Governor Scott’s Covid-19 Press Conference 1.29.21

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 1.29.21

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

Governor Scott:

  • Vaccination registration and administration have started.  There are still slots for sign-ups.
  • VT strategy is to focus on older population first.  The strategy is based on science and data.  Preservation of life is our top priority.
  • Over 400K of Americans have lost their lives to COVID-19.
  • Masks and social distancing will be with us for a while.

Secretary French:

  • No cases were detected through PCR testing this week.
  • We do not make our data derived from voluntary testing a basis for vaccine prioritization.
  • No decision has been made on winter sports competitions yet.
  • Music instruction has been challenging in schools this year.  Feb. 9 – there will be a meeting with music teachers to determine next steps.
  • SBAC testing requirement was waived last year.  More update will be provided later in February on this year’s testing (which normally happens in May).

Secretary Smith:

  • Over 48K of Vermonters received vaccine as of today.
  • Timeline for finishing up with 75+ age group – 5 weeks.  The timeline will change if more vaccine becomes available.
  • 1350 additional doses were received this week (they will be allocated among Orange, Bennington, and Lamoille counties due to a higher demand)
  • There’s a small reserve of vaccines kept on hand to respond to any urgent situations.
  • There’s no waiting list for instances when there are appointment cancellations.  There’s a list of eligible (75+ age group) Vermonters who registered.  Prime objective is to prevent waste.  Local health clinics are instructed to use common sense and not waste doses at the end of the day.
  • The registration and vaccination process has been a success so far.  There were only a few bumps.
  • The death rate is significantly higher among seniors (70% from age groups 75+, 90% for 65+).
  • There are still openings for vaccines.  If you are eligible and haven’t registered yet, please go ahead and do so on-line or call 855-722-7878.

Dr. Levine provided a weekly health update:

  • New case average remained steady this week (between 78-133).
  • Positivity rate is 2.2%.
  • Death increase has been at a much lower rate.
  • Hospitalization number has increased to 59 (as of yesterday), 11 in ICU.
  • Colleges are being closely monitored.  Athletic teams had outbreaks and had their seasons paused.
  • Norwich University had an 80-case outbreak.  The state is in the process of submitting these to genomic sequencing testing to determine if there’s a variance.
  • UVM is doing testing for students prior to their leaving home.  The numbers are low:  out of 6521 students only 15 positive cases.
  • Champlain College – only very few cases.
  • Springfield hospital situation:  there were concerns re: temperature slightly above (about 1 degree) manufacturer-recommended maximum temperature.  860 doses were affected.  The hospital and state officials worked directly with Moderna to determine whether the doses should be discarded.  Moderna scientists confirmed that the doses were safe to use.  This conclusion was reached upon a deeper review of the situation.  The public should have confidence in the safety of these vaccines.
  • So far, 99 doses in the state have been wasted (it’s a low number in comparison to national numbers).
  • When arriving for your vaccination appointment, arrive on time (not too early), bring a mask.  Don’t stop following state guidance just because you got the vaccine.  Use caution.


Q:  What percentage of 75+ age group do you expect will sign up and when will you determine to move on to next group?

A:  Some of it depends on vaccine supply.  We’ve been very satisfied to date with the amount of people who signed up.  We are getting to the point of accomplishing our goal.  We want to open up the reservation list to the next group as soon as possible as long as there’s a supply.

Q:  There are many frustrated parents about winter sports restrictions.  What specifically in the data the state is looking for in order to start scholastic games?

A:  We are we being cautious.  We are watching collegiate sports, there’s been some transmission from players.  We don’t want to rush into making a wrong decision.  We are seeing some new cases even in a practice environment.  We need a little more time to make a decision on start of Phase 3.

Q:  Governor, what’s your reaction to extending the sales tax?

A:  It’s not the time to increase taxes on anyone.  Our priority should be getting through this crisis.  We have to be cautious.

Q:  The news from Johnson & Johnson vaccine this morning – 66% effective.  Can you help us understand this?

A:  There’s an overall number and there’s a subgroup analysis when one vaccine can look differently than another.  I can’t say anything right now since it will be premature.

Q:  Is it dangerous to stand outside in the cold and wait for vaccine?

A:  We are telling people not to stand in line in the cold.  They should be in the car.

Q:  Governor, what’s your thoughts re: petition drive that 1200 people signed to ask you to leave the Republican Party?

A:  There are a number of people that are not supporters of mine.  We’ll see where this goes.  At the end of the day if the Republican Party decides that don’t want me to be a member of their club, I am still going to be a Republican.  I believe in core values and the things that I’ve done over the past 20 years.

Q: Would you advise Vermonters to take even more precaution, wear two masks (due to new UK and South Africa more infectious variances)?

A:  The official stance from the new director of CDC – just wear a mask.  If some of the new variances are more transmissible between people, you’ll need to keep doing all the things you’ve been doing all the time to keep yourself safe.

Q:  What are the testing protocols that will be refined in Norwich University (due to outbreak)?

A:  All students are getting tested on day 0 and day 7.  Refining the protocols simply means helping them understand the timing.

Q:  A 89-year old homebound person was scheduled for vaccine 2 weeks ago.  This hasn’t happened yet.  Is there a timeframe for getting it done?

A:  There’s a transportation issue (for safely delivering the vaccine).  I am hoping next week we can map out a plan.

Q:  How is vaccine getting to VT (by plan or truck)?

A:  By FedEx.  It’s going to state facility first and is being distributed by the state to hospitals/ healthcare sites.

Q:  Where there any no/shows or cancellations in the first few days of vaccinations?

A:  There were minimal cancellations.  In the end if there’s a dose that’s left over, the staff is instructed to use common sense and not waste it.

Q:  VT is sending samples to do genomic testing.  How is the nation as a whole doing?

A:  Genomic sequencing is being done by the CDC, but the number of samples accepted is limited.  So far none of the tests from VT showed any variance.  There were variance cases documented in Saratoga, in Essex County, NY, in Boston.

Q:  Is it the variance that appeared in Great Britain, not in South Africa?

A:  Yes, but genomic sequencing will pick up either.

Q:  There are mental health benefits from competitive sports.  The amount of anxiety and suicides among children and adolescents in the nation increased.  What are we doing in our state?

A:  Pediatricians confirm that the anxiety and depression cases increased significantly since pandemic.  We need to return to in-person learning.  That’s what’s best.  We have a mental health system in VT that does have capacity for the outpatient interaction whether in person or via tele-medicine.  The good news that people are admitting and acknowledging the issues.  Please access services that are available.

Q:  When will masking and social distancing end?  Is there a concern re:  gatherings (Super Bowl is coming up)?

A:  Masking will be around for a while longer, until all the groups are vaccinated.  We need to continue with our practices.  Re:  Super Bowl – we advise that you don’t get together.  We’ve seen what these gatherings can do – outbreaks.  Avoid them.

Q:  At what point people who are vaccinated cn get back to regular lives?

A:  There are a few states who made this decision (for vaccinated people to go back to “normal”).  Most states are still very reserved.  The CDC hasn’t weighed in yet.  We are waiting for their guidance.

Q:  The groups that have been vaccinated (seniors), when will the programs for them resume (and visitations)?

A:  There are some guidelines from CMS.  Once we get everyone through their 2nd dose of vaccine, the pace of relaxing restrictions will increase.

Q:  What can be done to increase the transparency re: releasing the names of outbreak sites in VT?

A:  Some of the places are not disclosed due to potential violation of patient confidentiality, a variety of epidemiologic considerations legally supported of whether we can disclose a name and number of positive cases.  Keep in mind that a definition of an outbreak can be 2-3 people.

Q:  Restaurants are struggling these days.  Is there a plan for the state to work with restaurants to recover?

A:  Over the last few months, we’ve been able to apply some of the federal relieve funds to help restaurant and lodging industry.  There are many things that are out of our control.  In the budget adjustment we have a $10 million package to help the lodging sector.

Q:  What kind of review did you do when determining eligibility of group 1A (senior living residents, health workers, etc.)?

A:  The vaccination program for group 1A was administered through hospitals.  We found discrepancies between districts (re: eligibility), some who shouldn’t have been vaccinated, were vaccinated.  Now we are moving to Phase 2 – this won’t be an issue.

Q:  Front line workers eligibility question.

A:  We haven’t had the discussion regarding this.  It’s important that we are very specific.

Q:  When will be some downstate pharmacies enlisted in the vaccine distribution?

A:  I need a few more days.

Q:  Springfield hospital – temperature monitors question.

A:  There will be a site visit today.  Moderna felt comfortable to give a go-ahead when assessing our situation.

Q:  A worker in previous group (1A) wasn’t able to get a vaccine.

A:  We’ll continue to vaccinate from group 1A.  That person should go through regular channels to get their vaccine.

Q:  Does the state have a schedule for age bands that they can release to general public?

A:  We don’t have a timeframe.  We’ll make a determination in the next few weeks.

Q:  Switching out the property tax for the income tax.  Would you care one way or the other:  if the property tax or income tax was funding the education fund?

A:  My concern has been if we switch to income tax alone, it might further burden Vermonters.  Let’s get thru pandemic.  There’s a lot of moving pieces.  If you make any change, it could have an impact somewhere else.  Let’s not get into this too quickly.  Everyone should weigh in.  If we tax certain services that the other state doesn’t, it could put us at a disadvantage.

Q:  Will the patients be notified if their vaccine was a part of the group that was slightly above the temperature in Springfield hospital?

A:  As long as the vaccine was approved, nobody is going to be informed.  The 2nd dose won’t be from the same batch.

Q:  Have you been advised on the impact of VT fuel price and availability?

A:  No.

Q: Can you tell us what statistical data you rely on to postpone decision to move forward with winter sports season?  Neighboring states (NH) are going strong with winter sports.

A:  NH numbers are climbing.  They have their own guidelines.  We have a phased restart plan, 12/26 – no close contact practices started, 1/18 – return to play (scrimmages), we need a couple more weeks before moving to next phase.

Q:  Cooperative program – with Pittsburg, NH.  Do you have any discussion re: these kids’ sports programs?

A:  We’ve been working with schools and addressing individual circumstances.

Q:  Is the administration considering using in-person dining restriction lifting as a tool to re-open schools in April?

A:  We are not seeing outbreaks in dining facilities; we don’t believe that this will help in opening up schools at this point in time.

Q:  A patient who is battling cancer but under 65 years old – they are not eligible for vaccine now.  Why did you use the strategy to focus on older population first?  Is it easier to verify age than health conditions?

A:  90% of deaths we’ve seen have been in population over 65 years old.  The next group will be a large group with health conditions.  We don’t think less of people who have chronic conditions.  It’s hard to move every Vermonter ahead of the line.

Q:  The spoiled doses number recently increased from 30 to 99?  What caused the spike?

A:  We’ve received more accurate data, but don’t have the insight.

Q:  A portion of 1,300 extra doses received will be set aside for BIPOC Vermonters.  How many doses and how are you going to notify them?

A:  The Health Dept. right now is reaching out to the BIPOC community.  We have 300+ people in the BIPOC community that are over 75 years old.  Over next week we allocated over 100 doses to them.

Q:  Is there an extra demand for vaccines in Bennington, Lamoille, and Orange Counties?

A:  Yes, there’s an extra demand.

Q:  Will there be a consideration for an additional vaccination site in Brattleboro area?

A:  It’s been an equal demand except for the 3 counties mentioned.  There are slots still available in each geographical area where the person should be able to get a vaccine.  We’ll be partnering with Brattleboro Memorial as we move forward.

Q:  Is there going to be a 60-65 age band?

A:  It’s yet to be determined.

Q:  How many doses were administered in a day so far?

A:  Wednesday and Thursday – 2,501, Friday – 1,105 scheduled.  The pace will start increasing in the coming weeks.

Q:  Is your timeline based on the 1st dose?

A:  Yes, we move from Phase to Phase based on the 1st dose of vaccine.

Q:  Will you need to expand clinic and staff capacity when adding 2nd dose administration?

A:  Yes, and we’ve already calculated it.

Q:  Have you got any new directive from new administration in lowering standardizing PCR cycles?

A:  No, not even re: using those values in reporting.

Q:  The White House’s directive was for nobody to call the virus “China Virus.”  Is it Ok to call a variant a UK or South African variant?

A:  You raise a good point.  As long as we approach it maturely, it’s ok.  Scientifically we call them by letters and numbers to avoid stigmatizing people who come from those areas.

Q:  Why don’t we still know where this virus came from?

A:  The team was just allowed in China to investigate.  They completed the quarantining period and are just starting to work.

Q:  What is getting done re: getting kids back to schools by end of school year (to promote good mental health among students)?

A:  We are having conversations.  It will take some time.  We understand that we need to focus on kids and re-engage them.  We’ll share as soon as we have more info.