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BENNINGTON — The state set a new grim record Thursday for single-day positive COVID-19 cases, with 604 reported. The rate of positive tests also spiked to 5.2 percent, another one-day record.

Of those cases, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard, 76 patients are hospitalized and 23 are in intensive care units. That’s down from a record 84 people on Tuesday.

The continuing upswing in cases has hit Bennington County. According to the Health Department, 599 cases have been reported here in the past 14 days, including 66 new cases on Thursday.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the county had reported 242 cases in the past 7 days as of Thursday, and had a test positivity of 5.66 percent as of Tuesday. Under CDC guidelines, people should wear masks in public indoor settings in Bennington County.

At Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, the number of patients with COVID has decreased from a high of 19 on Tuesday to eight as of Thursday, the hospital’s chief medical officer, Dr. Trey Dobson, said.

The key to keeping those numbers down, and keeping COVID cases less serious, is vaccination and boosters, Dobson said.

“Vaccination is keeping the hospital rates from increasing significantly, but they are increasing,” Dobson said.

That said, of the COVID cases requiring hospitalization at SVMC, “70 percent are not vaccinated, and in the ICU, 80 percent are not vaccinated,” Dobson said. “Folks that are vaccinated and wind up in the hospital are typically extremes of age with ongoing medical problems.”

With the Delta variant spreading through community transmission, “I think everyone is learning to accept that the virus is everywhere and we need to be diligent,” Dobson said. “The truth is we will encounter COVID, and being vaccinated and being boostered is what protects us from getting very sick.”

In the emergency room, Dobson said, staff are seeing people come in with a sore throat and mild symptoms and test positive for COVID. “They’re accepting it. They take 10 days of isolation, the symptoms last 2 to 3 days, and then they go back to work or back to school. We know this is our future with the virus.”

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As for the future, and the likelihood the Omicron variant of the virus will eventually reach Vermont — Dobson said the hospital’s incident command has had discussions about how it would mount a second booster campaign with a modified vaccine, if that’s what comes to pass.

“We’re not going to dismantle the vaccine clinic and COVID Resource Center (at the former Southern Vermont College),” he said. “We’ll keep it going and we’ll be ready. “

The continuing rise in Delta variant cases and concerns about the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the virus led the White House to issue winter COVID-19 guidelines on Thursday, including initiatives to expand free at-home testing and increase booster shots for adults and vaccines for schoolchildren.

In a statement, Gov. Phil Scott said he supported Biden’s plan.

“I share the president’s commitment to progress by prioritizing what we know will work best, which are not the broad restrictions of 2020, because we need to be able to bring Americans and Vermonters along with us 20-plus months into the pandemic,” Scott said.

“We are in a much different place today than we were a year ago with incredibly safe and effective vaccines for those 5 and older, boosters available to maximize protection, advanced therapeutics and more. This pandemic is still being driven by the unvaccinated, and it’s more important than ever, as we head into the winter, to prioritize these proven strategies that work best, as we have in Vermont.”

Meanwhile, the state Department of Corrections reported 16 new cases of COVID-19 at Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport, with 13 of those cases incarcerated persons and three among staff. A total of 40 incarcerated individuals and 14 staff have tested positive in the Northern State outbreak, which began on Nov. 10.

There are now a total of 13 active incarcerated cases and six active staff cases at Northern State with 27 individuals and eight staff medically cleared. The facility remains on full lockdown. Contact tracing on the new cases is underway, the Department of Corrections said.

Statewide, there are currently 14 incarcerated cases and 17 staff cases across six correctional facilities and three field offices, the department said.

Greg Sukiennik covers government and politics for Vermont News & Media. Reach him at gsukiennik

Greg Sukiennik has worked at all three Vermont News & Media newspapers and was their managing editor from 2017-19. He previously worked for, for the AP in Boston, and at The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Mass.


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