Dear Members of the Grace Cottage Community,
As I reflect back on what was happening at this time last year, I am incredulous at the progress we’ve made in the battle against COVID-19. We first learned of the virus in China in December 2019, it came to the U.S. in January 2020, and by mid-March 2020, the world was shutting down in an effort to quell transmission of the virus. A year ago, none of us had any idea what lay in store, and the prevailing mood was fear and uncertainty. Now, just 13 months later, almost 20% of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated with Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
The progress we’re making and the light we’re seeing at the end of the tunnel cannot ever take away the heartache and void felt by those of us who have lost family members, friends, and neighbors to COVID-19 during the past year. There will be additional deaths and the only way we can prevent this is to continue to be ever-vigilant; we cannot let our guard down until a majority of people have been vaccinated. Indeed, alarmingly, our highest daily rates of new COVID cases in Vermont have all been within the past few weeks. New cases are primarily among younger Vermonters, who have a lower risk of hospitalization and death, but who may be at risk for “Long-Haul Covid,” the seriousness of which cannot be underemphasized. One of our patients has written a column about Long-Haul Covid, including her experience with it, which will run in our Graceful Health segment of The Brattleboro Reformer this Friday, and we encourage you to take a look at it online after it’s published.
Here in Vermont, almost 50% of the state’s population over the age of 16 have received a first dose of the vaccine and almost 30% have completed the vaccination process. Approximately 92% of Vermonters 65 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine. At Grace Cottage we’ve vaccinated 4,148 people with Pfizer and Moderna since December, and 300 people with one dose of Johnson & Johnson. The vaccination process has been conducted efficiently and enthusiastically, thanks to the dedication and professionalism of many of our employees who are involved. Indeed, after being greeted in the parking lot, screened at the door, registered, vaccinated, and escorted down the hall to the “recovery room” for observation, one man said, “I haven’t received this much attention since I was arrested!” (He assured us that he was kidding!)
Today’s breaking news that the use of Johnson & Johnson vaccines is being paused in the U.S. due to the extremely rare incidence of blood clots in the brain among women between the ages of 18 and 48, occurring 6 to 13 days after vaccination (6 incidents identified among more than 6.8 million vaccines administered) is a setback but, we hope, a temporary one, as more research is done. Vaccine safety is a priority. If you’ve had a Johnson & Johnson vaccine within the past three weeks, please do not panic; your odds of having a blood clot are less than one in a million. However, do be sure to contact your health care provider if you experience a severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath.
Vermont Forward Roadmap to Reopening Plan: At a press conference last Tuesday, April 6, Governor Phil Scott announced a four-step plan to relax travel restrictions, eliminate restrictions on size of gatherings, and loosening capacity limits for businesses. This plan is contingent on a certain percentage of Vermonters being vaccinated, which varies at each step:
Step 1 (began on April 9): Quarantine restrictions for all travelers have been lifted. Unvaccinated people entering Vermont are required to get tested within three days of arrival. This step began when 45-55% of all Vermonters age 16+ received their first dose of the vaccine.
Step 2 (begins on May 1): Gatherings of unvaccinated people are limited to 300 people outdoors and 150 people indoors (one unvaccinated person per 100 square feet), with no limit on the number of vaccinated people who can gather. This step is contingent upon 60-70% of all Vermonters age 16+ receiving their first dose.
Step 3 (begins on June 1): All travel restrictions will be lifted. Capacity limits for gatherings will increase to 900 unvaccinated people outdoors and 300 indoors (with a maximum of one person per 50 square feet), no limit on the number of vaccinated people who can gather indoors or outdoors. This step is contingent upon 70-85% of all Vermonters age 16+ receiving their first dose.
Step 4 (begins on July 4): All gathering restrictions will be lifted and there is no contingency on percentage of vaccines given.
Starting May 1, contact tracing logs will no longer be needed for events and gatherings. Vermont’s mask mandate will still be in place, which means that businesses, non-profit, and government entities may decline service to individuals who are not wearing a mask.
We will continue to administer vaccines as the state of Vermont provides them to us, and we also continue to provide testing, at our drive-up booth, five days a week, by appointment, to anyone who needs a test.
In view of the Governor’s announcement, we are proceeding with our summer events, but with extreme caution. We are, after all, a healthcare organization and included in our mission is the promotion of wellness; although we share the Governor’s optimism, we want to keep our community as safe as possible. In view of this, we will be having an actual in-person Spring into Health 5K on Saturday, May 8, with registration in advance, limited to the first 60 people who sign up to be here. The event will start and end at Grace Cottage, and those who choose not to attend in person or who live far away are invited to join us virtually, as a record number of you did last year. Sign-up for the actual or virtual event by clicking here.
We also plan to hold our Tee It Up for Health Golf Benefit, with social distancing plan in place, at Brattleboro Country Club on Saturday, June 12, and there are slots for individuals and teams still in place. We’re hoping that Hideki Matsuyama will join us after his Masters’ win this weekend (but even if he isn’t able to, we’ll still have a great time!) Registration is open here.
If running, walking and golfing aren’t for you (or even if they are), bicyclists are encouraged to join us for Tour de Grace, which will be held on Saturday, June 26, a 17-mile loop ride through beautiful countryside, starting and ending at Grace Cottage. Sign up here.
Finally, we have been planning since February for a virtual Hospital Fair Day, with an online auction (August 1-8) including a wide variety of items. If we are able to have an actual event on the Townshend Common on Saturday, August 7, it will be small (out of an abundance of caution) with live music, t-shirt and hat sales, pies, perhaps a few small booths. We will keep you posted as August gets closer.
Meanwhile, continue to wear your mask, maintain six-foot spaces and, as much as possible, stay in uncrowded places. We’re not out of the woods yet, but we’re getting there, and the daffodils in bloom at Grace Cottage give us hope and optimism for the future!
With all best wishes,
Doug DiVello, President & CEO
Grace Cottage Family Health & Hospital