Despite the highest vaccination rate in the country, there are constant reminders for most New England states of just how mean is the delta variant of COVID-19.
Hospitals across the region are facing full intensive care units and staff shortages are beginning to affect care. Officials beg the unvaccinated to get the shots. Healthcare providers are dealing with pent-up demand for other forms of care that has been delayed by the pandemic.
“I think it’s clearly frustrating for all of us,” said Michael Pieciak, the commissioner for the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation, which monitors COVID-19 statistics for the state. “We want children to be safe at school. We want parents not to have to worry about their child’s education and health.”
While parts of New England are seeing record numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths that rival peaks before vaccination, largely among the unvaccinated, the region has not seen the impact of the delta variant golf has worked in other parts of the country.
According to statistics from The Associated Press, the five states with the highest percentage of fully vaccinated populations are all in New England, with Vermont leading the way, followed by Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. New Hampshire ranks 10th.
According to the AP data, complete vaccination rates in the six New England states range from 69.4% in Vermont to 61.5% in New Hampshire.
Despite the relatively high vaccination rate – the US as a whole averages 55.5% – there are still hundreds of thousands of people in the region who for one reason or another are unvaccinated and vulnerable to infection.
A Rhode Island official said he didn’t think… the vaccination target of 70%, once touted as the level that would help end the pandemic in the state, is sufficient.
“What we’ve learned with delta and looking beyond delta is that our focus is on that too, to really get to those vaccination levels, to give you that real population-level protection, you have to be over 90%,” Tom said. McCarthy, the executive director of the COVID Response Unit at the Rhode Island Department of Health.
Officials across New England continue to push the unvaccinated to get the shots and bolster vaccine mandates.
“We have it in our power to end this needless suffering and heartbreak; a way to protect our health and that of the people we love; a way to give our heroic doctors, nurses and other medical professionals a much-needed break; one way to protect our children — please get vaccinated today,” Democratic Governor of Maine Janet Mills said recently.
Still, the head of UMass Memorial Health, the largest health system in central Massachusetts, recently said regional hospitals saw nearly 20 times more COVID-19 patients than they did in June and there are no ICU beds left.
In Connecticut, the legislature just… extended the emergency powers of the governor to make it easier to cope with the latest wave of the pandemic.
The number of cases in Vermont, which has continually boasted of high vaccination rates and low hospitalizations and death rates, is highest during the pandemic. Hospital admissions are approaching last winter’s pandemic peak, and September was Vermont’s second deadliest month during the pandemic.
As of Sept. 22, Maine had nearly 90 people in intensive care units, a pandemic spike for the state. Maine has also recently surpassed 1,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
dr. Gretchen Volpe, an infectious disease specialist at the 48-bed York Hospital in Maine, said the delta wave has made it more difficult to find care for patients who need more help.
“The doctors who transfer people have told me to go further and further and call more places to achieve that goal, Volpe said.
On Friday, the United States crossed the threshold of 700,000 deaths of COVID-19. Deaths during the delta wave have been brutal in hot spots in the south. New England was on the other end of the spectrum, but the region is still dealing with the same wave that has ravaged other parts of the country.
Vermont Republican Governor Phil Scott got almost universal praise for his early handling of the pandemic, when his calm demeanor and reliance on science kept his condition among the safest.
But recently, he has been criticized by some, including Democratic leaders of the state legislature and more than 90 employees of the Vermont health department, who were killed in August. signed a letter urge him to do more to combat the delta wave.
Scott lifted the state of emergency in Vermont in June, when the state was the first to see 80% of the eligible population get at least the first chance.
He now recommends that schools require masks and urges people to wear masks in crowded indoor locations. But he will not reintroduce the required mitigation measures in place during the state of emergency.
“We can’t be in a perpetual state of emergency,” Scott said this week.
dr. Tim Lahey, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington, said it was important to look more optimistically at the situation.
Unlike some others in the area, his Vermont hospital is busy, not overwhelmed. People still need to be careful, but they’re not locked in and the outdoors has a semblance of normality.
“We all hate the word ‘delta’ now, but vaccination has allowed us to weather most of the delta by losing less of our neighbors, while still having the quality of life we enjoy in Vermont? ” he said. “Yes. “
AP reporter Jennifer McDermott in Providence, Rhode Island, contributed to this report, as did Patrick Whittle and David Sharp in Portland, Maine, and Philip Marcelo in Boston.