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Vermont hits vaccination goal

Restrictions, state of emergency end after more than 80 percent of Vermonters get their COVID-19 vaccine

—After 458 days, victory has been declared in Vermont’s battle against COVID-19.Flanked by members of his cabinet, Gov. Phil Scott announced on June 14 that 81.8 percent of Vermont’s eligible population — those age 18 and older — has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, making the state the first in the nation to reach this milestone.As a result, all state COVID-19 restrictions have been rescinded, and the state of emergency that Vermont has been under since March 13, 2020, slated to expire on June 15, will not be renewed.“And here’s why: Because it is safe to do so,” Scott said at a news briefing in Montpelier.“It is safe because Vermonters have done their part to keep spread of the virus low throughout the pandemic and stepped up to get vaccinated,” he said. “In fact, no state in the nation is in a better or safer position to do this than we are.”All previous limits on the number of people who can congregate in restaurants, performance spaces, or other indoor venues have been lifted.And Vermont now moves into what is called “universal guidance,” which encourages unvaccinated residents, including children who are not yet eligible for a vaccine, to continue wearing their masks and practicing social distancing, to practice good hygiene, and to think carefully before traveling outside the state.According to CDC guidance, masking and physical distancing for fully vaccinated Vermonters — except in limited circumstances such as in schools, on public transportation, health-care settings, long-term-care facilities, prisons, etc. — is no longer required. Vermont began following the CDC guidance last month.While state restrictions were lifted two weeks ahead of the original July 4 date set by the Scott administration, individual businesses and municipalities can still implement stricter guidance if they choose.To ensure continuation of federal funding for certain programs, as Scott has previously indicated, he signed an executive order to continue Vermont National Guard involvement with COVID-19 recovery operations and to ensure continued cooperation and coordination among state agencies as necessary.The order also extends the two-week period between the expiration of the emergency declaration and July 1, when recently enacted legislation begins to permanently allow bars and restaurants to continue pickup and delivery of alcoholic beverages.

An enviable record

—Vermont has exceeded President Biden’s goal of 70 percent of those 18 and older, and 70.8 percent of the total U.S. population by July 1.The state ranks first in the nation on the number of vaccines administered per capita, the percent of its population with at least one dose, and the percent of its population fully vaccinated.Since the start of the pandemic, Vermont also has the lowest number of cases and deaths per capita in the continental United States.“Our high vaccination rates will help keep coronavirus activity at historically low levels,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine.“This means fewer chances for Covid to spread between people and throughout our communities, fewer if any hospitalizations, and, importantly, prevent[ing] more loss of life from the virus,” Levine said. “It also means less opportunity for mutations and more virulent strains from developing.”This protection, Levine said, “is what is allowing us to lift restrictions — that is public health at work — but that work is far from over. We will continue getting as many Vermonters vaccinated as possible to keep this protection as strong as we can.”Scott said that Vermont’s strategy for vaccinations was “the most effective in the nation” because of the decision to protect the most vulnerable residents first, “through a simple-to-understand and easy-to-implement age-banded strategy that would deliver the best results.”He said Vermont “is now a global leader in vaccinations to defeat COVID-19” and “has shown the world what’s possible when you have a group of people with the right attitude following the data and trusting medical science.”However, Scott reiterated the need for unvaccinated people to step up and get the vaccine.“It’s important to note, that even as we celebrate this milestone, our work isn’t done,” Scott said. “We will continue to vaccinate as many Vermonters as we can. Because every shot given today, tomorrow, and in the weeks to come is just as important as the ones we administered yesterday. And when vaccines are approved for younger Vermonters in the months ahead, we’ll be ready.”

Getting through together

—In announcing the end of the state of emergency, Scott acknowledged the hardships that so many Vermonters faced during the pandemic.“There is no doubt each of us — every single Vermonter — has been through a lot in the last 15 months,” Scott said. “Missing time with family and friends; adapting to restrictions; putting off weddings, birthday parties, holidays, and travel; working and learning from home. Or worse: losing loved ones, businesses, or jobs.”“For 15 months, our daily lives have been impacted by a global, once-in-a-century crisis that required us to do things we never thought we’d have to do,” the governor continued. “Never did I think I’d be the governor ordering businesses to close, sending kids home from school, or telling people to stay home to stay safe.”While the state prepared for the worst, Scott said the worst was avoided due to “the unity of the people of Vermont, whose commitment to neighbors and community never wavered.”“At the beginning, I told you we would face, find, and fight this virus together,” he said. “That’s exactly what Vermonters have done and continue to do.”“And you’ve done it better than any other place in the country,” the governor added. “I also believe we’ve done it as well as, or better than, any other place in the world.”Scott also acknowledged the fears of some Vermonters that the restrictions are being lifted too soon.“I know most Vermonters have been anxiously awaiting this moment,” he said of the lifting of restrictions. “But I also know there are some who might feel uncomfortable or who have their own legitimate reasons to remain cautious. As I’ve said, that’s natural and it’s OK.”“I hope all Vermonters show compassion and respect for everyone, including businesses choosing to keep some requirements in place, while they wait for all their employees to do the right thing and get vaccinated,” Scott continued.Scott and his team also recognized the many partners in this effort, including employees in agencies and departments across state government, Vermont’s state legislators, and the state’s congressional delegation, as well as the Vermont National Guard, health-care providers and frontline workers, municipal leaders, equity support and advocacy groups, and others.“The ingenuity, creativity, and dedication of all Vermonters — to their friends and families, to their neighbors, and to their communities — has been incredible and we should all be very proud,” Scott said. “I know I am.”“Through it all, we have shown the nation — and much of the world — how to respond when there is no playbook, and how to do it with civility and respect,” he continued.“But this is no surprise to me and should be no surprise to anyone who knows anything about what it means to be a Vermonter,” he said.He told the story of how, on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Major General John Sedgwick knew enough about the Green Mountain State’s character and courage to send the order, “Put the Vermonters ahead.”“One-hundred and fifty-seven years later, we again showed that when the nation is in need of leadership and hope, when America needs to find its path forward to solve problems and help people, when in dark times, our country needs a state to light the way, Vermonters will always step forward and lead the charge.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #617 (Wednesday, June 16, 2021). This story appeared on page A1.

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