COVID-19 testing at Copley Hospital

Doctors at Copley Hospital in Morristown administer tests last week for COVID-19 in a curbside service, as cars line up to behind a canvassed-off section of the hospital’s entrance. Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine said 10 to 12 percent of tests in Vermont are coming out positive, well below the 30 to 40 percent rate in some coronavirus hotspots. He said the peak in cases could come this week, based on optimistic models, or closer to the end of the month, based on other models.

Vermont could have a total of 100 coronavirus deaths, the Scott administration said Monday. As of Wednesday, there had been 23.

“We must be prepared for things to get worse before they get better,” Gov. Phil Scott said Monday. The peak of coronavirus cases is expected to come in the next two or three weeks.

Things can change rapidly as the virus spreads. Nationally, the country’s first 5,000 deaths from the coronavirus occurred in just over a month. The second 5,000 came in less than five days. 

Based on modeling released last week, Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine said the worst predictions show Vermont could have close to 100 deaths, while mitigation efforts could save 1,700 lives that would have been lost if no action had been taken. 

Three researchers created best case, likely case, and worst case scenarios for how COVID-19 would spread in Vermont in the coming months. The estimates varied widely — 3,800 cases in the best case, 9,200 cases under the likely outcome and more than 63,000 in the worst case. 

Vermont had confirmed 575 cases of the coronavirus as of Monday. Nineteen of those cases have been in Lamoille County, with one death.

Michael Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation, said the state seems to be tracking its best case model, but that could change rapidly. The death rate from COVID-19 is still unknown, and will ultimately depend on Vermont’s demographics, its case spread and how well its health care system can care for all patients needing hospitalization.

Existing medical supplies and hospital space may still be stretched beyond their current capacity, particularly for ventilators and intensive care beds. 

Wear a mask

Levine also advised all Vermonters to wear cloth masks in public, as federal advice on masks is also shifting.

People infected with the coronavirus may transmit the virus 48 hours before showing symptoms, “so wearing a face mask may help people from spreading the virus,” Levine said.  

“I want to be clear, this (wearing a mask) is not a substitute for staying home,” Scott said. “And it is not an excuse to mingle with others.”

The medical picture

The Scott administration outlined its efforts to prepare for the peak of coronavirus cases, expected to come in the next two or three weeks. 

Levine said anyone with coronavirus symptoms is now eligible for testing, a change from previous weeks, when people needed to show severe symptoms to be tested. People still must coordinate testing with their physicians. 

The health commissioner said 10 to 12 percent of tests in Vermont are coming out positive, well below the 30 to 40 percent rate in some coronavirus hotspots. He said the peak in cases could come this week, based on optimistic models, or closer to the end of the month, based on other models. 

“But they all show that the social distancing mitigation strategies are working here,” Levine said. “And we know that that’s incredibly difficult and challenging for everyone to adhere to. But I do need you to understand that the sacrifices you’re making are actually helping.”

Patsy Kelso, Vermont’s state epidemiologist, said the state is doing “rapid response” when the virus is detected in vulnerable communities, such as senior living and elder care facilities, and conducting contact tracing and isolation immediately. 

Many of the deaths in Vermont so far have occurred at nursing homes and senior living facilities in Burlington and Essex.

Epidemic likely in Vermont

The New York Times reports a new study by disease modelers at the University of Texas at Austin says even counties with just a single reported case have more than 50 percent likelihood that a sustained, undetected outbreak — an epidemic — is already taking place.

Over all, the study finds, 70 percent of all counties in the United States — with 94 percent of the country’s population — are likely to have epidemics. The study defines an epidemic as an outbreak that grows exponentially instead of fizzling out on its own, eventually infecting a large fraction of the population.

The numbers for Vermont, as of April 2:

  • Lamoille County, 14 cases, 98 percent probability of epidemic.
  • Addison County, 26 cases, 99 percent.
  • Bennington County, 17 cases, 98 percent.
  • Caledonia County, 4 cases, 84 percent.
  • Chittenden County, 177 cases, 100 percent.
  • Essex County, 0 cases, 9 percent.
  • Franklin County, 16 cases, 98 percent.
  • Grand Isle County, 0 cases, 9 percent.
  • Orange County, 4 cases, 84 percent.
  • Orleans County, 7 cases, 91 percent.
  • Rutland County, 12 cases, 96 percent.
  • Washington County, 15 cases, 97 percent.
  • Windsor County, 20 cases, 99 percent.
  • Windham County, 18 cases, 98 percent.

Unemployment claims reach into tens of thousands

Vermont Department of Labor has received 40,000 to 50,000 unemployment claims in the past two weeks.

“That’s the same number of claims that we typically get in a year,” said labor department spokesman Kyle Thweatt.

Tens of thousands of unemployment claims have yet to be processed, he added. If all March claimants are truly unemployed, Vermont’s jobless rate will reach 12 to 15 percent, the highest rate in at least 44 years.

The report issued last week showed 14,633 claims had been processed from Vermonters in the prior week, up 286 percent from the week before.

Layoffs at hundreds of local companies are a major part of the economic fallout of the COVID-19 epidemic, which has shuttered restaurants, schools and many businesses.

Interim Commissioner of Labor Michael Harrington told reporters yesterday that “a massive number of individuals out there are doing everything they can, whether it be online or by phone, to contact the department. … We are working extremely hard to make sure that we are in contact with those people.”

The U.S. Department of Labor reported 6.6 million unemployment claims last week, and 3.3 million the week before.

Federal help

People who are trying to take advantage of new federal relief programs for small businesses are running into an extra roadblock: they need to go through a lender to apply for Small Business Administration Loans.

However, many banks and credit unions have closed all of their lobby services and are conducting business through the drive-thrus to minimize the spread of COVID-19. And some branch banks have closed down altogether.

Nurses want a say

Several groups representing Vermont nurses — including the Vermont chapter of the American Nurses Association, the Vermont State School Nurses Association and the Vermont Nurse Practitioners Association — issued a joint statement requesting that nurses have a voice in the pandemic strategic planning and implementation efforts. 

“Our nursing knowledge, skill, and experience in service planning and delivery should be considered thoughtfully, and utilized, at all levels of the pandemic response efforts,” said Eileen Girling, Vermont president of the American Nurses Association.

The organizations want a voice in management of direct care and in the policies, procedures, training guidelines and protocols for personal protective equipment and related safe reuse guidelines.

Vail makes a donation

Vail Resorts will donate $150,000 to The Vermont Community Foundation as part of a multimillion-dollar effort to support resort employees and mountain towns where the company operates.

In Vermont, Vail owns Stowe Mountain Resort, Mount Snow and Okemo.

The donation will be distributed through the Katz Amsterdam Charitable Trust, and will go toward providing food services, basic needs and critical social services. 

Please, no burning

The Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation IS urging the public to postpone all outdoor burning through at least the end of May because of the coronavirus pandemic. Open burning could cause an escaped fire, which would put pressure on emergency personnel, the department said. 

April and May are historically the most active months for wildfires in the state, and most result from debris burning that got out of control.

Given forecasts for low rain and high temperatures in the coming weeks, the department’s Wildland Fire Program sees trouble ahead.

Vermont’s Town Forest Fire Wardens have the authority to stop issuing burn permits and many fire wardens throughout the state have already taken this step. 

Lamoille County Players cancel two productions

The Lamoille County Players at the Hyde Park Opera House “regret to inform you that we will not be producing ‘The Philadelphia Story’ or ‘Annie’ in 2020. We remain hopeful that we’ll be able to proceed with the remainder of the season as scheduled — the Children’s Theater Workshop, ‘Carousel’ and ‘Clue on Stage.’ Due to the continuing uncertainty, ticket sales will remain on hold for the time being.

“While we are sad to make this decision, we believe this is the safest course of action for our casts, crews, and patrons.”

Registration for the Children’s Theater Workshop has been postponed until May 1, though that is subject to change, depending on the pandemic.

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