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Coronavirus variant B.1.1.7, which first came to light in Britain, has been identified in testing in Bennington and Windham counties, the Vermont Department of Health said Friday. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, B.1.1.7 is the most common source of new coronavirus infections in the U.S. Four cases have been identified in Bennington County, and three in Windham County.

Coronaviruses from the B.1.1.7 lineage are thought to be 30 to 50 percent more infectious than other variants in circulation today. They are also likely to be more deadly, based on studies in Britain, according to The New York Times.

In addition, one case of B.1.427 and two cases of P.1 have been found in Windham County. B.1.427 may be more contagious than earlier forms of the coronavirus, but it does not appear to be spreading as quickly as variants like B.1.1.7. Research suggests that the P.1 variant, first reported in Japan, may be able to overcome the immunity developed after infection by other variants, according to the Times.

Variants are expected, and vaccination reduces the number of variants, according to Trey Dobson, MD, of the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.

SEVEN-DAY AVERAGE OF NEW CASES RISES IN BENNINGTON, WINDHAM COUNTIES

The seven-day average of daily new cases per 100,000 residents has risen slightly in Bennington and Windham counties since Friday. In Bennington County, the figure is 17.7, while in Windham County, it’s 12.5, according to the nonprofit Covid ActNow. Both counties continues to be considered “high risk,” at the center of the risk scale, as are all neighboring counties in Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Bennington County’s infection rate, down slightly to 0.72, and Windham County’s, steady at 0.70, shows that active cases are decreasing in both counties, while positive test rates of 2.0 and 2.5 percent, respectively, indicate widespread testing.

Bennington County has reported 95 new cases over the past two weeks, and Windham County has reported 70. Chittenden County, Vermont’s largest county, has had 277 over the same period.

Bennington County continues to have the highest infection rate of COVID-19 in Vermont, at 547.3 cases per 10,000 residents since the beginning of the pandemic. Chittenden County is second, at 446.0, while the rate in Windham County is 307.3 per 10,000.

THE DAILY NUMBERS

One Vermonter died of COVID-19 over the past two days, the health department reported. The death toll is now at 247.

Seventeen Vermonters were hospitalized with the disease as of Sunday, and four of those patients were in intensive care.

The health department reported 79 new cases of COVID-19 in Vermont on Saturday, and 83 on Sunday, for a total of 162. The state’s cumulative total since the start of the pandemic is now 23,126, which is 174 higher than Friday’s figure. The discrepancy was not explained.

All of Vermont’s 14 counties reported new cases over the past two days. Chittenden County had 26; Rutland County had 22; Caledonia County had 19; Washington County had 15; Franklin County had 13; Lamoille County had 11; Bennington, Orange and Windsor counties each had 10; Windham County had nine; Orleans County had eight; Essex County had five; and Addison and Grand Isle counties each had two.

So far, 380,659 people have been tested. The reported statewide seven-day average for positive tests remains at 1.0 percent.

The number of Vermonters reported to have recovered from COVID-19 has risen by 173 since Thursday, to 20,186.

The statistics supplied by the Vermont Department of Health at midday each day are accurate as of the end of the previous day. The information is preliminary and subject to change.

VERMONT VACCINATION RATE RISES TO 62.3%

As of Saturday, 340,715 Vermonters, or 62.3 percent of all those over the age of 16, have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. That is an increase of nine-tenths of a percentage point since Friday. According to the state, 238,800 people have completed their vaccination, and 102,000 have received a first dose.

In Bennington County, 64.1 percent of those over the age of 16 have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while in Windham County, the figure is 57.4 percent. Addison County continues to lead the state in vaccinations, at 69.4 percent. Nationally, 55.8 percent of Americans over the age of 18 have received at least one dose as of Sunday, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So far, the state says it has received 659,100 doses of vaccine, 84.5 percent of which have been administered.

The state’s vaccine figures are not updated on Sundays.

VT. SCHEDULES CLINICS FOR COLLEGE STUDENTS

The Vermont Health Department is scheduling vaccine clinics at various colleges after the state opened up eligibility to out-of-state students this week.

There were also many open appointments at other sites this weekend and at college campuses in the coming days that are open to all eligible Vermonters age 16 and older, said Human Services Secretary Mike Smith on Friday.

Clinics were scheduled at the University of Vermont on Sunday, Middlebury College and Bennington College on Tuesday, St. Michael’s College on Thursday, Northern Vermont University in Lyndon on Friday and Castleton University next Saturday, May 8, he said.

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People can make an appointment on the Health Department’s website or by calling 855-722-7878.

Smith is also advising Vermonters to put their vaccination card in a safe place.

“I recommend taking a photo of it with your smart phone and keeping it handy as you may need it if you decide to travel,” he said Friday during the governor’s twice-weekly virus briefing.

Vermonters who lose their vaccination card can request a record of their vaccination from the state registry or from their health care provider.

To request a record through the registry, email vaxrecordrequest@vermont.gov or call 888-688-4667 option 3, he said.

THE IMPORTANCE OF SECOND DOSES

Public health officials and advocates say that although a single dose offers partial protection, it’s still important for people to receive a second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, particularly to defend against more infectious COVID-19 variants.

Nearly 8 percent of people who received a first dose are skipping the second dose, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated. While that means an overwhelming majority of people are getting their second doses, observers say they’d like to see as many people receive a second dose as possible, according to NPR.

MAINE ENDS COVID-19 VISITOR TESTING, QUARANTINE

Effective Saturday, all states became exempt from Maine’s COVID-19 travel requirements.

The state is exempting all states from testing and quarantine requirements but that could change based on the spread of variants, said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The policy change is based on a successful travel season last summer where there was little transmission of COVID-19 from visitors to Maine. The introduction of vaccines also played a role in the decision, he said.

If states see a spike in cases of highly contagious COVID-19 variants, Maine will reinstate quarantine and testing requirements, Shah said.

Regardless of the policy, it’s a good idea to be tested when returning to Maine from an out-of-state visit, he said.

FENWAY PARK HOSTS FIRST COMMENCEMENT

Bentley University is sending its 2021 graduates into the world after the first-ever college graduation Saturday at Boston’s Fenway Park.

After the class of 2021 ceremony Saturday morning, the university was to hold a second ceremony to recognize the class of 2020.

While Bentley was the first school to use the home of the Boston Red Sox for its graduation, Northeastern and Suffolk universities, Emerson College and a number of high schools will also be using the location later this spring.

Former Bentley President Gloria Larson encouraged Bentley’s graduates to “make the world a better place” and praised students for their resilience during the pandemic.

“We’ve experienced an untold loss of human life; felt economic and financial hardship; experienced social unrest and a needed reckoning around race and social justice; and saw a deepening political and social divide at home and abroad,” she said. “But here today, in spite of or perhaps because of these challenges, we stand stronger.”

MT. WASHINGTON ROAD RACE GETS GREEN LIGHT

An annual race for runners to the summit of Mount Washington is back on schedule this year.

The 60th Mount Washington Road Race is scheduled for June 19-20 up the steep 7.6-mile road to the 6,288-foot summit.

The women’s race will be held on the first day; the men’s race o the second. Last year’s race was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Runners come from all over the country for the race.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.


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