America’s Pandemic Star Loses Some Luster

America’s Pandemic Star Loses Some Luster

Is Vermont the envy of America no more? The state long hailed for its pandemic response is experiencing one of the most intense COVID-19 surges in the country. Cases are twice as high as they’ve been at any other point. Hospitalizations are up sharply as well, confounding hopes that Vermont’s best-in-the-nation vaccination rate would protect its people from the Delta wave.

The resurgence of the coronavirus—cases are rising again nationally after a sustained decline—has demoralized much of the country, but nowhere is that frustration more keenly felt than in the state that seemed to be doing everything right. “What we’re feeling right now is a collective sense of disappointment and sadness,” Rebecca Balint, one of Vermont’s leading Democrats, told me. With strong compliance, patience, and testing, Vermont kept COVID-19 in check for most of the pandemic. Its case and death rates were lower than anywhere else on the U.S. mainland. Vermonters’ return to normalcy this spring seemed particularly well earned: When 80 percent of the eligible population received at least one vaccine dose by mid-June—faster than any other state—Governor Phil Scott lifted all COVID restrictions.

Vermont is not alone in its struggle; other highly vaccinated states in the Northeast, such as New Hampshire and Maine, have seen similar spikes. Even with this latest increase, Vermont’s total cases and deaths per capita remain the lowest on the mainland. But the state’s recent backslide carries troubling implications. If Vermont has finally lost control of the pandemic, what chance is there for the rest of the country?

As the Delta variant has penetrated Vermont’s once-formidable defenses, the state’s leaders are now debating how to respond—or whether to respond much at all. Vermont’s experience, they concede, might simply be a preview of the virus’s endemic future, when states can realistically hope only to keep COVID-19 contained, not eliminate it entirely. The sheer contagiousness of Delta means that achieving herd immunity is likely impossible even if nearly everyone has been vaccinated or previously infected, and though Vermont has vaccinated a higher percentage of its population than any other state, its protection from the virus is nowhere close to universal. “There’s still a lot of people who are not yet vaccinated for a variety of reasons,” says Jan Carney, a former state health commissioner who is now the associate dean for public health at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. Whether by choice or because of age restrictions, more than one-quarter of Vermonters are not fully inoculated, and as in other places across the country, that percentage is higher in rural counties. Before the CDC opened up vaccinations to children under 12 earlier this month, about 50,000 Vermonters in a population of more than 600,000 had not received a single shot, Mark Levine, the state’s health commissioner, told me. “That’s still a lot of people who the virus finds. It’s very effective,” he said.

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Source: the Atlantic

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