the information was used during the large national or international data breach and they were holding on to it until the right opportune time (COVID).  If you believe your info was compromised, go to federal trade commission and file identity theft report and contact three major credit bureaus and put an emergency freeze.

Q:  What hours of day/ week will vaccine sites be open?  Will the call center be working only during business hours to make appointments?

A:  The slots will be on the registration form.  The sites are in 39 towns and more than 50 of actual sites.  The call center initially will be working during business hours; as more vaccine arrives, we will re-evaluate and extend the registration/ and appointment hours.

Q:  How can the state guarantee slots for Vermonters if they can’t predict the supply of the vaccine?

A:  It’s simple math and is based on the current supply as it comes in.  If there’s a breakdown in the supply chain, we’ll have to re-assess.  Right now it looks like we’ve opened up enough slots in the 5-week time period to cover those 75 years old and above.

Q:  How has the state tested the website to ensure non-English speaking and Vermonters with disabilities can access?

A:  We’ll connect you with Department of Health Communications team.

Q:  What is the breakdown in each of the three age categories?

A:  125K – total.  75+ – 49,833; 70–74 – 33,203; 65–69 – 42,003

Q:  How are those who have chronic conditions and long-term illnesses (especially homebound) going to get a vaccine?

A:  We are partnering with Home Health and EMS to produce the list of those who are homebound to be reached out to.

Q:  Underlying conditions

A:  Once we get through 65+, next group will be 18 – 64 who are at the higher risk.  We’ll have a list of conditions available.

Q:  When will the list of vaccine sites be available?

A:  The town map will be in the next hour or so.  The actual site provided will be there when you register.

Q:  Is the contact tracing telling us anything re:  increased cases in Bennington County that now has the higher prevalence of the virus.  Is there any plan to stop the spread?

A:  This is a pattern we’ve seen in other parts of the state.  What we’ve done in the past is met with community leaders, discussed communications to the community, etc.  We didn’t tell them to go remote with schools and work.  It’s the time to be more vigilant and careful.  Household transmission becomes very common when there’s more in the community.  We can contain the spread by testing early and doing contact tracing.  We’ll continue to exercise this kind of strategy.

Q:  What will be done to ensure vaccination in rural areas (like parts of Essex County)?

A:  We’ve been paying particular attention to those areas to make sure we do have access into this county.

Q:  Dose allocations are already assigned to the regional partners for the entire month of February.  Is it set in stone?

A:  If we receive more vaccine, we will ramp up our vaccination program.

Q:  Can you clarify when people with chronic conditions can sign up for a vaccine?

A:  Once 75+ are done, then 70+, then 65+, then 15-64 with specific conditions.

Q:  Has any variation of the virus been detected in VT?

A:  Nothing has been detected at this point.

Q:  How will vaccine clinics be set up?  Will there be a drive-through?  Will there be an accomodation for those with disabilities?

A:  No drive-through, but there will be an accomodation for people with disabilities.

Q:  Restrictions on carrying guns do next to nothing to prevent gun crime.  How do you view this?

A:  I haven’t looked at it closely, it’s not a priority.  It’s being heard in the Senate and Judiciary first, when it gets out of there, it may go to the floor of the Senate.  There will be plenty of opportunities to weigh in.

Q:  How much did the recent extra police presence at the State House cost?

A:  This data is not yet available.

Q:  How do you think the decentralized administration of Act 250 holds back the economy?

A:  There’s a lack of consistency among some of the commissions.  Some of these projects are getting more complicated.  There are very technical decisions that need to be made.  For the more complicated act 250 permits, hearing them in a setting where it’s consistent and the decision is made quicker and you don’t go months and months without decision being made, in a meantime thousands of dollars are being spent.  My hope is that with this process they will get a red or green light earlier, and accept the reality.

Q:  Some people noticed that internet providers increased their rates during pandemic.  Are there any plans to address this?

A:  They are not a regulated entity.  There are arguments whether they should or shouldn’t be.  If you are struggling, reach out to us and we’ll put you in touch with Public Service Department to see if there’s anything we can do to help.  We have some programs available to help those in need during the pandemic.

Q:  Does pandemic have anything to do with gas price increases?

A:  In the beginning the prices went down because there were fewer people driving.

Q:  Are we going to see an inflation?

A:  Yes, it’s possible.  The economists are predicting it.

Q:  Clarify how many sites for vaccinations are going to be.

A:  54 sites in 39 towns.

Q:  Inaudible Q.

A:  There will be a map on the health department website.

Q:  Is there a concern that sufficient workers are available to administer the vaccines?

A:  We have laid out the schedule and we even have backups.