The Vermont Department of Health reported 591 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, surpassing the almost 530 new cases reported on Nov. 4.

As of Thursday, almost 400 Vermonters have died because of COVID, a little less than 1 percent of all cases.

The state reported 53 people hospitalized for COVID with 14 in an intensive care unit.

Rutland County, with 74 new cases, had the second highest number in Vermont, followed closely by Franklin County with 72. Washington County reported 39 and Windsor County had 37 new cases.

The highest number of new cases was in Chittenden County which had 97, but Bennington County and Orleans County also saw high numbers with 51 and 63 cases respectively.

On Wednesday, 194 new cases were reported. Tuesday saw 169 and Monday 234 new cases were reported. High numbers were also reported during the weekend with 264 new cases reported on Saturday and 405 identified on Sunday.

Gov. Phil Scott’s Communications Director Rebecca Kelley said via email, that with the growing stress on the intensive care unit capacity of Vermont’s hospitals, Scott and officials with the Vermont Department of Health, continue to urge Vermonters, especially the unvaccinated, to “wear a mask indoors; gather wisely with smaller groups and outside when possible; use testing to protect the at-risk; and stay home and get tested when showing any symptoms.”

“Both state efforts to support the health care system and individual efforts to prevent spread to at-risk Vermonters are important measures that can have an impact on our hospitalization levels. As we have throughout the pandemic, we’ll always consider new tools and recommendations, but this is our focus at this time,” Kelley said.

Legislative leaders have called on Scott’s administration to do more.

In a statement, Senate President Pro Tempore Sen. Becca Balint, D-Windham County, said she has requested a meeting with Scott to discuss Thursday’s reported new cases. She called the 591 new cases — the highest single-day total for Vermont since the beginning of the pandemic — “unacceptable.”

“As far back as August, when the Speaker of the House (Rep. Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington) and I reached out with concerns about the delta variant we were told by the administration that the COVID infection rates would plateau in a few weeks’ time. This didn’t happen — not in September nor October. We continued to press for a shift in strategy and asked the tough questions about why that was not being done. Now we are seeing our highest numbers yet and our greatest community spread, and his team is still not using all the tools at our disposal. This is taking a terrible toll on families. They do not have the support they need to ride out this crisis,” she said.

Balint suggested reviving a mask mandate that could be tied to rates of infection in hot spots.

Kelley suggested there was no immediate plan to take that step.

“We believe Vermonters will do their part without enacting statewide mandates, which very few other states have adopted at any point in the delta surge,” she said.

Krowinski issued a statement on Thursday that also called for the state to revive some previous directives.

“The first thing that came to mind when I saw (Thursday’s) case count of 591 was, ‘Why? Why is more action not being taken to protect Vermonters and keep our communities safe? Why don’t we implement the strategies we know work, like a mask mandate, to mitigate the spread of COVID-19?’” she said.

Krowinski made a direct plea for Scott to take action.

“Vermonters are absolutely burned out and cannot understand why more is not being done to mitigate the spread in our communities. The governor has the power and authority to take immediate action, he has before, and I know he can do it again. This is not a political decision; this is a decision that should be made based on following the data and the science,” she said.

Local health care leaders urged Vermonters to continue actions that had proven effective earlier in the pandemic.

In an emailed statement, Dr. Rick Hildebrant, chief medical information officer and medical director for hospital medicine at Rutland Regional Medical Center, said the majority of the new cases being seen locally are due to exposures during small group gatherings.

“Many of the cases are in those who are unvaccinated or have been exposed to someone who is unvaccinated. The delta variant is so contagious that one person with minimal symptoms, such as a cough or runny nose, can infect a group of 20 at a dinner party or other gathering,” he said.

Hildebrant urged Vermonters who have not already done so to get vaccinated.

“Those who are unvaccinated are far more likely to become very ill, require emergency care including inpatient hospitalization, mechanical ventilation, and in some cases, die. It is more important than ever to exercise caution by avoiding intimate unmasked gatherings, wash your hands often and, above all else, get vaccinated against COVID as soon as possible,” he said.

Dr. Jessie Leyse, an infectious disease physician at Central Vermont Medical Center, said by email the COVID-19 vaccines “work extremely well to prevent severe illness, hospitalization and death.”

“If a breakthrough infection happens, vaccinated people tend to have much milder symptoms and recover more quickly than unvaccinated people. However, vaccinated people can still spread the virus to others, so it is important to continue to follow the safety measures we have all become accustomed to — wear a mask and maintain 6 feet of distance when in public, especially in indoor spaces,” she said.

Leyse said Vermonters who feel sick, even with only mild symptoms, should get tested and self-isolate until they get test results.

“With record-high case numbers in Vermont, it is even more important to stay healthy and get vaccinated. We want to protect those Vermonters who cannot get a vaccine or have weakened immune systems and so may not respond as well to the vaccine,” she said.

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