MONTPELIER — It’s unclear to state officials why COVID-19 cases in Vermont are again climbing after slowing down a bit.
“I think we all wish we had the answer,” Gov. Phil Scott said Tuesday at his weekly news conference.
Cases in Vermont increased by 26 percent over the last seven days and 8 percent over the last 14 days, according to a presentation from Department of Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Pieciak.
Pieciak recalled speaking about “encouraging trends” last week in terms of cases, deaths and hospitalizations in the United States, New England and Vermont. But “unfortunately, as it relates to Vermont, those trends have not continued,” he said.
His Oct. 5 presentation said COVID-19 cases in Vermont had decreased by 15 percent over the last seven days and 23 percent over the last 14 days. Previously, cases had been reported as rising since Labor Day.
Scott said Tuesday’s case count in Vermont, 132, was lower than other recent days but one day of data doesn’t indicate a trend. Case counts are anticipated to drop again, he said.
Vermont attributed 14 deaths to COVID-19 so far this month, compared to 45 in September. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the virus is blamed for 339 deaths in the state.
Long-term care facilities currently experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks included the Centers for Living and Rehabilitation in Bennington, which has about 26 cases.
Officials are anticipating decisions soon on eligibility for younger children to receive COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots for those who already received Johnson & Johnson or Moderna vaccines. Elderly and immunocompromised recipients of the Pfizer vaccine have already begun getting their booster shots.
Health Commissioner Mark Levine said the pharmaceutical company Merck asked for emergency-use authorization from the federal Food and Drug Administration for an antiviral treatment for COVID-19. Clinical trials showed the pill roughly cutting hospitalizations and deaths in half, according to reports.
Levine said if that’s the case, the pill will be an “important tool” along with vaccination for managing the pandemic.
With rapid tests being provided by the state as part of a new program, schools will be ramping up testing to cut down on students missing school for quarantine.
“I know it hasn’t been easy,” Scott said. “After what kids went through last year, we know how important it is for them to be in school especially with the loss of learning experienced.”
Scott said having students back in person five days a week is “huge,” however, it wouldn’t be possible without school staff working long hours.
“Unfortunately, we’ve heard cooperation from some parents has been less than ideal,” he said, regarding situations where quarantines are called for. “I want to remind everyone, they’re just doing their jobs under very difficult circumstances and conditions. While I know this is tough on students and teachers, this is not easy for anyone.”
Scott said he hopes the new testing program will allow more students to stay in school and cause less disruption among families.
Secretary of Education Dan French said he knows of situations where families experienced issues with getting child care and lack of supervision led to students not staying in isolation during their quarantine.
“It’s something that we wanted to highlight and ask people to work together,” he said. “I’ve heard on several occasions from nurses now, it’s contributing to their fatigue.”