Guest Column: Don’t let your guard down yet

By Jeff Tieman

With Covid case counts growing in Vermont, it may seem lately like our very responsible state just can’t catch a break. Here we are 22-plus months into the pandemic and our Covid positivity rate is high, ICUs are stretched thin and overall hospital capacity continues to be stressed.

In Vermont, as the pandemic dawned, we distanced from one another early and often, even at great expense to our family connections and social lives. We wore masks in public and often in private, and always when we shopped for groceries. We took great care gathering, even with those closest to us. And then, when vaccines became widely available, Vermonters lined up to get their shots, resulting in our leading and widely envied vaccination rate.

Despite all of this, right now Vermont is in the top quarter of states for new case growth. We have limited ICU capacity, sometimes only just a handful of available beds statewide. It shows that the Delta variant, as Health Commissioner Mark Levine says, is aggressive and unforgiving and good at finding unvaccinated people. This pattern allows Covid to continue menacing us, even with such a small slice of our population unprotected.

Now, winter is coming and the flu season along with it. We cannot afford to let down our guard, even though we’ve heard way too much that it is time to gear up for another round of mitigation measures. Here’s the thing to remember: this isn’t as difficult anymore. We can take some common-sense steps — that do not cause great inconvenience — to protect ourselves and others.

— Get vaccinated, complete vaccination and get a booster shot. The single most important thing we can do is get a vaccine to gain immunity from Covid. Get your own shots and gently and thoughtfully encourage friends and family to get theirs. 

— Wear masks in public spaces. We are used to it by now. It’s not that annoying. There will come a time when face coverings are not even in our cars or our pockets, but that time is not yet here. To prevent the spread of Covid, flu and wintertime illness, put on the mask.

— Choose gatherings carefully. With holidays coming, it is safe to be with vaccinated friends and family, and it is welcomed. If you are attending a party or get-together, know the vaccination status of those attending and carefully consider which events to prioritize. The more people, the more risk. Making these evaluations will help minimize your exposure and the odds that you inadvertently expose someone else. 

We do not want more Vermonters to contract Covid. We do not want our hospitals to find themselves even more distressed and challenged to meet intensifying need. And we do not want our health care workers any more burned out and overwhelmed than they already are.

So please, take the steps listed above and encourage others to do the same. Our ability to put down the masks and move on depends on it. 

Jeff Tieman is president and chief executive officer of the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems.