Virus wave hits New England despite high vaccination rates

Despite the highest vaccination rates in the country, most New England states are a constant reminder of just how vicious the delta variant of COVID-19 is.

Hospitals in the region are seeing full intensive care units and staff shortages are starting to affect care. Officials implore the unvaccinated to get vaccinated. Healthcare workers face pent-up demand for other types of care that had been delayed by the pandemic.

“I think this is clearly frustrating for all of us,” said Michael Pieciak, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation who monitors COVID-19 statistics for the state. “We want children to be safe in school, we want parents to not have to worry about their children’s education and health.

Even though parts of New England are seeing record numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths that rival pre-vaccine peaks, largely among the unvaccinated, the region has not seen the impact of the wave of the delta variant over other parts of the country.

According to statistics from the Associated Press, the five states with the highest percentage of a fully vaccinated population are all in New England, with Vermont leading, followed by Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. . New Hampshire is 10th.

According to AP data, full vaccination rates in the six New England states range from a high of 69.4% in Vermont to 61.5% in New Hampshire.

Despite the relatively high vaccination rates – the United States as a whole averages 55.5% – there are still hundreds of thousands of people in the region who, for one reason or another, remain unvaccinated and vulnerable to infection.

Now, a Rhode Island official has said he doesn’t think the 70% vaccination target, once touted as the level that would help end the pandemic in the state, is enough.

“What we’ve learned with delta and looking beyond delta is because that’s also where we’re focusing, to really hit those vaccination levels, to give you that real protection at the level of the population, you have to be above 90%, ”said Tom McCarthy, executive director of the Rhode Island Department of Health’s COVID response unit.

Officials across New England continue to push the unvaccinated to get immunized as well as strengthen immunization mandates.

“We have the power to end this unnecessary suffering and grief; a way to protect our health and the health of those we love; a way to give our heroic doctors, nurses and other health professionals a well-deserved break; a way to protect our children – please get vaccinated today, ”Democratic Governor of Maine Janet Mills recently said.

Yet the chief of UMass Memorial Health, the largest healthcare system in central Massachusetts, recently said that regional hospitals were seeing nearly 20 times more COVID-19 patients than in June and that there were no intensive care bed to spare.

In Connecticut, the legislature just extended the governor’s emergency powers to help manage the latest wave of the pandemic.

The number of cases in Vermont, which has continually boasted of a high vaccination rate and low hospitalization and death rates, is highest during the pandemic. Hospitalizations are approaching last winter’s pandemic peak, and September was Vermont’s second deadliest month during the pandemic.

As of September 22, Maine had nearly 90 people in intensive care units, a pandemic peak for the state. Maine has also recently passed 1,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Dr Gretchen Volpe, an infectious disease specialist at 48-bed York Hospital in Maine, said the delta surge has made it harder to find care for patients who need more help.

“The doctors who transfer people have told me they need to keep going further and calling more places to achieve this goal,” Volpe said.

The United States crossed the threshold of 700,000 deaths from COVID-19 on Friday. Deaths during the delta surge have been relentless in southern hot spots. New England has been on the other end of the spectrum, but the region still faces the same push that has ravaged other parts of the country.

Vermont Republican Gov. Phil Scott received near universal praise for his early handling of the pandemic, when his calm demeanor and confidence in science kept his state among the safest.

But recently he has come under fire from some, including Democratic leaders in the state legislature and more than 90 Vermont Department of Health employees who signed a letter in August urging him to do more to combat the disease. delta wave.

Scott lifted Vermont’s state of emergency in June, when the state became the first to see 80% of its eligible population receive at least the first shot.

He now recommends that schools require masks and he urges people to wear masks in crowded indoor places. But it will not restore the required mitigation measures that were in place during the state of emergency.

“We cannot be in a perpetual state of emergency,” Scott said this week.

Dr Tim Lahey, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Vermont, Burlington Medical Center, said he felt it was important to look at the situation with more optimism.

Unlike others in the area, his Vermont hospital is busy, not overwhelmed. People should always be careful, but they are not locked in and life outside has a semblance of normalcy.

“We all hate the word ‘delta’ now, but has the vaccination made it possible for us to support the weight of the delta by losing less of our neighbors while still maintaining the quality of life we ​​enjoy in Vermont? ” he said. “Yes.”

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