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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Amid Hospital Crunch, VA to Offer Mental Health Beds to Nonveterans

Posted By on Wed, Oct 27, 2021 at 2:55 PM

  • Calvin L. Leake |
The Department of Veterans Affairs has agreed to temporarily allow nonveteran mental health patients to receive inpatient care at its White River Junction location in an effort to alleviate the pressure on Vermont's health care system.

The state-federal agreement will provide access to as many as 10 inpatient mental health beds for civilian Vermonters, as long as no veterans would otherwise need the space. It went into effect Monday and will last 30 days.

“The VA has an enormous amount of skill and experience in the area of mental healthcare,” Emily Hawes, Vermont's commissioner of mental health, said in a press release. “We are fortunate that they are willing to help us out and open their doors to non-veterans for a period of time."

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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

State Regulators to Hold Public Forums on Health Care Wait Times

Posted By on Tue, Oct 26, 2021 at 6:07 PM

  • Sean Metcalf
State regulators will hold two virtual public forums to assess the impact of lengthy wait times for medical care on Vermonters.

The listening sessions are scheduled to take place this Wednesday, October 27, and Thursday, November 4. The events are part of the state’s investigation following a Seven Days cover story in early September that found patients sometimes have to wait up to a year to be seen by specialists within the University of Vermont Health Network.

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Monday, October 25, 2021

Lawmakers, Professionals Call on Scott to Amp Up Pandemic Response

Posted By on Mon, Oct 25, 2021 at 7:12 PM

  • Alison Novak ©️ Seven Days
  • Gov. Phil Scott
A diverse group of  Vermont policymakers and professionals want Gov. Phil Scott to declare another state of emergency so that he can take stronger action against the coronavirus.

The group issued its plea during a press conference at the Statehouse on Monday that featured comments from Democratic and Progressive lawmakers, health policy researchers, school nurses and parents of young children.

They argued that the Scott administration's departure from proven mitigation measures has allowed the highly infectious Delta variant to run rampant through the state, disrupting schools and pushing case counts to unprecedented heights.

“While these numbers keep soaring, the administration keeps doing nothing,” said Rep. Tanya Vyhovsky (P-Essex), a school social worker, noting that Vermont at one point this month was reporting the largest increase in the country in cases over the previous 14 days. “This points to the need for swift and decisive action. Doing what we are doing is clearly not working.”

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Friday, October 22, 2021

New School Contact Tracing Rules Will Put Fewer Students in Quarantine

Posted By on Fri, Oct 22, 2021 at 3:33 PM

  • File: Diana Bolton ©️ Seven Days
The Vermont Agency of Education on Thursday released updated contact tracing guidance for schools that is intended to limit the number of students who must quarantine after someone was infectious with COVID-19 while in school.

The recommendations — which were made with feedback from pediatricians, infectious disease specialists, the Vermont State School Nurses Association and the Vermont Superintendents Association — aim to safely keep students in school as much as possible and make the contact tracing process less burdensome. The new guidance is for schools that require universal masking.

The key difference is a change to the definition of a close contact. Anyone who has been within three feet of an infected person for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period is considered a close contact. If it is not "reasonably possible" to determine close contacts that way, schools may use the four-hour rule, which would apply to those who were in the same classroom or pod as an infectious person for at least four hours.

In previous school guidance, a close contact was someone who was within six feet or less of an infectious person for 15 minutes or more.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2021

UVM Health Network Releases Strategic Plan to Reduce Wait Times

Posted By on Tue, Oct 12, 2021 at 5:39 PM

  • Courtesy of University of Vermont Medical Center
This story will be updated.

The University of Vermont Health Network has released a plan to confront the years-old problem of long waits for medical appointments, offering a mix of new and old initiatives.

Seven Days detailed the problem in a cover story last month, recounting how patients are waiting months, and in some cases more than a year, for certain specialty care at the state's largest hospital, the University of Vermont Medical Center. The state is now investigating the issue and says it hopes to publish a report by year's end.

The health network's plan says it will reduce these backlogs by addressing staffing shortages, increasing patient capacity and using technology to create a more efficient system.

A number of the items on the plan have been in the works for years. Many call on the health network to spend more money. And, according to health network CEO and president John Brumsted, none represents a “silver bullet.”

“There's not a time where we're going to flip the switch and access is going to be totally fixed," Brumsted said at a press conference on Tuesday. "All of these things will incrementally improve access to care, over the coming days, months in the next couple of years.”

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Despite Rising COVID-19 Numbers, Vermont Officials Say No to Mask Mandate

Posted By on Tue, Oct 12, 2021 at 4:52 PM

  • Anne Wallace Allen ©️ Seven Days
  • Gov. Phil Scott
Top Vermont officials won't push for another mask mandate despite growing numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

During the administration's weekly press conference Tuesday, both Gov. Phil Scott and Health Commissioner Mark Levine said they didn't think it would make a difference if the state were to require people to wear masks in indoor public places. Currently, the state recommends people do so.

“Look at who would abide by a mandate,” Levine said. People who believe that masks and vaccinations are important in controlling the pandemic would follow the rules, he said. Others probably wouldn’t.

“So it’s very challenging,” said Levine. “We know that masks are effective. There’s no question about that, even though people seem to be newly raising that question again.”

Scott agreed.

“I don't think my saying it or us mandating that is going to get one single person to wear a mask that doesn't want to wear a mask,” he said. A mandate, he said, would distract people from focusing on managing the pandemic response.

“It would just create one more controversy,” he said.

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Thursday, October 7, 2021

Vermont Highlights Tools to Help Schedule Doctor Appointments More Quickly

Posted By on Thu, Oct 7, 2021 at 5:19 PM

  • Sean Metcalf
The State of Vermont is promoting tools to help people schedule appointments with busy doctors "within a reasonable timeframe," essentially telling residents not to let lengthy wait times prevent them from obtaining medical care.

Seven Days detailed the problem of long wait times for medical appointments in a cover story last month, recounting how patients are waiting up to a year for certain specialty care at the state's largest hospital, the University of Vermont Medical Center. The state is now investigating the issue and says it hopes to share its findings by the end of the year. 

The Vermont Department of Financial Regulation's announcement on Thursday highlights several online consumer tools that help people find new doctors when the ones they seek out initially have extended wait times.

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Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Vermont Urges Schools to Perform COVID-19 Tests

Posted By on Tue, Oct 5, 2021 at 5:45 PM

Secretary of Education Dan French - SCREENSHOT ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Screenshot ©️ Seven Days
  • Secretary of Education Dan French
Vermont schools are being encouraged to launch new testing programs to reduce the time students have to spend in quarantine following possible exposure to COVID-19-positive classmates or others.

But finding staff for the work will test school districts already stretched thin by a pandemic that surged to its second deadliest month in September. Education Secretary Dan French acknowledged that, but nevertheless expressed optimism that it was better than the alternative — busloads of kids in quarantine following possible exposure.

“We have a lot of logistical issues to solve,” French said Tuesday during Gov. Phil Scott’s weekly press conference. “[Yet] I can’t help but think this is going to be the solution that really strikes the appropriate balance between keeping kids safe but also keeping kids in school and their education progressing.”

As of October 3, there had been 651 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases connected to Vermont schools since the beginning of the academic year, resulting in significant loss of instruction time for students, French said.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Vermont Eyes Tests, Not Quarantines, to Manage Students' Exposure to COVID-19

Posted By on Tue, Sep 28, 2021 at 3:12 PM

Artist's rendition of the virus - © CHINNASORN PANGCHAROEN | DREAMSTIME
  • © Chinnasorn Pangcharoen | Dreamstime
  • Artist's rendition of the virus
The state is eyeing a major expansion of testing in K-12 schools as a way to reduce the number of students who must miss class to quarantine because of a possible COVID-19 exposure.

One of the programs, dubbed "test to stay," would provide a new option for unvaccinated students who had close contact with a person with COVID-19. Instead of quarantining for up to 14 days, these students would be offered rapid tests each day before entering school, until seven days after their last known exposure.

A similar program is in use in Massachusetts, Education Secretary Dan French said at the governor's weekly COVID-19 press briefing.

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Friday, September 24, 2021

Older Vermonters Can Sign Up for Pfizer Vaccine Booster Shot

Posted By on Fri, Sep 24, 2021 at 11:00 AM

A health care worker preparing a dose of COVID-19 vaccine - COURTESY OF RYAN MERCER / UVM MEDICAL CENTER
  • Courtesy of Ryan Mercer / UVM Medical Center
  • A health care worker preparing a dose of COVID-19 vaccine
Updated at 11:30 a.m.

Vermont has opened registration to those 80 and older who are eligible for a booster shot of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

The state's announcement on Thursday came hours after an advisory group within the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cleared the jabs for people 65 and older. Later, after midnight Friday morning, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said that boosters would also be available to younger people at higher risk of contracting the disease because of underlying health conditions or their jobs, such as health care workers.

Walensky’s decision aligns with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which authorized emergency use of the vaccine for similar groups, including people who live in congregant settings, such as those in prison.

Later Friday morning, the state said it would open registration on October 1 to those between the ages of 18 and 64 who have underlying medical conditions.

"It is anticipated these conditions will be more specifically defined by the CDC later" Friday, the governor's office said in a press release.

The state, though, is waiting for further CDC guidance "on what occupational or institutional settings at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure should be eligible for booster shots." More information is expected next week.

Registration in Vermont is opening by age group. Those 80 and above could sign up on Friday morning; 75 and up can do so on Monday; 70 and up on Wednesday; and 65 and up on Friday, October 1. The Vermont Department of Health is setting up clinics to administer the jabs, which are also available at pharmacies and from health care providers. More information is available here.

Only those who have received their two-dose course of the Pfizer shot are eligible for the third booster shot, though “it is expected” that Moderna and Johnson & Johnson will receive federal clearance for boosters in the coming weeks, the state said in a Thursday night press release. The third shots are intended for people who received a second dose at least six months ago.

“Even though COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the United States are highly effective, a booster dose gives your body extra protection,” Health Commissioner Mark Levine said in the statement. “Getting vaccinated – and receiving a booster shot when you are eligible – is especially important as the world continues to face the Delta variant of the virus that causes COVID-19.”

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