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Vermont Governor’s weekly briefing reviews plans for at home COVID tests and hospital ICU bed capacity

Vermont Statehouse
WAMC/Pat Bradley
The Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier

Vermont Governor Phil Scott’s weekly briefing today continued to focus on the importance of vaccination and testing, which he says is the state’s best strategy to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Republican Governor Phil Scott began the briefing acknowledging it is the 80th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks.

“There are very few left today who were there that day. And sadly we’re losing more and more WWII heroes every day, like Bob Dole. That’s why it’s so important to take every opportunity to thank members of the greatest generation and the world will always be in their debt.”

Governor Scott then reported on the biweekly call between the White House and governors, noting that the CDC is closely watching the Omicron variant.

“Dr. Fauci said it appears cases aren’t as severe but we still have much more to learn. Everyone on the call reiterated that vaccines remain our most important tool.”

The Republican said he was heartened that the national COVID-19 response plan announced by President Biden is similar to Vermont’s strategy. The governor noted that the state has been working to secure thousands of rapid at-home tests that will provided at no charge to Vermonters. He announced that as they work to collect the supply the state Department of Financial Regulation, or DFR, will require the tests are covered by insurance companies.

“DFR will issue an emergency rule today requiring commercial insurers to cover the costs of rapid COVID-19 take home tests. It will be retroactive to December 1. Once the emergency rule is in place those with commercial insurance will be able to get take home COVID rapid tests at a pharmacy without out of pocket costs.”

Department of Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael S. Pieciak explained that the pharmacy benefit program will take some time to implement.

“The goal is to make it as easy as possible for Vermonters so that you can go to the pharmacy and have that paid for with no upfront costs. Just some patience as that is fully implemented and then patience on the supply chain as well.”

During the briefing there was discussion of the state’s ICU bed capacity. Officials noted that 90 percent of those in the ICU are unvaccinated COVID patients. Secretary of Human Services Mike Smith said the state is shifting resources to free up ICU beds.

“In addition it is our hope to add paramedics and EMT capacity at three hospitals. These additional EMTs and paramedics will be available through FEMA with a staffing contract. This request to use FEMA contracted staff is not certain because of the severity of hospital capacity in other states.”

A day before the briefing Governor Scott announced Smith will retire at the end of the year. Smith quipped he’d like to see his dark hair return. Scott said he could always count on Smith.

“Fiery at times and not unwilling to go toe-to-toe with anyone if he thought it was necessary. He has just been solid. And he has a great sense of humor and it’s helped us get through this trying challenging time.”

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