As the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus spreads rapidly across the country and in Vermont, cases statewide and locally this week have reached the highest levels of the pandemic.
Thursday updated Vermont Department of Health data reported a record 1,352 new cases for Wednesday across Vermont, surpassing the previous high daily case count set Tuesday with 937 new cases reported.
The ministry also published the latest community specific data for the seven days ending Wednesday, December 29, and that shows Waterbury with 130 new weekly cases, more than triple the previous weekly record of 41 cases recorded on December 22.
The increase for Waterbury this week was the biggest single-week jump in the number of cases for a single Washington County community, with Barre City ranking just behind after registering 123 new cases for the same period. Barre City leads Washington County with the most pandemic cases, 1,910. Waterbury’s total since March 2020 is second in the county with 664.
Other neighboring communities, including those in the Harwood Unified Union School District, have seen increases, but not of the magnitude in Waterbury: 38 cases have been reported in Stowe and 47 in Montpellier; Waitsfield saw 19 and Moretown 17; 5 have been reported for Warren while Bolton has only registered 3 and Middlesex 2, according to figures from the Department of Health.
The spike following the Christmas holidays reflects the national trend since the highly contagious Omicron variant began to spread. The New York Times reported just under 489,000 cases on Wednesday, a new daily national record for the pandemic.
National and statewide statistics, however, show that hospitalizations are holding up despite the increase in cases. In Vermont, 56 people would be hospitalized Thursday, including 19 in intensive care. This figure is similar to a week ago and down about 25% from the start of the month, when 76 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized, according to data from the Ministry of Health.
State officials this week during the COVID-19 press briefing with Gov. Phil Scott warned that Omicron is expected to sharply increase the number of cases in the coming weeks, similar to the post-holiday surge seen in the year last. A key difference, however, is that the total number of daily cases is now several times higher as the post-holiday peak approaches than at the end of 2020 through 2021.
This week, Vermont Health Commissioner Dr Mark Levine also cautioned against focusing on the number of cases as people have turned more to home testing in recent years. weeks. The state handed out 25,000 free test kits last week and planned to hand out as many this week in a bid to equip Vermonters with tests before they get together for the holiday season.
Governor Phil Scott in his COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday acknowledged that state test distribution sites were depleted before many who wanted tests could get them last week. “I understand the frustration, but we’re doing our best with what we have until the federal supply chain starts flowing,” he said. Additional tests are expected to be directed to the states as part of a federal initiative announced last week by President Joe Biden to distribute half a billion tests starting in January.
The Department of Health website has a short online form that people can use to report results of their home tests although it’s not clear to what extent people are doing this. The state’s case numbers are likely incomplete as they reflect the results of PCR tests administered at state testing sites and any results individuals report on their own, Levine noted.