Vermont Officials Provide Update On COVID-19 Trends And Unemployment Backlog
Vermont Governor Phil Scott says the state has hit an apparent plateau in the number of cases of COVID-19, and is working to clear a backlog of unemployment claims due to the pandemic.
The Republican governor began the week with an update from state Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine. Using a series of graphs tracing COVID-19 in the state, Levine says the slope of the curve appears to be plateauing. “So our focus from now into the foreseeable future remains to protect the most vulnerable I would say even more aggressively than before; to continue to avoid exceeding the capacity of the health care system and also to protect as many Vermonters as possible from encountering severe infection until we have effective antiviral therapies and a vaccine. And the timeline on effective antiviral therapies could be just months. The timeline on a vaccine, as you know, is commonly stated as 12 to 18 months.”
While the state health department provides voluminous pandemic data it does not offer town-by-town information. Dr. Levine said there’s too much risk of violating privacy rights if they bore down that closely. “As so often in Vermont when we get down to small numbers you actually succeed, even though you’ve tried not to succeed, in identifying the individuals who are the cases. You know we always have to be conscious of HIPPA violations in the way we portray the data. I would think that any Vermonter no matter what town they live in would be foolish to think there was not a case in their town. This is a condition that travels across state borders, as we know, across town borders. It has community-level transmission at this time.”
Vermont’s unemployment system stalled with the surge of applications due to pandemic layoffs. Additional operators were added to phone lines and Scott directed the Department of Labor to clear thousands of issues that created the backlog. He says the checks are now being mailed. “Under normal circumstances investigating these issues is required to make sure we’re adhering to federal regulations and these very restrictive federal standards have made it difficult, if not impossible, to keep up with the demands this pandemic has placed on the system. In the end the Department of Labor and the Agency of Digital Services rolled up their sleeves and found ways to clear issues to help payments go through. By Saturday night nearly 32,000 issues had been cleared which means over 20,000 people will be cleared to file their weekly claims and start receiving their benefits.”
The Health Department plans to continue what it calls an aggressive testing and contact tracing strategy. A task force assigned by the health commissioner to assess antibody testing determined current tests are “not accurate or reliable enough” but will check periodically for improvements.