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As COVID case counts fall in Vt., Scott administration signals softening of health guidance

A photo of three men who appear white in sports coats standing in front of a paneled blue wall.
Elodie Reed
VPR File
Vermont's Commissioner of Health Dr. Mark Levine, left, is forecasting a long-term reduction in COVID case counts in Vermont.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said Tuesday that the Scott administration will begin to roll back blanket COVID-19 health guidance as case counts continue to fall.

Weekly COVID case counts in Vermont are down by nearly 90% from their omicron peak, according to Levine. And he said hospitalizations are following that trend.

“Notably, the number of Vermonters in the ICU for COVID has dropped by a third, the lowest level since last October,” Levine said during the administration’s weekly press briefing Tuesday.

Levine said the recent decline in case counts likely signals a longer-term reprieve from the high transmission rates Vermont experienced first during the delta wave, and then from omicron.

And while future variants could require the state to reinstitute stricter public health guidance, Levine said Vermonters should prepare for “deliberate and phased transitions” to a new COVID norm.

Read more: Catch up on all of VPR's coronavirus coverage

“As we move forward in our planning, we will gradually shift toward fewer broad-based public health recommendations to a more individualized approach based on one’s own circumstances and health needs,” Levine said.

He said the administration’s revised guidance for masking in schools is one example of the kinds of changes Vermonters can expect to see in the near future.

And those changes could soon manifest in the form of reductions to the state’s PCR testing infrastructure, which Levine said will likely shrink in favor of distribution of take-home rapid antigen tests.

“And when virus transmission decreases, Vermonters will not need to get tested as often, such as before and after social gatherings, as overall risk will be much lower,” Levine said.

He added that the Department of Health will continue to monitor case counts and conduct genomic sequencing “to minimize any threats as much as we can.”

More from VPR: Officials plan to drop school mask recommendation as omicron recedes

But he said Vermont’s COVID guidance around masking and testing, for instance, will become less encompassing.

“We all have different levels of risk,” he said. “And we’ll need to navigate them and manage precautions in our own way, at our own pace.”

Levine said that Vermont has confirmed 10 cases of an omicron sub-variant called BA2, though that data was only through Jan. 29.

“We are still learning a lot about this variant, and any possible impact on transmissibility and severity, and there is not yet any definitive word,” Levine said.

He said the fact that case counts continue to fall mean the sub-variant is not yet “increasing in vast proportion.”

He said public health officials don’t have enough research yet to determine whether BA2 is more virulent than its predecessor.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Peter Hirschfeld @PeteHirschfeld.

The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
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