'I don't feel any fear going out.' How residents are living in America's most vaccinated state
Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT) July 28, 2021
Burlington, Vermont (CNN)The sweaty Lindy Hoppers stood in a circle clapping to a hard-driving beat -- switching partners and laughing on the ballroom floor of The Champlain Club in Vermont's largest city.
They clasped hands and rock stepped and spun in and out of quick embraces to swinging jazz rhythms on one of the last hardwood ballrooms in Burlington.
With explosions of Covid-19 cases in almost every state fueling yet another nationwide surge in the deadly pandemic, the 30 dancers of all ages and skill levels could be engaging in a risky pleasure.
"I thought partner dancing was always going to be the last thing to come back from the pandemic because there's so much interaction," said one dancer, Lorilee Schoenbeck, a naturopathic physician.
"It's aerobic in each other's faces and you're constantly changing partners... In this dance venue, this would be an absolute super spreader."
But these dancers are all vaccinated. They reside in America's most vaccinated state -- 83.7% of Vermonters 12 and over have received at least one shot, according to health officials.
Throughout Vermont, hospital Covid-19 units are mostly empty. Bars and restaurants are hopping again. In remote rural towns, diners, country stores and campgrounds are filling up.
As the national health crisis evolves into "a pandemic of the unvaccinated," in the words of US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Vermont health officials tout the Green Mountain State as the safest place in America.
Many Vermonters are venturing out, unmasked and with no fear, just as the CDC recommended on Tuesday that fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors in US counties with soaring transmission rates.
"My question is, 'Do you want to have a life again?'" Schoenbeck said. "We're living. Get vaccinated. Get back in the game."
Vaccination push continues
Around the corner from downtown Burlington's bustling Church Street Marketplace, Dr. Mark Levine, state health commissioner, sat at a small conference table in his office and rattled off statistics that enabled Gov. Phil Scott to lift all Covid-19 restrictions in mid June.
Vermont was the first state to partially vaccinate at least 80 percent of residents 12 or older. The current rate of more than 83% compares with the nation's 66.6% one-dose rate -- according to the CDC -- for the same age group.
More than 67% of the state's roughly 624,000 residents have been fully vaccinated, compared with about 49% for the US overall.
The state has maintained one of the country's lowest infection rates -- currently at 1.6% for a seven-day average, according to the health department's Covid-19 dashboard. Vermont has had 259 Covid-19 deaths.
"It's the lowest number of deaths on the continental US," said Levine, sitting in front of a bobblehead of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The state's last Covid-19-related death was on July 10, Levine said. In June and July, the state has had four deaths. There are five Covid-19 patients hospitalized in the entire state.
Vermont's first vaccine was administered in mid December. The state's vaccination campaign isn't done.
"The whole strategy is, we want a Vermonter to essentially stumble on the vaccine," Levine said.