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Governor Scott’s weekly briefing includes discussions on mask mandates and the new Omicron variant

May 2021 file photo of Vermont Governor Phil Scott
Pat Bradley/WAMC
May 2021 file photo of Vermont Governor Phil Scott

Vermont Governor Phil Scott’s weekly briefing today included some discussion on the new COVID-19 variant Omicron. There were also questions about hospital capacity and the governor’s adamant stance that a statewide mask mandate is unnecessary.

Governor Scott began by urging people who may have hosted large gatherings on Thanksgiving to get tested for COVID-19. The Republican also acknowledged the emergence of the newest COVID variant, Omicron, and echoed President Biden’s sentiments that it might be cause for some concern, but not panic.

“It’s important to remember there is still a lot we don’t know and it could be a couple of weeks before we get more information. Until then we’re not going to speculate. And I’d urge people to stay focused on the facts and what we do know. We’ll be watching this closely," said Scott. "What we do know is that getting your booster will be key and everyone over 18 is eligible. They’re the best way to make sure you get maximum protection against this variant and any others that will be inevitably occurring in the future.”

Former Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen, who served under Democratic Governor Peter Shumlin, wrote an opinion piece in VT Digger Tuesday criticizing the current administration’s refusal to reinstate a statewide mask mandate. Chen writes “Given Vermont’s high levels of transmission, we need an indoor mask mandate in public places now.”

Governor Scott responded that imposing a mask mandate doesn’t mean people will comply.

“I’m asking people to wear a mask when indoors in public spaces. It is effective when you’re wearing them. Forcing people with a mask mandate doesn’t necessarily make it so. You can look at other states and its proving that it’s not effective to have a mandate. They just can’t get people, force people, to wear them that are unwilling." The Governor continued, "A common goal, I think Dr. Chen would probably agree, is that we want people to wear masks when they’re indoors.”

During his weekly data report, Department of Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Pieciak noted that weekly hospitalizations are up about 12 percent; 71 percent are not fully vaccinated. The data also shows that ICU numbers have increased 31 percent over the past week, including 81 percent who are not fully vaccinated. Pieciak said the numbers indicate ICU capacity across the state is down about 32 percent.

“It seems like some of that is related obviously to the increase that we saw in COVID patients. There was somewhat of a decrease in non-COVID patients but there was also seemed to be some work shortage challenges, or at least some beds that were offline. Meaning that the availability number went down this week," according to Pieciak. "Vermont is not alone here. We look at the numbers across New England and you can see that hospitalizations are up. They’re up about 15% over the last week and up about 38% over the last two weeks. So numbers are trending up across the board here in the region.”

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