Mark Levine

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine speaks during Friday’s press conference updating the public on the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

MONTPELIER — The Vermont Department of Health reported a record high number of new COVID-19 cases on Friday: 251 new cases were reported throughout the state, with 102 new cases in Chittenden and eight new cases in Franklin County.

The new tally brings Vermont’s overall total to 18,498 cases, according to the Vermont Department of Health.

“Half of these cases, in the last two weeks, and a little more than half in these 250 are under the age of 30,” Levine said. “The largest age band has been 20-29 ... only four of the cases were age 65 or older.”

Gov. Phil Scott announced that beginning on Monday, all those who are ages 50 and older will be eligible for vaccination.

“I want to remind folks that this is going to move very quickly,” Scott said. “ending on April 19, when every Vermonter 16 and over will be eligible. This is great news, but only if people sign up.”

Scott reiterated that, by July 4 of this year, things will look a lot more “normal,” but that by that time there will still be cases, and Vermonters should remain vigilant.

Scott attends youth summit

Scott and his team attended a forum with 24 younger students hosted by Vermont After School, during which he empathized with the anxiety, stress and difficulties of the different circumstances during the pandemic, and how students expressed how school actually felt like the “safest place to be.”

“Our kids are struggling,” Scott said. “And we must pay attention and do all we can to support them.”

Scott said the students reminded him and his team about the importance of mental, social and emotional well being, and to listen and talk to their students and allow them to grieve and heal the year they’ve all lost to COVID.

The students also expressed how important after school activities and summertime activities are to them.

“The summit was not about the youth putting on a performance,” said Holly Morehouse, executive director of Vermont Afterschool. “What they shared was not cookie cutter."

Students expressed wanting help in transition between eighth and ninth grade after a really busy, hectic year, more racial and ethnic diversity among teachers and staff, well thought out supports for reentry, and more education on racism.

“There was empathy and compassion in their words,” Morehouse said. “They are worried about making and keeping friends, about domestic abuse and being heard ... they’re asking to really be listened to.”

Morehouse said the students brought up opportunities that they would be interested in participating in, such as drawing, yoga and crocheting.

COVID-19 variants on the rise

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said the state is seeing a higher percentage of the new COVID-19 variants that spread faster.

“This is a concerning number of new cases, and should not be dismissed,” Levine said after Vermonter recorded a record daily total. “But it is also not the entire picture.”

Twenty-six Vermonters have been hospitalized with COVID-19 and four in intensive care, but these numbers are significantly lower than some high numbers that occurred over the past year.

The reason for the high number of cases, Levine said, was both simple and complex: case numbers are up throughout the country due to the more easily transmissible variants, especially the B.1.1.7 variant.

“What we need now, perhaps more than in the past several months, is for everyone to do everything they can to keep the germs from spreading. This is especially true for younger Vermonters, who will be the last age groups eligible for the virus,” he said.

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